• 06/03/2021 11:21 AM | Anonymous

    By Amy Schiffman, ACN Member 

    Last month, I sat screen to screen (on my sixth Zoom of the day) with my Evolve Giving Group colleagues, talking about how many of our nonprofit clients feel “stuck.” That feeling is the result of a pandemic that has forced them to rethink their plans and strategies and yet, at the same time, made it difficult to plan.  We thought hard about how to help nonprofits think differently about possibilities and opportunities, and developed a process we call visioning.

    Visioning is more creative and comprehensive than a revision to your vision statement. It is the precursor to every strategic plan, feasibility study, and every large-scale campaign. It enables organizations and groups to agree on compelling goals, breakthrough strategies, and aligned action.

    An organization’s strategic visionwhich is summarized in its vision statementis an overarching set of goals, without the roadmap to get there (that comes later). It tells stakeholders, staff, and donors “where we’re going” and “what we hope to achieve.” Nonprofits with clear strategic visions are the ones that inspire donors, unify stakeholders, and raise substantial amounts of money.

    Here are 4 signs it’s time to engage in strategic visioning:

    1. Your work looks wildly different than it did 1.5 years ago.
    2. You’re questioning whether a particular project or set of programs really fits into your organization’s bigger picture.
    3. Making decisions about how to move forward has become increasingly difficult for staff and board members.
    4. The constant change and shifting gears over the past year has left your team feeling burnt out, misaligned, and confusedand you’re not sure how to get back on track.

    If you relate to one or more of these statements, it’s likely you’re ready to define your strategic vision. I suggest you start with an exercise that engages a small group of stakeholders who are ready and willing to think “big” about your organization’s future. This exercise helps jump start the visioning process and stimulate brainstorming:


    The group forms two concentric circles facing each other. One third of the group joins the inner circle and the remaining two-thirds join the outer circle. The group then forms trios with one person from the center circle and two people from the outer circle.


    Each person in the trio has two minutes to complete the sentence “It is (choose a date in the future - like June 15, 2023) and it has been a great year…” This person should speak as if it is currently that date and share organizational accomplishments, current programs or operations, challenges, and achievements. After six minutes, each person in the trio will have had their turn and the inner circle can rotate so that each person joins a new trio and the group completes three rounds.


    At the end of the activity, spend some time debriefing with your final group and assign a note taker. I suggest asking questions such as:

    • How did your vision change with each round?
    •  What did you hear from others that inspired or excited you?
    •   Did you hear any consistency or alignment around future hopes and goals?

    The ideas that come out of this exercise can form the foundation of an organizational vision. If you are interested in learning more about strategic visioning, please reach out, and if you try this exercise with your team, let me know how it goes!

    Amy Schiffman is president and CEO of Evolve Giving Group. She and her rock star team can be found at www.evolvegivinggroup.com so feel free to reach out with comments or questions.

  • 05/02/2021 9:41 PM | Anonymous

    by Janet Cobb, ACN Member

    If I had a nickel for every time a client voiced concern about not wanting to cause “donor fatigue,” I’d be very rich!

    Many nonprofits are afraid of communicating with their donors “too often.” They don’t want donors to get tired of hearing from them, to unsubscribe, or to stop giving. They don’t want to “bother” or “nag” them. But the idea of “donor fatigue” is a myth.

    Why is it a myth?

    Think about it. Take a moment to think about an activity or event you enjoy or a cause you care about. Do you look forward to hearing about it or do you dread it?

    What emails, texts, and phone calls do you look forward to? Who are they from? What are they about?

    I love to read small business and nonprofit origin stories. I enjoy learning about new ideas for solving big problems around racism, homelessness, food security, disease, domestic violence—the list goes on. I appreciate information on writing, gardening, home repairs, and cooking. I am passionate about many things. And when I’m interested in something – I love to be inspired. I enjoy learning more about what others are doing and how to improve or enjoy it in new ways. I want to know what’s going on with the social causes I care about.

