Virtual And or Live?

By Zack Krone

It is not a binary question. It is not Black and white. It is not one or the other. This question floating over the heads of every school or non-profit is the wrong question. Its not a matter of doing a virtual or live event, It’s a matter of adaptation, expanding the fundraising apparatus and innovating while also staying committed to the principles of human nature.

You have been given an opportunity with a new method of fundraising that has proven to be successful despite all odds and nay sayers. The best part: Its not a matter of throwing out one format of fundraiser for another. It’s a matter of adding to your stockpile of fundraising methods. The proverbial net you throw just got larger so rejoice because there is a new kid in town that helps your fundraising effort.

Having dabbled in benefit auctions since 2008, going full time in 2011, on stage since the fourth grade, majoring in film and television in journalism, working in the entertainment division for Reuters News, serving as a production coordinator for various television shows and followed by a stint at auction school in 2011 And serving as a development director for a health service nonprofit made being a benefit auctioneer a natural fit

I would’ve never thought that my background in television production and on camera/on stage work production work would be so applicable to being a fundraising auctioneer…but here we are.

Prior to COVID-19 I consulted and conducted on 265 live nonprofit and scholastic fundraisers in 2019.

230 the year before that, and 197 the year before that.

You learn a lot about human nature, the virtues of a cause and how to present it to maximize its affect to inspire people to give in support of that cause

You also learn about all the things that could go wrong and how to use that knowledge and foresight to share with other clients. It was that experience that gave me foresight to understand the dire need to press forward and jump onto the virtual fundraising trend when COVID-19 first became a part of our lives in March.

Since then, I personally conducted 54 virtual events in 2020. From what I understand and I might be wrong that’s more than any other Benefit Auctioneer in the country

In that time and throughout that experience I learned several things and one universal truth: The Wide net that needs to be casted in the fundraising world just got wider and that net needs to expand into the virtual realm.

Throughout 2020  we have faced challenges the world hasn’t seen in a 100 years and because of the pandemic the world has changed, therefore the tools and the mindset we need to succeed are different too.

Many nonprofits are asking themselves the black-and-white question of should we try to do a live event or should we try to do virtual? But that is the wrong question. It is not a binary. Its not a black-and-white issue. Both have their virtues and both cater to a certain aspect of human nature. Therefore you must strive to do both.

That is at the core of what fundraising is all about: human nature.

We desire to be engaged, we long for connection and inspiration. We hope to be moved outside of ourselves and beyond the mundane. We are vain creatures that crave companionship as we hope to find others like us so we don’t feel so alone. That’s why we go to church rather than simply watching a sermon on television, that’s why we go to a concert rather and then just listen to music in the car. That’s why we loved going to the movies rather than only watching at home. That’s why we even go to restaurants rather than just order take out every night.

It’s for those same reasons plus the connections, networking, the dress up, the dinner, the vanity, the ego the entertainment value and the desire to be seen is why we go to Live fundraising events. You can’t deny the joy found in looking your best, hanging out with friends and contemporaries, dining on fine cuisine, being entertained, the open bar, the competition,  and the desire to be seen as a pillar of the community are aspects of human nature that will never go away.

There’s a natural inclination to congregate and you would be silly to ever disregard that. The Live event will always have it’s place. To deny them is to deny human nature.

But there is now another side of human nature that must be catered to.

We also have the occasional desire to stay in, enjoy the warm creature comforts of home, the convenience of delivery and the sanctuary found on the couch.

As a nonprofit it is your job to appeal to all sides of human nature in your fundraising effort which is why there is room for both live events and virtual events in your repertoire.

So if you haven’t started strategizing on how to accomplish a virtual event we are here for you.

As an industry leader having conducted more virtual events than any production company, any event Producer or auction firm we can share with you beyond measure what is necessary, what will save you time and money what will make for an enjoyable program. It will ultimately lead to your nonprofit enduring this chapter of our history.

If you believe that your core constituency of donors would rather find a way to gather we are here for you too. But my professional advice is for you to contemplate this question

“Can’t we do both?”

Whether simultaneously with a hybrid event, perhaps a drive-in event which is a growing popular fundraising segment that offers such an incredible value proposition while at the same time sustaining Covid friendly protocols.

Or whether you do a live event next season and a virtual event this season

The key is to do something.

The last thing I recommend doing is nothing. By not asking you are devaluing your own cause. the second to last thing I recommend doing is trying to wait it out until you can do a live event.

Can your nonprofit and those who depend on you wait as you kick the can down the road? Can the people that depend on your services wait too?

Can you afford to lose touch with your transactional donors and bidders?

 Your top 10 to 20 donors will always be there for you but only appealing to few negates the full spectrum of a donor base

A transactional donor is defined by someone who would buy a ticket, buy an item, attend an event, donate in smaller amounts or volunteer but ultimately through that egalitarian and collective effort you tend to raise more than the large donations made from individuals.

Surely those relationships have been built over a long period of time and it would be a shame to lose them now. There is a social currency, the value of relationships is second only to the money itself

Necessity is the mother of all innovation and your nonprofit is more than likely at a crossroads between what you want to do and what you can do. That is why as a benefit auction specialist I took it upon myself to innovate and evolve on your behalf.

No matter what method of fundraising you may embark upon at this particular moment I can assure you that is imperative you get out in front of this.

Maintain your transactional donor base and have something worth selling that offers a value proposition to your donor base in the process.

Virtual events have to become creative in offering a value proposition to a potential viewer. What makes them want to watch? That’s what we’re here for.

Forward and advance, adapt or die, we are the natural intersection of evolution.

Appeal to the full spectrum of human nature.

There is a desire for connection and within that connection our human nature is to have empathy for your fellow human. There is also a natural drive to be recognized publicly for acts of kindness and perform acts of kindness in general sometimes on a daily basis and sometimes when the mood suits you. 

There’s a natural human nature to want to be entertained and inspired.

And there’s also a human nature to be incentivized.

So align with human nature. No point in swimming against the stream of our own DNA.  Act on that human nature and act now before you get left behind. Not raising money now when we’ve all been affected by COVID-19 is like the Red Cross not asking for money after hurricane. Never before have our collective sensibilities of empathy been higher.

Use the entire spectrum of human nature to cover the trifecta of giving:

People are either inspired, motivated or they are incentivized to give: in many cases it’s all three. 

No matter the method or vehicle by which the solicitation is made; virtual, live, hybrid, drive-in etc. It must be made regardless.

Otherwise, you face a self-fulfilling prophecy. By not asking what you are saying to the world is that we’re not worth asking for donations. You are saying “Our cause doesn’t need help, support, or your kindness.”

That is not the message you want to send. There are only two things that happen to nonprofits that don’t evolve. They either close their doors or die a slow painful death.

What’s true and life is true in business and it’s true in the nonprofit sector.

The institutions and nonprofits that survive this chapter of our history are the ones that take action, forge a new path, and uphold the principles and merits of the causes they deem worthy of survival.

Make no mistake this is the fight of our generation and this is our “Rosie the Riveter” moment where we must rise to the occasion and choose to become the best version of ourselves in order to persevere. 

If you take away anything from this article please post those questions to your staff, your board, and yourself.

  1. Are we worthy of survival?
  2. Are we capable of adaptation?
  3. Do we want to grow or do we want to shrink?

The answer to all 3 should be YES.