It’s never been more important for nonprofit founders and marketing leaders to develop a strategic marketing plan for their virtual events. Especially given the fact that 40% of nonprofits reported revenue losses in 2020 as crucial activities like fundraisers were postponed or pivoted to digital formats.
As the industry continues adapting to “virtual-first” ways of engaging supporters, event organizers seeking a stronger return on investment must create a dedicated marketing plan.
We’ll break down the steps you should take as you fill out your own plan, and we created a template to make it easier for you below.
We’ll also be sharing tips from nonprofit founder and CEO Aaron Fisher of Atlanta Rescue Dog Cafe (ARDC). After coordinating several events—including a virtual dog walk—he doubles down on the importance of a thorough planning process.
Aside from the importance of this process, he also offers a few words of wisdom around the time it takes to plan effectively:
Step #1: Determine your goals and how marketing can support them
Your goals can be tangible metrics like engagements, views, or donations gained, or they can be more intangible things such as brand awareness. The important part is to make sure they ladder up to your organizational goals and are measurable in some way.
Aaron recommends forming roles and committees within your nonprofit to complete action items in a timely manner, delineate responsibilities, and effectively project manage the execution of the marketing plan.
In ARDC’s example, Aaron and his team determined that they’d focus on three metrics for their virtual dog walk:
- Increasing ARDC’s geographic reach
These three goals are excellent choices with one being conversion-based, one with an engagement focus, and the third based on awareness. Having a mix of goals (while still keeping it limited) allows you to diversify your marketing efforts in order to avoid having your overall success hinging on one metric.
Step #2: Choose the type of event you want to host (and on what platforms)
The next step in developing a marketing plan for your virtual event is to decide what type of event you want to host. Examples include webinars, conferences, workshops, seminars, or even creative options like ARDC’s virtual dog walk. Other interactive events might include classes and demonstrations.
The type of event you choose to host will be informed by your goals, the audience you’re trying to reach, and your technical and logistical limitations. One of the most direct effects of the event type you choose is the platforms you’ll be hosting it on.
Some platforms are more geared towards fundraising whereas others focus more on attendance. If your goals are centered around both converting donations and driving audience engagement, you’ll likely want to select a platform that has elements of both. In Aaron’s case, he and his team identified a platform that allowed for them to not only drive attendance but also embrace nonprofit-specific features geared towards raising money for ARDC.
It’s important to note that the platforms we’re discussing here are ones designed to house the logistical aspects of the event like donations and attendance. These are separate from the marketing platforms you’ll use to promote the event, but we’ll talk more about that in Step #4.
Step #3: Create an event landing page
Having a stellar landing page is one of the most important—and potentially impactful—aspects of marketing your virtual event. This is where prospective attendees will go to learn more about the event, sign up to attend, or offer their email address to hear more from your organization.
First, a successful event page will feature a consistent branding experience. Having an organized site with compelling copy and cohesive branding elements (logos, colors, fonts, etc.) not only makes it easier to navigate, it also improves the user experience. A standout user experience allows for people to further engage with your content and builds trust in your brand. Because let’s be real: No one likes a bad website.
Your landing page should also clearly convey your event’s value proposition and be conversion optimized towards your goals. What we mean by this is making it easy for people to do things like share their email addresses, navigate to your organization’s main website and social media platforms, or donate to your cause.
Aaron notes that this element is especially important to ARDC’s marketing efforts. Optimizing for conversions means people are taking meaningful action instead of simply visiting then potentially bouncing from the site.
Step #4: Develop content to support the event
Aside from the event website, you’ll also want to develop marketing content to support the event before, during, and after it occurs. This content can take a variety of forms, with some common ones being social media posts, emails, blog posts, or even video content.
It’s a good idea to play to your strengths here by identifying who in your organization has expertise in these areas and tasking them with aiding in content creation. Delegating in this way will help reduce the cost in time and effort to create the content as well as improve its quality.
For ARDC’s dog walk, Aaron designated a point person within the org to handle all social content for the event. This allowed decisions to be made much more quickly and effectively across the entire planning process.