    For some people it’s sports, politics, religion. We have entire television, radio, podcast, YouTube, print news, and every other imaginable channel to stay connected to the things we care about.

    Why would the causes we support through our philanthropic gifts be any different? We don’t give because we don’t care – we give because we do care.

    So, really, the problem isn’t how often we communicate with donors but what we say – or don’t say – to them.

    How do we bust the myth?

    Remember you’re engaging in a conversation with people who care about what you care about.

    You’re not producing monologues or soliloquies. You’re carrying on a conversation. A conversation takes at least two – to speak and to listen. Ask yourself – “How can I offer a benefit to the audience? How can I serve my community through this communication?”

    Don’t always talk about yourself (i.e., your organization and programs).

    Share content about the CAUSE with links to news articles or other people or organization’s efforts and success. Have you recently read a book or listened to a podcast that educated, informed, or inspired you that you can share? Can you ask questions to discover what inspires a donor’s gift? Can you ask questions to better understand the talent, energy, and resources that your community brings to the table?

    Use conversational language not business, formal language.

    Write as if you are writing a letter to your best friend or family member. Don’t use industry jargon. Keep your sentences simple. Be honest and authentic. Show vulnerability when appropriate. Don’t act like you have it all figured out if you don’t. We may each play a different role, but we’re all in this together trying to create a better world – write from that perspective.

    Communicate with purpose.

    Have a reason to invade my inbox. Do you have something new to say? Decide if your communication will inform, educate, inspire, thank, or ask for a donation. Don’t send mixed messages. Have a specific, clear call to action.

    Know your audience.

    Donors, non-donors, lapsed donors, volunteers – many levels of engagement exist within your community. You don’t want to send the same communication to everyone. Are you trying to acquire, convert, re-engage, retain, or upgrade a donor? Will you send via postal mail or email, post on social media, or record on video? Which channel does the donor or prospect prefer? What program area does the donor gravitate towards? Use all the information you have about your audience to communicate so that they feel like you understand them.

    Remember, no one wants to be one of a million – they want to feel like they are one in a million. We all know we’re not the only person in the room, but it sure feels good when someone makes us feel like we are.

    If you are creating and sending a variety of communications to donors that will help them feel more engaged and connected to the mission and vision of your organization, you can never communicate too much.

    Janet Cobb is a national speaker and author of  Promised Land: The 10 Commandments for Nonprofit Strategy, Communications, and Fundraising. As a consultant and coach, she has guided more than 300 early-stage, small and mid-size nonprofits to create strategic plans, communication plans, and 12-month fundraising roadmaps.

  • 04/05/2021 7:49 PM | Anonymous

    By Matthew Kirkpatrick, ACN Member

    While the economic outlook is brightening this spring, the recovery has yet to arrive. Your nonprofit is likely searching for more ways to lower costs and reduce workloads.

    One easy way to save time and money is to stop using traditional paper checks to pay suppliers. Here are seven ways that switching to electronic payments will benefit your nonprofit:

    • Improved efficiency: a single payment file upload initiates payment to all suppliers. This eliminates the need to log in to multiple banking systems, and the cost of paper, postage, printing, and mailing paper checks.  
    • Streamlined reconciliation: integrating an electronic payments system with the general ledger in your accounting platform significantly reduces the time required to verify that payments have cleared.
    • Fewer errors: uploading a single payment file eliminates costly error-prone manual processes. As a result, staff won’t need to waste hours uncovering and resolving a single payment error.     
    • Easy integration: electronic payments can be seamlessly integrated with any accounting platform without requiring significant changes to existing accounts payable workflow processes. 
    • Better cash management: electronic payments provide greater control over the timing of payments to suppliers. This opens the door to more early-payment discount opportunities.
    • Fewer supplier inquiries: with electronic payments, suppliers have 24/7 access to the status of their payments, as well as their payment history. This visibility helps suppliers better manage their cash without the need to call or e-mail overburdened frontline payables staff.
    • More time to focus on the mission: few things waste as much staff time as printing, signing, stuffing, mailing, and reconciling check payments to suppliers. Paying suppliers electronically frees staff from the drudgery of manual check processing, allowing them to focus more of their time on higher value, mission-driven activities.

