Our last article went into depth about the ways in which the coronavirus outbreak has impacted the event industry. In fact, the whole world is currently going into detail about the myriad ways in which large industries and corporations will be negatively affected by the virus. The media certainly acknowledges that small businesses are being even more fundamentally devastated than bigger companies. Still, the unique consequences that small businesses face don’t get nearly enough coverage. Even less time is spent talking about tangible ways for them to recoup some of their losses, even in the wake of this unprecedented outbreak.
Since we’re focused on events, we want to give event professionals some practical ways to move forward, one step at a time. That means finding creative ways to keep attendees engaged even when events are cancelled! One of the best ways to increase funds for the future is to act now by fundraising through virtual events and other innovative solutions. Here are some fun, inventive ways to keep attendees engaged. These ideas get bonus points for helping event professionals maintain an enduring spirit of positivity in this industry while keeping our communities safe.
1. Start a Peer-to-Peer Campaign
Yes, being quarantined kind of gets in the way of networking and socializing. But thanks to technology, it doesn’t mean we have to completely disconnect and stop working together toward common goals- and having some fun along the way. The video conference service Zoom is being used around the world to keep conferences and classes in session. When you break the news that your event has been cancelled- which won’t come as a surprise at this point- invite your attendees to join you for a virtual meeting dedicated to a topic you all care about.
For example, it’s never been a more fitting time to get together and brainstorm fundraising solutions for event planners. You can even ask for voluntary donations each time you host a virtual meeting. To hold interest and add meaning and excitement, create a series of events that build up to meeting a goal or learning about something new. This is a great way to keep your audience connected to both you and one another. It also creates an enterprising spirit that carries people through the feeling of helplessness that can come with facing a disaster out of one’s control. Most event planners are facing fears that their business will be severely impacted or even ruined by the necessary quarantine taking place. Create a space where people can use channel their fears into productivity by participating in a campaign that helps everyone get back on their feet.
Consider both your audience and people in your industry. If you are a business that hosts events for parents or children, hold a baby photo contest with different categories. Host a virtual talent show in which the winner performs or plays another integral at your next live event (because as hard as it is to believe, live events will be a thing again- and soon).
If you had a coveted list of keynote speakers, performers, or influencers lined up for your event, you probably won’t need to cancel these. Simply ask them to participate virtually and take your event online. See if you can get them on board to complete a weekly series with you, presenting from the comfort of their homes or offices. An expert panel with distinctive niches related to your topic is a great idea because it reaches a diverse audience.
To stretch out your content over a course of weeks, consider not having all of your speakers present on the same day. Yes, breakout sessions are great because they enable smaller groups to focus on specific interests related to the general topic of your event. They allow events to cover more specific, personalized material in less time. But for the first time in longer than we can remember, time is on our side. (Or at least more “on our side” than it usually is). Travel times are cut out of the picture for those who can work from home, and many people are temporarily out of work altogether. So try to dedicate each week to a new topic and/or related subtopics. This not only stretches out your content to keep your attendees engaged for weeks, but also allows you to go into more depth about specific subjects.
Before and after your sessions or presentations, share links to share to fundraising calls-to-action. Just make sure it’s easy for your attendees to make a donation to your organization.
2. Go Fund Yourself
No, seriously. You can use crowdfunding to offer experiential prizes that cost you little to no money at all. If it’s done right, crowdfunding can help you raise money and create networking professional opportunities for your attendees. If you’re connected to a well-known speaker, performer, or influencer whom your attendees want to see at future events, this boosts your campaign. Because attendees want to see a favorite speaker, performer, or influencer at your future events, they’re more likely to help make those events happen!
Remember, networking is the lifeblood of many careers- especially in the event industry. And right now the ability to network has been seriously compromised, causing many professionals to feel stagnated. Providing an opportunity for people to make valuable contacts and collaborate from home is one of the best ways to rebuild your community.
In recent years, crowdfunding apps like GoFundMe and Kickstarter have enabled people to take initiative and ask for support from their communities. In case you’re not too familiar with crowdfunding, it works like this: The person or business who is asking for donations uses a tiered system to offer various rewards based on how much money is given.
You may have heard about people giving away hats, tee shirts, and other items emblazoned with their business’s logo, but you don’t have to give away material things. In fact, the event market has become increasingly experiential, and most people value quality experiences over material possessions. So why not offer experiential prizes that make participants feel like a part of your event instead of just an attendee?
For small donations, offer the opportunity to create testimonials that will be featured on your ads. This is an especially attractive option to actors and performers building their resume, but let’s face it- a lot of people want their proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. (We’re not knocking it!) That’s why featuring donors on future ads and testimonials is a great way to spark interest in your campaign.
For people who make moderate donations, reward them by endorsing or just talking about their brand on your social media or other adverts. This works especially well if you have a moderate to large following. Crowdfunding is also a great way to leverage product sales during a time when your business is losing money from canceled events. If you don’t make any products, you can offer free VIP treatment to donors who buy tickets to your next event.
