Whether a new volunteer fair, a thank-you event, or an entertainment-laden fundraising event, there are quite a few applications of the conference model for nonprofits just like yours. Conferences are a surefire way to connect with donors and volunteers alike, provide value to these audiences, and recruit support in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic halted these conferences seemingly overnight.
Web Courseworks works with associations to pivot their in-person conferences to virtual settings. This year, they’ve discovered a few virtual conference tips that can benefit a variety of sectors— nonprofits included!
Today, we’re partnering with Web Courseworks to share a few top recommendations that your nonprofit can use to successfully host a virtual conference. These include:
- Prepare your conference attendees and volunteers in advance.
- Experiment with an engaging variety of media.
- Create a routine and schedule strategically.
To host a successful conference, your main goal should be to make the event accessible and engaging. With the following tips, you’ll do just that.
Prepare your conference attendees and staff members in advance.
Now that we’re months into the pandemic, there’s a decent chance that most of your supporters have grown comfortable with standard communications technology such as video conferencing software and online donation forms. However, that doesn’t mean that they’ve encountered a virtual conference platform and are familiar enough to navigate it effectively!
That’s why the first tip in the Web Courseworks guide to virtual events is to prepare attendees to make the most of your event adequately. We recommend taking steps such as:
- Share instructional guides or even a demo before the event. You could send out a PDF with instructions or even record a walk-through video that points out the main elements, such as chat functionality, virtual breakout rooms, and virtual trade show or poster hall elements.
- Open your virtual event platform a few days in advance. This allows attendees, presenters, and volunteers to navigate the platform before the event begins and grow familiar with it.
- Have volunteers or staff members ready to answer questions during the event. There will undoubtedly be tech challenges and questions during the event itself, so you should have a team dedicated to answering those inquiries.
Share information such as how to log-in to the platform, how to prepare their technology to access all content, and how to contact your team if any challenges arise.
Experiment with an engaging variety of media.
During an in-person conference, you’ll want to include a variety of experiences for attendees. Experiences may include panel discussions, icebreakers and networking opportunities, entertainment like music and comedy, and educational booths. For a fundraising event, you’re providing these experiences to raise funds. For a volunteer event, these experiences are to thank or educate your supporters.
There is a misconception that virtual conferences are one-dimensional or lack variation in activities. However, if you choose a virtual event platform that can facilitate a plethora of media types, that doesn’t have to be the case!
Here are a few ideas that you can use to ensure an engaging virtual conference for your nonprofit:
- Breakout sessions, live chat, and discussion boards
- One-on-one meetings
- Panel discussions and speaking sessions
- Virtual trade show and poster hall
- Text transcripts of speakers and additional downloadable resources
- Pre-recorded video demonstrations and entertainment
- Live Q&A and polling
- Online donation methods
When it comes to a virtual conference, you can replicate many of the experiences that you’d include in an in-person event in the virtual sphere. However, just as with virtual volunteer recruitment and onboarding, you’ll need to get creative with your delivery method to do so successfully!
Create a routine and schedule strategically.
By nature, virtual conferences are at least a day-long (often multi-day) experience. They include various sessions and experiences scheduled on a strict timeline, and your supporters need to be logged on and prepared to engage when the event begins.
So, it’s important to strategically create this schedule to ensure donors and volunteers have the best chance to attend. There are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Schedule sessions to begin at the same time each day to create a sense of routine.
- Avoid scheduling during busy times, such as during the workday or when school would naturally start or end for families.
- Ensure there are breaks between sessions to allow attendees to step away from the experience.
- Alternate educational, social, and entertaining sessions to ensure variety and interest.
- Remain flexible in your scheduling and allow supporters to join sessions a few minutes late if needed.
Remember that while your supporters may be home more than ever before, that doesn’t mean that they have a free schedule. If anything, they may be busier than they were pre-pandemic! With these scheduling tips, you can create an event that’s accessible for all of your supporters.
In conclusion, you can successfully pivot your in-person conferences to the virtual sphere using these tips. However, you’ll also notice that we mention using an effective virtual events platform— so, your first step should be researching and finding the perfect platform for your organization!