    Matthew Kirkpatrick is vice president of business development at Paymeranglocated in Richmond, Virginia, which provides accounts payable automation to nonprofits nationwide. A former nonprofit director and program leader, he values Paymerang for its diversity and commitment to helping nonprofits become more efficient so that they are able to better focus on their mission. Click here to learn more about the benefits of electronic payment.

  • 03/01/2021 5:18 PM | Anonymous

    By ACN Members Mindy Faber and Margaret Conway

    Leadership isn’t only for those with “director” or “manager” in their titles. We all serve as leaders on problems that require our particular skills, expertise, or creativity. Leadership skills often come into play as we collaborate with colleagues or partner  organizations, mentor new colleagues, or serve our organization’s constituents.

    We at Convergence Design  Lab created a deck of cards called Leader Hats that we use with clients as a playful way to think about how leadership style can impact their organization and the work that they do. Each card features a particular “hat” representing a positive style or approach to leading, facilitating, or mentoring.  The cards can be used as a quick icebreaker at a meeting, as a more structured game, or as a discussion and reflection tool.

    Are you the Coach pushing everyone to reach their full-potential, the TED-talker inspiring others with your deep insights, or more a Therapist, serving as a one-on-one reflection guide? And which style best fits each of your colleagues? Take a look at the cards below or the full downloadable deck here, which can be printed and cut to make your own deck.

    • Choose the hat that you wear the most when leading or mentoring. Why does it fit you so well? Choose another hat that you don’t often wear. How might you try it on?
    • Identify cards that you think your colleagues demonstrate the most often. Share with them why you think they wear it well!
    • Pick a random card and challenge yourself to think of a way to apply that style to your work.

    The possibilities for using these cards are endless. Spread them out on a table to prompt discussion. Identify more leadership styles and add them to the deck. Play our favorite game and have each person chose the style they think defines each colleague best, write it on a Post-it note, and stick it on that person's back. Now guess what style most colleagues picked for you! 

    In workshops, we find these cards get people talking within seconds about themselves and sharing stories about each other’s personal strengths. So often we admire our colleagues secretly but don’t take time to openly appreciate them or consider how we might adopt their most successful practices. How did a colleague whose leadership style you’d like to emulate come to adopt that approach? Who influenced their style? How did they develop it?

    Using these cards can give nonprofit directors a chance (in a playful, risk-free context) to reflect openly on their leadership and new strengths they’d like to develop. Modeling a “growth mindset” about leadership—the belief that one’s ability as a leader is not a fixed trait but rather a skill that can grow with effort—is a powerful example for others. It gives permission to everyone in your organization to take on a learning disposition: “I have things I want to work on. I can learn from others. I don’t have to be the expert on everything.”

    Mindy Faber and Margaret Conway are co-founders of Convergence Design Lab, which helps nonprofits design learning experiences—including professional workshops and e-learning—engage in strategic planning, and evaluate programs. Mindy is a seasoned media educator, nonprofit leader, artist, evaluator, and advocate with expertise in connected learning, youth media, civic education, and digital literacy. Margaret is an arts educator with a theoretical background in connected learning, curriculum design, evaluation, professional development, and participatory media. Contact them if you’d like to schedule a free Leader Hats workshop for your nonprofit.

  • 02/01/2021 2:24 PM | Anonymous

    By ACN member Gregory Perrine

    The number of cyber attacks has risen dramatically since the pandemic began. Remote workers, unaware of threats to digital security, have inadvertently cost their employers millions. While businesses are the most frequent targets, nonprofits are also at risk. Consider all of the sensitive data your organization stores or accesses electronically, including payroll information, that might be attractive to cyber thieves. Below are a few simple practices that can significantly lower your risk.

