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Non-Profit Virtual Events: Should yours be Live or Pre-Recorded?

Explore options for running successful virtual events at your organization

If you’re planning a virtual event for the first time, or even if you’ve already hosted one, you likely have a few questions. For example, what types of technology do you need? How do you grab and hold attendees’ attention while engaging with them online? When should you host an upcoming virtual fundraiser? 

Connecting with best practices to help plan and execute your virtual event (whether it’s a fundraiser, conference, or mixer) can be the difference between success and flop. Another critical question facing nonprofits: Should my virtual event be live or pre-recorded?

Tools such as OneCause, specialize in nonprofit fundraising events and provide organizations with the resources they need to thrive in the virtual space. They’ve put together a quick guide to answer your questions and discuss the various approaches to virtual fundraising events.

Here, we’ll cover the following:

As you know, the popularity (and necessity) of virtual events has skyrocketed in the past year due to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines. But even as we return to normalcy, fundraising predictions expect virtual events to have some staying power. Their versatility, relative ease to plan, and wide reach make them an effective fundraising tool now and beyond the pandemic.

Let’s dive in to explore the pros and cons of live and pre-recorded formats.


Livestreamed Programming

Livestreamed programming is just what it sounds like: programming that is delivered live to remote attendees’ computers and mobile devices via livestreaming software. Live virtual events, or portions of virtual events, are often streamed in real-time.

As stated in the OneCause guide to livestreaming for nonprofits, the livestreaming industry has grown by more than 99% in the last year—and it continues to increase as more and more users shift to this type of content.

So how do you determine if a livestream approach is right for your next event? First, you’ll need to consider the benefits and drawbacks of the format.

Pros and Cons

Live virtual events can be much more engaging for participants than pre-recorded video content. When guests know that the event they’re attending is happening in real-time, they’ll be active participants, stay tuned in, and continue engaging in your fundraising. 

It also allows for real-time interaction between your cause and its supporters and, if done right, between supporters themselves. You might set up a live chat functionality so that participants can send messages, ask questions, foster conversation, or interact with the programming. This way, supporters are engaged in the virtual event as active participants rather than as passive viewers.

However, live programming comes with a unique set of challenges. Since your content is being broadcasted as it occurs, there can be a greater chance for errors. From technology snafus, miscues, latency delays, and other unforeseen issues, live event broadcasting does have inherent risks. You’ll just need to plan ahead as much as possible to avoid them.

According to this guide from re:Charity, if you choose to incorporate live content into your event, you must conduct a trial event or dry run to minimize issues and ensure a seamless experience.

Examples of Live Content

If you’re looking to incorporate live programming into your virtual event but you’re not sure where to start, here are a few of our favorite ideas. These examples can help you engage with your supporters and raise more revenue for your cause:

  • Virtual galas and auctions: Virtual auctions and galas are often livestreamed to their audiences as they occur. For a charity auction, you might use a virtual event and mobile bidding software to allow guests to bid on items in real-time as they aim to outbid other attendees for your top items. Virtual auctions often occur over a longer timeframe, with bidding opening in advance and occurring online. During the actual event, live bidding can occur for a selection of unique or high-demand items. For a gala, you may invite the executive director, board chair, volunteer ambassadors, and constituents to share their stories with your live audience. 
  • Q & A sessions: If your organization is looking to host a virtual question and answer session with your supporters, it must be streamed in real-time. This way, attendees can send or ask their questions and receive a personalized answer within the scope of the event—which would not be possible if they were watching a playback at a later date or time.

When you choose to incorporate live streaming into your virtual event, be sure to leverage opportunities for audience engagement and interaction whenever possible. Live chats, shout-outs, polls, break-out rooms, and live auctioneering are great tactics. Taking time to plan out engagement activities that run alongside your livestream can increase supporter engagement and leave them feeling connected to your cause on a deeper level.


Pre-Recorded Programming

Pre-recorded programming is recorded at an earlier time and transmitted on the day of the virtual event. This type of virtual event is often more professionally produced and edited, giving it the feel of a high-quality television show or video experience. 

This also allows for longer production timeframes. The actual recording for your event can be done days, weeks, or even months beforehand, as long as the content remains relevant when it’s played for your audience.

Pros and Cons

There are many reasons why fundraisers would opt for pre-recorded content. For one, recording videos ahead of time allows you to edit and filter the content. You can also curate segments and weave together pre-recorded vignettes into a beautifully produced program. For example, you can produce segments highlighting your mission, interviews and messages from supporters from all over, tours of your facilities, and more.

Pre-recording your video also allows you to reuse your content more easily. This way, you can share the program playback with anyone who missed the event, and keep it as evergreen content on your site.

On the other hand, pre-recorded programming can feel significantly less engaging for an audience if it’s not well produced or planned with engagement in mind. After all, there’s little to no interaction with each other, your cause, or the speakers, so attendees can become passive viewers rather than active participants. It can become a television-like experience, playing in the background but they’re not really engaging.

Examples of Pre-recorded Content

Pre-recorded virtual event content can take on a variety of forms, each offering a unique experience if done right. Our favorite types of pre-recorded videos to help drive active engagement include:

  • Fundraising challenges: Unique fundraising challenges are often incorporated into peer-to-peer fundraising strategies. In these types of events, fundraisers and ambassadors compete against each other or complete challenges, collecting donations from their personal networks to help them (and your cause) reach a fundraising goal. Rather than coordinating participants to complete their challenges in real-time, P2P fundraisers can send in a pre-recorded clip of themselves completing the challenge to broadcast during the main event.
  • Personal testimonies: Another powerful type of pre-recorded content for your virtual event is a video testimonial by a person who was personally impacted by your organization. While it’s not always feasible to have individuals share their stories in real-time during your event, their participation can make a big difference in the overall success of the fundraiser. These “mission moments” can help ground your mission in supporters’ minds by putting a face with the cause, even if the face is pre-recorded and on a screen.

Before choosing the type of content you’d like to include in your online event, be sure to look at your audience and imagine what they want. Think of the personas in your donor database and connect them with programming that resonates with their passions, interests, and reasons why they support your mission.

For example, do they want to see fun videos or heart-warming ones? Would they prefer short-form content or longer segments? Do they care about hearing from your team or the communities you serve? Answering these questions and more can ensure that the content you invest time into recording, editing, and producing connects with your donors and inspires them to support your cause.


Taking a Balanced Approach

Coming back to the question, “Should your virtual event be live or pre-recorded?,” the best answer is often a combination of the two. 

Regardless of the specific events and activities you’re planning, incorporating both live and pre-recorded video elements is likely to be the optimal strategy for engagement and revenue purposes. By leveraging the best of both styles, you’re able to take a donor-centered approach that appeals to all of your supporters.

So how can you blend those two types of content to create a seamless fundraising event experience? With the right virtual event management toolkit! Look for a platform that offers complete customization and flexible options while also giving attendees a truly seamless experience. 

For instance, donation and bidding tools should be built right into the virtual event center so that viewers can continue engaging with your content without needing to navigate away to make a quick donation.

Virtual fundraising events have the potential to generate plenty of new engagement opportunities for your organization. To maximize their success, however, it’s critical that you consider the logistics beforehand and create a plan. 

While live streamed and pre-recorded content each have their advantages and drawbacks, incorporating both into your overall strategy is likely to be your best bet.

Just think carefully about your exact goals for the event and your audience’s preferences. Then, get creative to come up with the perfect mix of live and recorded content that will keep donors engaged and eager to stay tuned in. 

Good luck!

Karrie, OneCause

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