How to Host a Nonprofit Virtual Summit or Gala

Kiley Peters

Content Marketing,

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has disrupted pretty much everything. As a nonprofit, you’re probably trying to figure out what on earth to do about your biggest annual fundraiser since you’re likely having discussions of whether to cancel, postpone or take it online.

Gah. What to do!? Where to start?

No worries, outlined below is a comprehensive list of all the logistics, benefits, new opportunities, and digital content you’ll want to consider if you decide to bring your nonprofit fundraising event online.

Regardless of if this is an annual gala, a three-day global summit, or a summer cohort program, you’ll want to take a few minutes to outline your game plan for the following operational elements of running your nonprofit and the resources you’ll need to execute your new virtual event.

  • Operational & Financial. The details of this will likely be the result of the following, but make sure to circle back and finalize them. Confirm what your minimum fundraising needs are, what would give you a little cushion, and what would get you pretty close to your original net profit goals. Note any new expenses and also make note of any expenses you will no longer incur. Know these numbers and stick to them.
  • Team. It’s one thing to completely pivot your largest annual event, but it’s another to continue being a leader for your team. And don’t forget that without them, it’s difficult to pull this off. What do they need from you? How can you keep them motivated, efficient, and profitable?
  • Donors. If you haven’t already, start analyzing your donor list. Some may not be affected by COVID-19. Others may be devastated. Begin by segmenting your list in whatever way makes the most sense for you. Create an action plan to address your major donors, annual donors/attendees, prospective/lookalike donors, etc. Delegate this to someone on your team and make sure they all have clear communication on next steps and expectations. A few ideas for this are below.
  • New Normal. This is temporary, it will subside, but take this time to confirm what you should pick back up and continue as per usual, and what should change. This is a great time to think through this.

Ok, now let’s dive into the details of turning your in-person annual fundraiser into an online virtual success!

What are the benefits of making

my nonprofit event virtual?

Photo Courtesy of

While every event is different, let’s take a moment to point out the benefits of bringing your event online. There could be an opportunity to continue this as an additional fundraising stream for future events as well!

  • Unlimited attendees. With in-person events, you’ll max out how many people can actually attend due to regulations. That’s not the case with an online initiative. Instead of 10,000 in-person attendees, you could have 100,000 virtual attendees. Even if only a fraction of those folks donate, not only have you now 10x your email list, you have likely secured a few net new donors along the way as well.
  • Lower expenses. Assuming you’re not locked into the full contract you’ve signed, running a virtual event is a fraction of the cost to run a live event.
  • More marketable content. By bringing things online, you have the opportunity to create a lot of great content you’ll be able to repurpose, and potentially, sell. More on that below.
  • New revenue streams and sponsorship opportunities for future years/other events. A number of ideas for those are featured below.

What are the logistics of shifting

my nonprofit event virtual?

Photo Courtesy of BA Women's Alliance

First, if you have existing contracts, review them and either cancel or renegotiate them. Look for a Force-Majeure Clause. Without a force-majeure clause, you may be looking at significant cancellation fees. After that, you have two choices, and these will largely depend on time, funding, and long-term needs.

  1. Build the necessary functionality into your website (and ensure you have the proper hosting set up to support the influx in traffic and activity).
    • Pros:
      • Increased traffic to your owned domain (website) will do wonders for your search engine optimization (SEO). You’ll be able to track, remarket to, and learn from your new visitors and their behavior on your website in a big way.
      • Once you have this built, it’s just a matter of maintaining/updating these plugins/functionality and now you can use it for future opportunities
    • Cons:
      • Time.
      • Money.
      • Finding the technical resources (if you don’t already have them).
  2. Utilize a conference/summit/gala third-party event management system to run all the details.
    • Pros:
      • It’s relatively easy to choose an existing platform and begin building it out to meet your needs. It’ll take a little time, but it’ll be an easier and, probably, quicker fix.
    • Cons:
      • You will miss out on the traffic to your owned domain (website).
      • Depending on the platform, you might have to maintain a monthly subscription to maintain your data. You don’t want to lose all the content you’ve uploaded, but there may be downsides to uploading this all into a platform you don’t own.

If you decide you’d like to build out this feature into your website, we can help out with this!

If you decide to utilize a third-party event management system, here are a few you might want to consider:

  • OneCause - A dedicated nonprofit event, auction, fundraising, and donation solution.
  • GiveSmart - Can be used for event management, ticketing, online bidding, raffles, silent auctions, donor engagement, and more.
  • BiddingForGood - Great for managing online auctions, mobile bidding, ticket management.
  • Hopin - This is still in its infancy, but looks incredibly promising. From managing event receptions, stages, networking, breakouts, event booths, registration, and more. There’s a ton of potential here.
  • Bizzabo - This is a popular conference/summit tool to start, but they also just launched their virtual event feature. This can help manage your live webinars, engagement, real-time insights, and gated content. Definitely worth checking out

A few of the needs you’ll likely want this technology to address will probably include some or all of the below:

  • Speaker landing pages
  • Video upload support
  • Live chat features
  • Password protection
  • Different access levels
  • Online payment portals
  • Expo hall-like features
  • Silent auction management
  • Raffle management
  • Video conferencing
  • Video breakout conferencing
  • Open forum support
  • Control over aesthetics
  • Automated email sign-ups (sessions, registrations, tickets)
  • Automated email reminders
  • Calendar integrations

How to translate my nonprofit event

to digital content

Photo Courtesy of

Again all events are going to be a little different, but let’s assume you’re trying to take a large summit online. Here are all the different features you may be trying to translate from an in-person experience to their potential online counterparts:

Networking Open Forums (Check out Zoom)
Keynote & Breakout Speakers Prerecord and upload presentation video to speaker-specific landing pages.
Educational Workshops Create an online course with short videos and written content.
Donations Launch online auctions, real-time raffles, monthly subscription donations, and flash fundraisers.
Expo Hall Create a landing page with links to the “booths” of all of your vendors. Have each vendor supply a demo video and build out a page for each vendor.