    Establish a Password Management Plan

    Most of us know that we ought to be creating long, strong, unique passwords for our online accounts and updating them frequently. But let’s be honest, we are all guilty of using the same passwords for multiple accounts, and for far longer than we should.

    To keep your data safe, send out reminders to your employees every three months to change the password they use to log on to your network. But recommend that they make it easier by using a free password manager such as LastPass. Password managers store hard-to-remember passwords securely and have built-in generators to create ones that are hard for the bad guys to guess.

    Prevent Social Engineering Attacks

    Most of us are aware that scammers “phish” for personal information with emails that appear to be from companies like Chase Bank, PayPal, and Amazon, or a friend or business associate. But as scammers come up with increasingly ingenious ploys, it’s easy to get caught off guard. We have a few tips to ensure you are catching common phishing scams:

    1. Look at the actual email address, and not the display name. Oftentimes, a scammer can spoof an executive’s name based on what is publicly available online.
    2. Check the tone and grammar of the email and ask yourself, “Does this sound like something the sender would say?”
    3. If there is hyper-linked text, copy the link address and paste it into a new browser window to ensure it is linked to the correct URL.

    Make sure your nonprofit has a system in place to alert employees immediately regarding any phishing scam that lands in their email inboxes. This can be done via email, Slack, Teams, or Hangouts and should include a screenshot (not the forwarded message) of the scam.

    Secure Home Networks

    With so many employees logging into your network from home, ensuring the security of their home networks is vital to preventing an attack. Ask that everyone logging into your network remotely change the default password on their WiFi router, if they have not already. You can always contact your internet provider to see if it can offer any additional firewall protection for your network, or invest in an external firewall if your organization is handling sensitive data.

    Consider a Virtual Private Network

    A Virtual Private Networkcommonly known as a VPN encrypts all of your internet communications so that hackers are unable to spy on your activities or gain access to your data. Some VPNs can even block unwanted ads, pop-ups, malicious websites, and viruses. While VPNs will slightly slow your internet speed, the tradeoff in security is well-worth it. My company, eGuide Tech Allies, has compiled a list of specifications to look for in a VPN and three low-cost providers that we recommend to our nonprofit clients.

    While following the simple steps above can’t guarantee that your network will never be hacked, they will make it far less likely.

    Gregory Perrine is chief executive intern at eGuide Tech Allies, a company that provides digital marketing, technology support, and business development to nonprofits. Perrine has over a decade of experience in providing technology solutions, workflow automations, event planning, and logistics support for emerging nonprofits. He specializes in working with organizations to streamline their operational systems and identify and implement technological solutions that help them become more efficient and effective.

  • 01/05/2021 10:14 AM | Lidia Varesco Racoma (Administrator)

    This was a challenging year for everyone, including membership organizations like ours. But despite the challenges, we found new ways to keep our members connected and supported by embracing the new virtual world.

    COVID-19 Response

    As in-person events were being canceled in March 2020, we launched an initiative to support our members virtually. We implemented weekly member resource emails, free flash webinars, networking opportunities in our private Facebook group, as well as virtual speed networking events.

    We had record-high attendance at our flash webinars and our happy hour speed networking events were a hit.

    2020 Board and Committee Changes

    In our Annual Meeting in May 2020 (our first virtual event), we announced changes to our board and committee structure, including the implementation of Board Liaisons and co-chairs for each committee.

    We also welcomed three new board members, Brad BallDon Raack and Shailushi Ritchie.