You can also offer fun behind-the-scenes experiences. Just like film enthusiasts love being part of making a production, event planners love planning interesting events- especially those in their niche. The experience looks good on their resumes, and collaborations help open doors for businesses.
For the biggest donations, consider inviting the donor to be named a sponsor or partner at your next event. Doing so not only incentivizes industry influencers to donate to your business, but also expands your audience.
3. Host a Movie Night
Movie nights are a classic favorite for a reason, and you don’t need a theater to enjoy cinema together. Easy-to-use apps like SyncPlay, NetflixParty, Watch2gether, and MyCircleTV have features that allow you to video chat from the comforts of your respective homes. If you prefer to chat on a screen instead of via video, that’s an option as well. Even better, most of the free versions of these apps offer these features for free! Never has this industry appreciated free event apps, software, and entertainment more.
There are two ways to go about this. For one, you can use it as an opportunity to throw collective worries to the wind and watch a movie purely for entertainment. That’s actually not a bad idea during this acutely stressful period- people need an outlet, and feeling good stimulates chemicals that boost the immune system.
The other option is to gather your attendees to watch a documentary or informational film that relates to your industry. This can be a particularly smart idea if your professional development conference or workshop was canceled due to the coronavirus. If you don’t have the time or resources to take your event virtual, it can be useful to show a video that discusses the same topics you would have gone over at your event.
Some films are educational and teach professional skills and concepts. You can take breaks to discuss the content, and make sure everyone gets the chance to ask questions and receive answers. If you’d like to treat your attendees to something a bit less traditional, invite them to watch a documentary on your topic with you. No, it doesn’t teach skills or facilitate specific professional development, but it does give your attendees a chance to explore your topic in a relaxed environment. Many people learn better without the pressure of a professional context, and documentaries show different humanistic perspectives. They also serve as a conversation starter. Picture you and your employees just hanging out on someone’s comfy couch, bouncing ideas around without the pressure of a boardroom or deadlines.
If that sounds inviting and likely to open new doors, go for it! If it sounds terrifying, that may be an even bigger reason to open the lines of communication (from the relative comfort of separate) homes.
We’ve said this before, but one of the many benefits of virtual events is that they give people the time and space to think before they communicate. Sure, the spontaneity factor is great for networking in many ways, but so is conscious communication. Another bonus? Introverts will be less likely to hold back from sharing their thoughts and opinions.
4. Hold a Virtual Auction
Were you planning an auction that got canceled in the wake of recent events? Did your event get canceled, and now you’re looking for an alternative way to bring people together and support your organization? Auction sites like AuctionToday and BiddingforGood allow you to display your items for an annual fee and/or a transaction commission. It’s also super easy to hold an online auction through eBay. Using the app and the website involve just a simple, step-by-step process.
Bidders can easily register and make bids. Another benefit to holding an online auction is that they tend to last up to three weeks. (Some are slightly shorter or longer). But in any case, it will keep your audience engaged for a considerable duration of the quarantine, and it’s a way to support your business during this critical time.
If your items are being delivered directly from a merchant, you’ll either have to pay shipping costs or inform your bidders that they will have to. But the obvious benefit is that you won’t be responsible for shipping the items yourself. However, if the responsibility does fall on you, you may be able to find volunteers to get the items safely shipped and delivered to lucky recipients.
5. Start a Monthly Giving Campaign
We know, we know. Businesses are trying to make money right now, not give it away. But critical times like this tend to bring out compassion and mutual need, which can be blended together harmoniously with the right campaign. We live in a society that often values productivity over humanity, and it can be scary to realize that all we truly have is ourselves- and each other. More and more, people are banding together for the collective good of individuals and companies.
When you introduce your campaign of giving, be sure to tell your audience who you are what you’re doing. Then let them know why you’re doing it and what it means to you. In other words, what is the personal inspiration behind your campaign? It’s easier said than done, but try not to worry too much on outcomes at the beginning. These campaigns can start slow, and if you get too caught up in anxiety, it might be difficult to extend yourself to others. When people can feel that your cause is genuine and relatable, they will want to connect with you. And when people connect through giving, it creates a platform for them to figure out how they can be of mutual benefit to each other.
Make sure your donors know exactly what each dollar amount helps you accomplish for yourself and your community. For example, what does $10 or $100 do for you? Convey that every contribution counts- because it does. You can also correlate donations to a sponsorship program. We’ve all seen ads for campaigns that say, “Feed an animal for a year by pledging just $10 per month”, and the like.
When raising money for future events, let donors know what every dollar amount will help you accomplish. What amount helps you hire a favorite entertainer? What will it take to score a beloved venue or feature a coveted new technology? You know better than anyone what your attendees want, so ask them- and your industry- to help you give it to them. People know that it takes giving to receive. And many have already realized that boosting the economy for the industries in which we work means supporting each other.