With the above online suggestions, there’s a lot of content to be created to support and promote these new virtual events. Let’s dive into what all will need to be created and the additional promotion and sponsorship opportunities that accompany them. It’s up to you how much of this should be gated, paid for or totally free!

New digital content assets to be created:

  • Keynote and breakout speaker presentations.
    • Create a landing page for each speaker with prerecorded video presentation, speaker session time, brief description, and main takeaways to the copy below the uploaded video. Include a download takeaway.
    • Include a live chatbot/video chat during their originally scheduled session.
    • Set up or other calendar scheduling service so sessions are automatically added to your guests’ calendars.
    • Set up email reminders to attend live sessions so they can do the live Q&A with the speakers!
  • Educational workshops.
    • This is a great opportunity to launch online courses and workshops. Online courses and workshops can provide useful content now during your live virtual event, but they also prove to be potential revenue streams now and in the future.
    • A few platforms that are helpful in creating online courses include Teachable and Kajabi. Kajabi is much more expensive, but is also more robust.
    • Make sure to include video, graphics, and written content as everyone learns in different ways! A workbook isn’t a bad idea either!
  • Donations.
    • Use the technology platforms above to manage your online auctions, raffles, and flash fundraisers.
    • Make sure you’re sending out daily emails and social media posts to tease the content.
    • Give sneak peeks via live video chats. Let your audience know when bidding begins, when it ends, roll out new items throughout the day.
    • Set up monthly subscription/recurring donations within your online payment system so donations are automatically withdrawn every month. Ask them to opt-in once and continue to build your monthly recurring revenue forever!
  • Expo Hall.
    • This might be covered in your third-party technology, but if you opt to create your own landing page on your website, this can bring in all kinds of opportunities for you.
    • Create a landing page as a main navigational item. Include links to individual web pages for all of your vendors. Similar to the speaker landing pages, have your vendors prerecord a video and/or demo of their product/service or message and upload it to this landing page. Include written content to feature the highlights of their message. Include downloadable content for visitors.
    • Set up a live chat so visitors can ask questions of vendors in real-time, either via a chatbot or video conferencing. While it’s not the exact same and being in-person, it’s the next best thing!

In order to be as efficient and effective as possible, we really recommend investing in a content strategy to ensure everything is well organized, aligns, supports, and ultimately, meets your fundraising goals!

A few additional content pieces you may want to consider include:

  • Video messages from your Executive Director. Hearing directly from the leader of your organization is always a strong move. Let them be vulnerable and share why you’re making the shift you’re making, what your attendees/donors can expect, and the importance of supporting your cause. Kick-off your messaging with this, but don’t let it be a one and done. Keep open communication throughout your event and also make sure to send a follow-up thank you video message.
  • Video content sharing the stories of your impact. Whether this is small bite-sized pieces or a master video, that will depend on your event format, but use video here to pull at the heartstrings and share the impact your organization is making. Do not underestimate the value of video and video testimonials from those you’ve helped. Tell their stories and they’ll tell yours.
  • Robust email campaign. Not only to help manage and communicate your online auction, raffle, sessions, etc. but also because email, when done well, has one of the highest ROIs in digital.

Additional sponsorship opportunities that result from nonprofit virtual events.

Photo Courtesy of

Remember the more content you create, the more content you can sell. A few potentially new sponsorship opportunities that might present themselves in your new virtual summit:

  • Tracks/Breakout Sessions
    • Open Forums
    • Track Landing Pages (reskin for sponsorship)
    • Email Reminders
  • Expo Hall Landing Page (reskin for sponsorship)
  • Chatbot
    • Full Summit Sponsor
    • Individual Track Sponsor
  • Away OOO Message (Make it fun to be at a live virtual event!)
  • Facebook Live
    • Tracks
    • Expo Hall
    • Keynotes

In addition to these new sponsorship opportunities, keep in mind you can still bring in revenue through your online auction, raffle, flash fundraising, and expanded virtual registrations!

So in summary, while no one likes change, especially that pandemic healthcare kind, there can be a lot of upside to this silver lining. The key is to remember that your mission is still the same, it’s just your medium that has changed!


Founder & CEO

Kiley Peters is the Founder and CEO of Brainchild Studios, a boutique audience research, content strategy, and website creation agency primarily serving brands targeting Millennial Moms or business owners. She is also the Founder of the Work From Home Playbook, a series of online courses guiding aspiring entrepreneurial moms through the steps of starting a virtual business. She also launched the Brainchild Fund, a nonprofit initiative to support women and girls in business and entrepreneurship Follow her on Instagram.

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