    2020 Committee Highlights

    Marketing & Communications Committee

    Board Liaison: Lidia Varesco Racoma; Co-Chairs: Aashi Mital & Annisa Wanat

    • We launched a National Volunteer Week social media campaign in May, sharing stories from our current volunteers (getting our highest engagement, to boot).  
    • We continued to remain active on Facebook and LinkedIn (make sure to follow us!) and bumped up activity in our private member communities on Google Groups and Facebook.
    • We shared monthly guest blog posts by members.
    • We are in the process of revamping the ACN website in both structure and content to make it more user-friendly, both for our members as well as nonprofits seeking consultants.

    Nonprofit Relations Committee (NPRC)

    Board Liaison: Emily Taylor; Co-Chairs: Aashi Mital & Annisa Wanat

    • We further established our relationship with Forefront through our series of Ask a Consultant panels on COVID-relevant topics, getting ACN members exposed to Chicagoland nonprofits.
    • We created a Find a Speaker section on our website to direct our nonprofit partners to ACN consultants when they are looking to share relevant knowledge with their nonprofit members. 
    • We revised our RFP process to make it easier for nonprofits to fill out and gather more robust information for consultants to respond to.

    Membership Committee

    Board Liaison: Jim Javoricic; Co-Chairs: Fran Caan & Laura Weinman

    • We implemented virtual New Member Orientations on the first Wednesday of each month.
    • We sent emails welcoming new members and encouraging networking among members.
    • Our current membership is at a record high.
    • Membership has diversified by geography and membership type, including out-of-state memberships representing Colorado, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Washington, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Ohio, New York, Kansas and California.

    Programming Committee

    ACN Member Stories from 2020

    We are thrilled to share stories from our members about how ACN supported them this year.

    We are only as strong as our membership and we are grateful to work with such a dedicated group of nonprofit consultants.

    For the first half of 2020 I was a member of the Governance Committee and, later in the year, part of a working group to update the Conflict of Interest policy. As a past president, I know the importance of committee work and the mutual benefit—for members and ACN—derived from the experience. Committee work is a wonderful way to get to know colleagues and share expertise.

    I was also delighted to have the opportunity to participate in Ask a Consultant. It was meaningful to be able to share expertise with nonprofits and colleagues as we all were learning how to navigate during a pandemic. 

    Amy Wishnick, Wishnick & Associates, LLC


    As a board member, I have been able to take on new challenges that add skills to my business, such as better understanding the hard skills of governance and the soft skills of building a team. This year also brought big changes for me as I tried to manage my business while having a kid at home. Connecting and having conversations with ACN members in similar situations helped me think through how to retool my work to fit my capacity and still make a meaningful impact with my clients.

    Emily Taylor, teeny big


    ACN has been great for me as I just started my consulting practice. There was no comparable organization in NYC and I have found ACN welcoming, supportive, comprehensive and a great way to meet new people!

    – Kim Vaccari


    Participating in the ACN Board of Directors and Marketing & Communications Committee has helped me stay connected with nonprofit colleagues as well as fellow parents navigating remote learning. This year, I also got two new speaking opportunities and several new client projects thanks to ACN referrals.

    Lidia Varesco Racoma, Lidia Varesco Design

    Thank you for your support of ACN in 2020—here's to a healthy and successful 2021! 

  • 12/07/2020 4:00 PM | Anonymous

    By ACN member Mary Anzilotti

    COVID-19 has changed the way we work.  With most nonprofit employees now working from home, managing and motivating them to function well as a team is more crucial than ever. When a team works well together, the organization wins.  When an organization wins, so do their clients, employees and the community at large. 

    “Crucial” is an interesting way to think about leading a team. Let’s take a close look at how to motivate and manage your team in a CRUCIAL way.

    C- Communication.  Communication needs to be clear, concise and consistent. This is especially true when working remotely or during times of crisis.

    R- Relationships.  Build relationships by reaching out to employees individually and as a team. Ask how they’re doing, and show a genuine interest in their personal lives.

    U- Understanding.  Help employees understand what is expected and why. Ensure that all stakeholders understand your organization’s immediate, short-term and long-term goals. 