Utilize the content you’re able to create as a steady drumbeat leading up to your event, posting regularly to drive awareness, engage your audience, garner event signups, collect email addresses, drive traffic to your website, etc.
Step #5: Track your event’s success
As with any marketing initiative, you’ll want to track the success of your event to inform future activities. We discussed choosing goals in Step #1, and now it’s time to determine the metrics you’ll use to track those goals.
Here are some examples of metrics to consider:
- Donations: As a nonprofit, this is likely high on the list. More donations means more work can be done to further the mission.
- Increased geographic reach: Especially for more localized nonprofits, reaching people in new locations through a virtual event is an excellent way to get your message to people who likely wouldn’t encounter your local efforts.
- New donor signups: Even better than a one-time donation is converting event attendees into ongoing donors.
- Event views: A good measure of the potential reach an event has, views/visits are a quick barometer as to the general success of an event.
- Number of attendees: Similar to event views, knowing the number of unique visitors to your event is another good indicator of increased reach and awareness of your organization.
- Awareness: While not a conversion-based metric, awareness can still be a good metric to pursue, especially if your organization is new.
- Engagements: A measure of how many times people interact with content surrounding your event, engagements are a useful way to see what parts of your event resonated with people enough for them to take action.
- Email signups: As a follow-up to event attendance, email signups are an excellent way to continue growing your base and communicating with your audience.
As you can see, there are a lot of metrics you can track when it comes to measuring the success of your event. The most important thing to note here is that you should primarily focus on conversion-based metrics like donations, new sponsors, and email signups.
These metrics are much more tangible than, say, awareness, event views, or engagements. Granted, non-conversion based metrics can still be useful, especially if your overall goals are to increase awareness of and trust in your brand, but use them sparingly and in support of your conversion efforts.
As we mentioned earlier, Aaron and his team chose to focus on three specific goals in separate areas: donations, engagement, and an increase in ARDC’s geographic reach. Spreading out your goals (but not too much) helps ensure you aren’t putting all your eggs in one basket and that all your activities are contributing meaningfully.
Tech tools to help market your virtual event
Aside from having an excellent promotional strategy humming along, technology can also be of great use for both marketing your event beforehand and when it’s time to execute.
Below are some of the common types of software tools you may want to consider and a brief overview of what they can do:
- Virtual event software: These platforms offer registration tools, customizable designs, engagement tools, and lead capturing functionality.
- Social media marketing software: This type of software helps with all things social media: creating and posting content, engaging with users, and managing social campaigns for your event.
- Email marketing software: Email marketing platforms can help you manage email campaigns to promote your event, capture signups from your event website, and follow up with attendees after the event has concluded.
- Web analytics software: As we mentioned in Step #3, it’s important to track actions taken from your event’s landing page. Web analytics software can help you do this as well as track visitors to your main website originating from the event page.
Putting it all together to host a successful virtual event for your nonprofit
As we learned from ARDC’s example, detailing a marketing plan beforehand is essential to making the most out of your virtual event. But don’t take it from us, when asked about the importance of mapping things out beforehand, Aaron had this to say:
Working through these steps and completing the downloadable worksheet will have you well on your way to hosting a virtual event that’s a smashing success.
And if you don’t plan ahead? Pitfalls, forgotten details, and sudden occurrences might derail what would otherwise be a great event. Simply put: Taking advantage of the resources and expert advice provided here will help you effectively market your virtual event and ultimately further your organization’s goals.
Hungry for more information on growing your nonprofit to better serve your mission? Keep an eye on the Software Advice blog, or you can get started right now with the resources below:
Software Advice conducted the Emerging Martech Trends Survey in May 2022 among 301 U.S. marketers. Qualified respondents were screened to work full-time in marketing, advertising, sales, or IT departments and have some level of involvement in marketing-related activities. Respondents were also required to have invested in some form of emerging or disruptive technology in the last 12 months.
- Nonprofit Trends and Impacts 2021, Urban Institute
- About Us, Atlanta Rescue Dog Cafe
- What Are UTM Links And How They Can Help Improve Your Social Media Marketing, Forbes
Note: Questions and responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.