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6 ways to increase engagement

6 Ways for Nonprofits to Increase Virtual Audience Engagement

This is part two of a blog series to help nonprofits learn how to create virtual events that exceed fundraising goals and audience reach, by looking at how UNICEF, Boys & Girls Clubs, and more exceeded their goals.

In the last post in this series, we talked about how vital it is to partner with a supportive team of people you jibe with. Today, we’ll share six ways to increase virtual audience engagement. Hint: an engaged guest is also more likely to be informed, and ready to give.
Just to recap: If you’re a nonprofit organization, chances are you’ve spent a lot of time since early 2020 connecting with people online — with your own team, with the communities you support, and with your donors. You may have even moved your annual fundraiser gala online, as UNICEF did in December 2020 for its UNICEF Changemaker: A Benefit for Children.

If you’re new to virtual fundraising, you’re not alone. Global nonprofits with little to no experience coordinating events in the digital space dove in and, with the right partners, had great success. To them, success meant:

  1. Fostering a sense of community on a virtual events platform and being taken by surprise when they discover new ways to connect.
  2. Finding new ways to educate and entertain various audiences: staff, donors, partners, and more.
  3. Exceeding fundraising goals.

Top global nonprofits shifted to virtual by focusing on what was most important to them and their audiences, and the results surprised them.

Six Ways to Increase Engagement

According to a January 2021 study done by Markletic, a blog about growth hacking and marketing demand generation, 49% of marketers say that audience engagement is the biggest contributing factor to having a successful event. (And that applies to nonprofit virtual events, whether they’re monthly community building events or the big annual fundraising gala.)

But what does “audience engagement” mean, and how do you make sure your virtual (and hybrid) events have it? Basically, you want to make sure your virtual event guests are paying attention and enjoying themselves. The execution may be just as simple if your event platform partner can support that engagement. Make sure they do this by learning what it looks like in action.

  1. Make it Dynamic

    For Boys & Girls Clubs, the September 2020 Together We Rise event was about being “more than just a video conference,” said Denise Wang-Kline, Vice President of Development at Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco. She added, “We wanted a high-quality streaming platform with a dynamic event page, first-in-class broadcast viewing experience for viewers, and on-staff production expertise and support. It had to be more than a ‘video conference’ virtual event. Our partner [Brandlive] checked all those boxes.”

  1. Foster a Sense of Community

    Connection and interactions among guests were important to the UNICEF USA team. Jake Haigis, Coordinator for Special Events at UNICEF USA, said, “We wanted to create an experience that allowed donors to connect with each other and know that they were in a community of people who were all watching the event together. I think the chat feature [on Brandlive] does a really great job at creating that.”
    Stephanie Carpenter, Program Officer at Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, noticed a renewed sense of community on her team with their four-day “Awayzgoose” virtual conference and fundraiser, saying, “It felt like our community was here in the building … by day four, everyone was pretty tired and had attended many online events, but the mix of our team of staff and volunteers and the [Brandlive] team and platform … almost made it feel like I was hanging out with our amazing community of letterpress printers, type lovers, graphic designers, history buffs, and storytellers.”

  1. Entertain and Educate with Stories

    Kelly Meincke, Manager of Special Events at The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health explained, “At our usual in-person event, we have interviews with patients, and it really makes an emotional impact on our audience. Before our virtual event, we were worried that we’d raise less. We were concerned the emotion wouldn’t come across.”
    However, the team was pleasantly surprised, with Meincke saying, “It’s such a value that our [Brandlive] event was live. Live is king. If people know your event is live, they love it. Otherwise, it feels like they could just turn it off. During our event, we were talking about the weather outside that very day, as well as mental health issues as they relate to the pandemic. We did live interviews with clients, doctors, and celebrities, and that was impactful for the audience. By pivoting to these live interviews, we were able to exceed our fundraising goals.”
    So, one unexpected result of going virtual was none of the feared decreases in engagement and a huge win in terms of fundraising.
    Haigis at UNICEF said, “It was very important that we were able to create a program that was impactful and educational.”

  1. Find Features That Allow Guests to Engage

    If one of your goals is to increase engagement among guests, as well as between guests and presenters, check which features support that. Alongside the event video, virtual event guests may enjoy seeing chat, social media feed integration, and Q&A with presenters. Make sure these features are right on the event page, so guests don’t navigate away from the main event!
    Carpenter at Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum highlighted the importance of guest engagement, saying, “In a normal year, audience engagement and networking is a large part of the onsite conference. The chat function was really important to us, as was Q&A. We arranged for a small army of volunteer moderators to be online during each presentation to feed information into the chat and answer any questions.”

Keynote speaker presenting at virtual event with interactive chat feature
Here, the chat feature allows guests to engage with each other, and ask questions of presenters.
  1. Make it a Visually Appealing Event Experience

    One advantage to using today’s events platforms is that there’s lots of room to make your virtual event look like an extension of your visual brand. By choosing a platform that allows you to create a design that is unique to your organization, guests are more likely to engage. The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum’s “Awayzgoose” event page required a specific visual aesthetic, with Carpenter saying, “Visual elements are an important part of any event we do.”
    Their graphic designer liked that on the [Brandlive Events] platform, he was able to control exactly how Awayzgoose was branded. Carpenter added, “He took full advantage of our ability to brand every nook and cranny on the platform. He created social media elements, video interstitials, static ads, schedules, and more! Each day’s event page had a different visual theme to help attendees visually recognize the change in days. The [Brandlive] platform allowed us the ability to make changes before and during the event. Being able to really brand the event made it feel like ours.”

  1. Be Seamless and Cinematic

    Choosing a platform that’s easy to use for your guests is vital. Haigis at UNICEF said, “We wanted a platform that made the experience seamless and enjoyable so that viewers could focus on the program and not be bothered by navigating an unfamiliar website.” Pre-event, one of the UNICEF team’s goals was to create an experience that donors would be proud to support. Haigis said, “It was great to hear from them how we really created a cinematic experience that was both entertaining and informative.”
    Wang-Kline at Boys & Girls Clubs said, “We wanted to make sure that the viewing experience was seamless and that content was presented in a way that was engaging with the audience. Our partner [Brandlive] delivered on both of those points. The content produced and the high-quality broadcast kept the viewers’ attention. The chat feature was also fun, and viewers engaged with each other.”
    Now that we’ve covered how to keep your virtual guests at the edge of their seats, checkout the next post in the series, where we share three tips to exceed your fundraising goals.

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