    C- Celebration.  Celebrate successes, celebrate birthdays, celebrate anniversaries and celebrate creativity.  Just be sure to celebrate!  

    I- Intentionality.  Wake up each day and think about how you can be better and how to make your team better. Small, positive, actionable items every day make a huge difference over time. Be intentional for you and your team.

    A- Accountability.  Hold yourself, your employees and your team accountable. Giving clear guidance on what is expected, and why it is expected will lead to a motivated team.  No need to micromanage, just give guidance, and trust. Provide corrective feedback when needed.

    L- Listening. Solicit feedback from employees on how to improve the organization and your team. Listen with an open mind as even seemingly impractical ideas can serve as a springboard for new thinking. Let your team know that you’ve heard them, and then act on the best ideas.

    Here are a few examples of how we manage in a CRUCIAL way at Stanton Blackwell. We have a video meeting every Monday morning to help shift from the weekend to the work week. We use this meeting to build relationships by briefly talking about our weekend and then communicating our company’s priorities for the week. To stay accountable to our priorities, we schedule short meetings throughout the week to peer review our work.  A fixed calendar deadline to screen share work helps us to be more intentional and focused on our deliverables.

    If you are struggling as a leader in this new operating environment, don’t be too hard on yourself.  Motivating your team remotely can feel overwhelming at times, but using these CRUCIAL tips will help make it manageable.

    Mary Anzilotti, principle at Stanton Blackwell, has nearly 30 years of experience in the non-profit sector with a proven record as an executive for strategy and operations. Her areas of expertise include leading strategic planning, managing organizational change, and driving quality and cost effectiveness.

  • 11/01/2020 4:01 PM | Anonymous

    By Amy Schiffman, ACN Member

    Are you growing a little tired of statements prefaced by words like “In these uncertain times …?”  Me too. But it’s a little hard to avoid these days. So, I’ll just come right out and say it: the world is in a state of upheaval, so if your board of directors is not firing on all cylinders, your nonprofit is in deep (or at least deepish) trouble.

    Let's focus on how you get to a professionalized, focused, strategic board – one that concerns itself with capacity building and is able to help the organization withstand troubling times. As a fundraiser, you might think I’d be most concerned with your resource development committee, but you would be wrong. As a consultant who has spent over 25 years working with nonprofits to build sustainable futures, I believe that your board development committee (aka committee on trustees/nominating/by-laws/governance) is the single greatest asset on your board – no contest. And it’s the key to a great fundraising program, because if the governance committee is not doing its job, it’s likely nothing else is working.

    What do I mean by “not doing its job?” If the governance committee is either a) not meeting, b) not well managed or c) has no idea what it’s there to do, it’s not far-fetched to assume that your standing board committees aren’t in great shape, either. Why? Well, let’s review the governance committee role and function and then revisit that question.

    It is the job of the governance committee to promote, maintain, and ensure the health and well-being of the board of directors. This work generally focuses on four to five major areas. They include:

    1.    Helping to ensure board members know what their job is this includes standing board committees:

    • Regularly update the board member role description and train board members on what is expected of them.
    • Ensure that all standing board committees have updated charters or role descriptions, annual goals and work plans. Provide training on an annual basis to all standing board committee chairs so they know how to do their job. Don’t assume they do.
    • Assist the board in periodically updating and clarifying the primary areas of focus for the board and help shape the board’s agenda for the next 12 – 24 months, based on a current strategic plan.

    2.    Ensuring a healthy board member pipeline and a diverse representation of voices:

    • Regularly examine board composition and develop an “ideal candidate profile.” Current board members should be aware of the characteristics, attributes, skill sets, network, demographics and access to resources available on, and missing from, the board. Once you identify the skill gaps, you know who you’re looking for.
    • Develop and “work” the board candidate pipeline to ensure that new volunteers are introduced to board and committee work, and promising board candidates are cultivated and educated.
    • Manage the board nomination and election process and create and manage an onboarding program that includes a board manual for new members.
    • Ensure that term limits are enforced and assess individual board members’ interest in continuing on the board. Help board members assess their board and committee work and identify ways in which they can help the organization reach its goals. This includes helping board members choose a role on a standing board committee.

