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Virtual events: How to create an experience that transports donors from their homes

What comes to mind when you think of a virtual event?

Think back to all the fundraisers, auctions, family get-togethers and company happy hours you’ve attended since mid-March in 2020. If boredom, technical issues and awkward silences pop into your head, you’ve probably fallen victim to a poorly planned event.

And if you’ve experienced it, it’s safe to say donors have, too.

Unfortunately, when virtual events aren’t well thought out and curated to delight attendees – in the case of nonprofits, donors – they tend to fall flat. This, combined with short attention spans and other distractions, leads to ineffective virtual experiences.

But don’t let this discourage you. 71% of Americans are still interested in virtual events over in-person options right now. And when planned properly, you can create an experience that will transport donors from their living rooms to an immersive, virtual experience that entertains them – and keeps them coming back for more.



Virtual events are still a fairly new phenomenon, so don’t assume that donors will know what to expect. To build excitement and set the tone, create a pre-event communication plan for attendees. Everything leading up to the event should be visually in line with your theme and delivered in clear, munchable chunks for attendees to consume. This could include:

  • A printed invitation delivered to their mailbox
  • Personalized video messaging and phone calls letting donors know you’re expecting them
  • Teasers promoting special guests or speakers
  • Detailed instructions telling them how to access the platform



What flows well in an in-person event doesn’t always flow the same online.

Because of this, you must think through the order, cadence and sequence of events from the perspective of a person watching a show or a movie.

Short attention spans combined with Zoom fatigue mean that virtual events must capture the donor’s attention – and fast.

Including compelling speakers, a few strategically placed emotional appeals and interactive opportunities will help showcase impact and make donor’s feel like they’re a part of the solution, not just another telethon donor.


Your virtual event producer has the power to take a traditional event and transform it into an immersive experience. When done right, the production can make the difference between an average show experienced in a living room or a transformative experience that captures the essence of your mission.

Whether you choose to do a prerecorded or live broadcast, the right producer has the ability to set the tone of the event and take your donors on a journey that makes them feel like they’re right there with you, walking through the halls of a hospital, working to care for animals at your shelter or helping provide life-transformation services for the people who need it most.


Most importantly, bring the fun!

A virtual event doesn’t have to be a ton of talking heads floating from screen to screen. Whether you choose to do virtual attendee tables with attendees, feature an engaging celebrity speaker, host a live auction or send experience boxes, it’s important to get creative and think unconventionally.

The best events give attendees something to talk about during the show with other donors and after the show with their friends.

As the world continues to adapt to our new reality, virtual events will be a major player in nonprofit fundraising success. With the right approach and a little creativity, virtual events give you the power to give your donors an immersive and fun experience from the comfort of their own homes.

Karla Baldelli

Karla is an elite nonprofit fundraising executive with a 25-year career in mid-level and distinguished donor fundraising, engagement and stewardship for major nonprofits. Her experience includes transformational roles with JDRF, Coast Guard Foundation, American Heart Association, Arthritis Foundation, The Salvation Army and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. While at the American Heart Association, Karla built the first-ever mega-donor event, Honored Guest Day.  She designed the campaign architecture for the $100 million Mission Lifeline Campaign and conceived the AHA’s National Giving Society, Cor Vitae.

Karla brings strong leadership and strategic counsel for thoughtful, year-round donor experience strategies integrated throughout campaigns and giving channels. Her expertise is changing the culture of major donor programs, including educating staff with her proprietary training, the Power of the Donor Experience.  Since coming to RKD, she has implemented a holistic program - leading with data insights and centered on the donor experience and organizational execution - that results in more inspired giving and increased revenue.   

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