Connecting with stakeholders through virtual events

Engaging sponsors, donors, and other key organizational stakeholders such as board members been a huge hurdle the not-for-profit sector has had to tackle over the past 13 months. With in-person events being cancelled, a crucial element of the stakeholder experience has been placed on the back-burner. It’s these personal interactions, face-to-face networking, and displayed of appreciation that make people feel connected to the organizations they support, and it’s so difficult to replicate that feeling in a virtual setting. Difficult, but not impossible. Getting your stakeholders together online is still a worthwhile endeavour, and here are some ways you can make your event successful.

The purpose

The first, and most important, question your team needs to ask is “why are we holding this event?” It’s easy to answer with, “to engage our stakeholders”, but what do you want to get out of it? Do you want them to connect with the people their money has affected? Do you want to them to learn more about your cause or your business? Do you maybe just want to offer them a fun experience as a perk of donating to you? Determining this is a crucial aspect in deciding how you will run the rest of your event. The end goal, regardless of the direction you take, should be that your stakeholders feel more connected to your organization after your event has concluded.

The audience

Your stakeholders are a diverse group of people with varying interests and needs, so it’s unlikely your event is going to be one-size-fits-all, and that’s okay! A good place to start is to determine what level of stakeholder your event is for. Is it a webinar that can be accessed by everyone who has ever given money to your organization, is it an intimate meet-and-greet with only your top 2%, or is it somewhere in between? Once you’ve decided this, look at the demographics of the audience you’re targeting. Do they have young children at home with them? Do they work 9 to 5 jobs? Are they tech savvy? These questions will help inform decisions like what time of day to run your event, what kind of content to schedule, and even what virtual event platform you should be using.

a photo of empty chairs at an event

The speaker

Your choice of speaker will depend very much on the purpose of your event, which we touched on above. If your goal is to give your stakeholders updates on your organization, you’ll want someone in a senior leadership role to address them. If you want this event to be more of a perk or value-add, you can get creative! Ask yourself, what is this segment of stakeholders interested in? Will you cover timely topics that are popular in the media? Or could it be something more timeless, like a cooking tutorial or poetry reading? It all comes down to how you want your stakeholders to feel at the end of the event. We know we want them to feel more connected, but what about inspired, relaxed, determined, or invigorated? These are the feelings that will make them likely to tell others about the event, and by extension, your organization.

The format

Now that you’ve got your audience and your main presenter, it’s time to put it all together with your online platform. A year into the pandemic, Zoom fatigue is, as much as ever, an issue many are facing. No matter what event you’re trying to plan right now, it’s best to keep it under an hour. There’s also the question of which platform to use. There are so many amazing virtual event platforms to choose from depending on the style of event you’re trying to produce. Make sure to examine your audience and choose a platform that accommodates for all abilities, ages, and locations (i.e., internet bandwidth) represented in the group. It’s no good using a highly technical software that only a few of your stakeholders are able to access.

The extra mile

It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to make someone feel special, and many stakeholders would rather you spend on the cause they’ve given money towards rather than showering them with gifts. Think about the last time you felt really appreciated. It could have been was a heart-felt hand written note from a friend or colleague or an unexpected free item in your order from a small business you supported. Something as simple as a personalized correspondence or a thank-you video from a someone personally affected by your organization can go a long way. If you have a little more budget, maybe offer a gift such as a book that was mentioned by the guest speaker, or a branded recipe card if your event was a cooking tutorial. Don’t give gifts for the sake of it – make it make sense. It will have a greater impact on your stakeholders this way.

a white greeting card that reads "thank you very much"

For more tips on how to master virtual events, check out our previous blogs.

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