    3.    Helping to educate, professionalize and build team spirit:

    • Provide a mentor for new board members.
    • Ensure board members receive ongoing professional development and training on topics such as fundraising, financial literacy, donor cultivation, policy updates and sector-specific information.
    • Bring the work of the organization to board meetings via “mission moments” and regular opportunities to hear from clients, students, department chairs, clinicians, alumni, etc.
    • Provide regular board retreat and team building opportunities.

    4.    Setting goals and evaluating the board’s effectiveness

    The board should self-assess on an annual basis, both as a team and as individuals. If you’re not setting goals and taking the time to determine whether or not you’ve reached them, how will you evaluate success? How will you identify challenges and opportunities for growth? 

    • Ensure the board is working from a current strategic plan. If there isn’t one, work the executive committee to develop a strategic planning task force. The work of your standing board committees should be guided by the goals established in your strategic plan. No plan = no roadmap + no vision to share with donors and key stakeholders.
    • Review periodically the board’s by-laws as well as practices and policies around confidentiality, conflict of interest, term limits, fundraising expectations, etc.

    5.    Ensuring healthy leadership succession

    • To ensure strategic board leadership succession planning, track current board roles and forge a path for promising future leaders. This process should outline the ideal steps to be taken toward executive committee and board chairmanship engagement.
    • Create a nominating subcommittee process that drives the nomination of new board members, the election of board members to leadership positions and the formalization of renewed terms. Track terms and term limits, ensuring that the board is continually focused on the development of diverse new leadership.

    So now back to our question. Why is this committee so critical? If the governance committee is doing its job, then the rest of the board is engaged in meaningful committee work, board members are focused on capacity building, and the board is provided with the training and resources they need to do their jobs well. If the governance committee is either dysfunctional or inoperative – well – I’m guessing you know what happens. If that feels a little too familiar, let’s give your board development committee the role description I’ve outlined above. It’s a start. J

    Amy Schiffman is president and CEO of Evolve Giving Group. She and her rock star team can be found at www.evolvegivinggroup.com so feel free to reach out with comments or questions.

  • 10/06/2020 1:53 PM | Anonymous

    By: Allison Wong, ACN member

    Six months into the pandemic, it’s clear that meeting in person isn’t an option for fundraising. Planning and executing a virtual fundraising event can seem like a daunting task but it doesn’t have to be. With proper research, planning and partnerships, your virtual event can be wildly successful.

    At Forever Ready Productions, we specialize in telling mission-focused stories for nonprofits.   Here are the five most important things we’ve learned from live streaming virtual events since the pandemic began:

    1. DECIDE ON A CONTENT THEME. I’ve seen many events that don’t have a clear direction and that usually leads to things feeling out of place and disjointed. If you decide on a theme for the evening, you’ll have a guide for selecting the right content. Pick something that will compliment your message and help you accomplish your goals, all while keeping viewers engaged and entertained. For example, we helped the Center for Enriched Living host a “Virtual Chefs’ Night” which included a live cooking demonstration from a chef.

    2. PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE. Once you have a theme, date, and time, let people know it’s happening. It seems obvious, but I think people forget this is important. Mail invitations, send emails to all of your supporters, post on all of your social media platforms and more. When we worked with the Center for Enriched Living to live stream their Virtual Chefs’ Night, the staff did an amazing job of texting reminders to their supporters leading up to and on the day of the event. That resulted in nearly 1,000 viewers across two platforms!

    3. KEEP THINGS ACTIVE. I know you have a lot of important information to communicate to your audience, but try to strike a balance between talking and doing. You could have live music, a live interview or a giveaway, and all could be done safely. Even having two hosts can help liven things up!

