Charlie Vass: How virtual events can help charities win in real life

05 Feb 2020 Expert insight

Charlie Vass from Blackbaud explains what makes a successful virtual fundraising event. 

Over the last few years, virtual events have become increasingly popular for many charities. But what are the core elements needed to run a successful virtual events campaign and why would you consider entering this market?

What is a virtual event?

A virtual event is an exciting peer-to-peer event that brings fundraising, fitness and communities together to unite people and create a digital community around a cause. Unlike traditional events which take place on a specific date in a specific location, virtual events allow supporters to participate wherever they are, whenever they want.

Your charity might decide to run a virtual event for any of the following reasons:

  • Accessible to all – there are no restrictions on who can take part because its so easy for people to get involved
  • Low cost to enter – the running costs usually involved with a physical event don’t apply 
  • Breakdown location barrier – the event could be UK or even worldwide
  • Low-risk for charities – the initial set up fees are lower for charities, plus there is less man-power involved in set up
  • Low admin for charities – it can all be done virtually!

Increasing your audience

In research carried out by Blackbaud alongside More Strategic, we found that medium and large charities acquired a younger audience through running a virtual event.

This insight is unsurprising given the volume of younger audiences that are using digital tools in everyday life situations and would not be deterred by a complete event sitting in the virtual world. 

Virtual events are also a fantastic tool for increasing your audience by drawing in completely new supporters. One charity revealed 83 per cent of their virtual event audience was new to their organisation – this is a general trend being seen across the charity market for virtual events.

The ability to bring in novelty and diversity in the fundraising activities and challenges is one of the key strengths of virtual events. However, it is still underutilised by charities even though the few organisations who have applied this strategy have been seeing the best fundraising results.

Driving fundraising

Despite the obvious benefits of virtual events, one factor that may be stopping charities getting involved, is the lower fundraising revenue earned when compared to physical events. 

Our research found that:

  • 23-32 per cent of virtual event participants went on to fundraise
  • The average physical event fundraiser raises between 34-79 per cent more than a virtual event fundraiser
  • The donor-to-fundraiser ratio is between 23-63 per cent lower than for a physical event

There are however a number of steps you can take to drive fundraising from your virtual event to avoid this and instil the same principles we usually embed in physical events can help.

Research that More Strategic conducted to look at success factors behind Australia’s largest multi-charity fun-run revealed the following results:

  • Target-setting matters as it’s an expression of commitment
    • Help your supporters understand the impact they are going to create by achieving their fundraising goal. Lower average amounts raised indicate these supporters were less committed
    • Find out how to make them committed: is it cause or activity-driven?
  • The more frequent and personalised the fundraiser’s asks, the more money they raised
    • Drip feed key ways to fundraise, remind them to send reminder donation request emails, get them to send a direct ask through Messenger, WhatsApp or on a friend’s Facebook page; not through a post on their personal timeline.
  • Embed gamification and incentives
    • For supporters who are activity-led, they need to be inspired to reach fundraising goals in a different format, for example, to be top of the leader board or to win a prize.
  • Focus on your VIPs 
    • Ensure you have a process in place to focus on your most committed. This may not just be your lead fundraisers but those who are highly influential, have been a long-term supporter or even have the potential to become a high-level fundraiser but need more coaching. 
  • Give them the impact story 
    • If they can simply relay a message of why fundraising is important to their donors, it will lift the return.

Charlie Vass is digital services specialist – Blackbaud & JustGiving, which has published a new ebook ‘The Secret of Virtual Event Success’, including success stories from charities leading the way in virtual event fundraising, that can be downloaded from

This content has been supplied by a commercial partner. 


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