    4. HAVE HEART. This is probably the most important advice I could give. Featuring heartfelt, authentic videos will take your event to the next level. You need to show your audience why they should support your work. Working closely with the Center for Independence, we created four videos that played throughout a virtual event, each featuring a parent sharing their own authentic story. Executive Director Patricia Herbst said it was critical in helping them raise nearly $80,000.

    5. DON’T FORGET THE ASK. In a virtual event, make sure you’re explicitly asking people to donate, just like you would during an in-room pledge. Let them know what their money will do. You should also frequently remind people where and how they can donate throughout the broadcast. Showing reminders on screen is even better.

    By following these tips and working with a strong team, you’ll be able to plan an entertaining, impactful and memorable event. Happy planning!

    Allison Wong is a client manager and video producer for Forever Ready Productions. Allison joined the Forever Ready team in January of this year after working as a broadcast journalist. She’s enjoyed sharing her passion for storytelling with her nonprofit clients and bringing their missions to life through video.

  • 09/07/2020 8:01 PM | Anonymous

    By Alex McDonald

    A great feature of virtual galas is that donors can join from anywhere with just a single click. The flip side is that donors can also leave with a single click.

    In this post, I’ll show you how to leverage the chat window to keep donors engaged for the duration of your virtual gala.

    Why Do You Need a Lively Chat Window?

    Regardless of how entertaining and inspiring your virtual gala’s broadcast is, donors will miss the interactivity of your in-person gala. The chat window fills the need for interactivity by allowing donors to engage with your organization and with each other.

    Furthermore, a lively chat window communicates to all attendees that your organization has broad support from a passionate donor base. Donors want to be part of success stories.

    Finally, social media streaming platforms, like Facebook Live, use engagements (comments, likes and reactions), to determine whether to suggest your live stream to a broader audience. Lots of comments means more people see your live stream.

    3 Simple Ways to Encourage Comments

    Fortunately, mixing things up in the chat window isn’t difficult - it just takes a little forethought.

    “Salt” the Chat Window

    Ever notice how there is always money in the tip jar at your local coffee shop? Baristas add their own money to show that tipping is the normal thing for customers to do.

    This is called “salting the tip jar.”

    Similarly, you should “salt” the comment window by arranging for some volunteers and especially dear donors to kick off your event with a flood of comments.

    The comments can be simple notes like “So excited to be here!” or “I like the host’s outfit.” If streaming to Facebook Live, commenters can share a Facebook Live Reaction (e.g., like, love, laugh) as well. 

    Other donors will want to get in on the action and submit their comments.

    Dedicate a Representative to Responding

    In addition to salting the comment window, you’ll want a gala representative to respond to donors’ comments and acknowledge generous donations.

    This role is especially necessary if your gala is prerecorded and the hosts can’t acknowledge attendees on air.

    Your representative should be quick witted and well known to donors. Not only will donors submit more comments, they’ll stick around to see the reply.

    Incorporate the Chat Window into the Live Presentation

    Online attendees love when the live hosts acknowledge their comments. Here are some simple ways to facilitate this interaction:

    • Ask a trivia question about your organization and give a prize to the first correct response.
    • Encourage viewers to submit funny phrases which hosts try to work into their monologue.
    • Solicit questions for an organizational leader to answer in your broadcast.

    Obviously, time these games as to not compete with your Fund-a-Need or live auction.

    If donors wanted purely scripted entertainment, they could log in to Netflix. The chat window gives your event an X-factor so you can entertain guests while communicating your mission.

    Brainstorm with your committee how to apply the above strategies to cultivate a lively chat window for your virtual gala. 

    Alex McDonald, director of customer experience at TravelPledge, connects nonprofits with auction items posted by generous businesses. He also shares his extensive marketing experience by developing educational content for organizers of benefit events.

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