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VIRTUAL EVENTS: Success during COVID-19


A big topic of conversation in the nonprofit world is what to do with fundraising events during COVID-19. With many nonprofits deciding to push major fundraisers back to next fiscal year, and with restrictions on gathering size and timing still largely unknown, a lot of uncertainty remains. The decision for how to proceed must be based on multiple factors, not least of which involves connecting with and listening to your donors to gather feedback on your plans.

As you prepare for these conversations, here are a few examples of how some organizations have successfully transitioned to online events. Our hope is that these serve as a resource for you as you explore what to do with your own events.


Since March, Bishop Lynch High School has been hosting weekly Zoom meetings with different groups of constituents and donors to share an update on the state of the school, the road ahead, and to include them in the planning process. It’s been very fruitful for the school to bring together different members of the organization in this casual “think tank” format. One session even resulted in an $875K gift from an attendee.

Why we love this: “When asking for [our donors’] advice, guess what happened? Money came. It’s like anything else in this business, the money’s going to come. Just do the right thing in engaging your community, talking to them, listening to them, and making sure that they’re all right.”   – Jim Urbanus, Chief Advancement Officer, Bishop Lynch High School, from CW’s “Mission Strong” webinar.

CLICK HERE to watch the full recording of Mission Strong.

A different spin: Another take on this is to host more formal “focus group” sessions with guided questions and a moderator. As a follow-up, share a summary report of the findings/trends with the participants once the sessions are complete to keep them engaged. We recently piloted this format with a higher education client with lots of positive feedback.


Rather than move its Annual Scholarship Gala online, Chestnut Hill College (CHC) decided to replace its gala with the Hold Hope High Scholarship Challenge. CHC galvanized its community by bringing it together through a virtual platform to raise money for much-needed student scholarships. As part of this initiative, CHC honored five outstanding women who exemplify the qualities of leadership and integrity that are hallmarks of the CHC community. Since the launch of the Hold Hope High campaign, the College has raised more than $365,000 through 500+ gifts and matches from new and existing donors. Have a look at how they have achieved success and learn more by visiting

Why we love this: Participants in Hold Hope High formed Challenge Teams, which encouraged the community to share pictures, videos, and memories of CHC in a way that has never been done before. Matching gifts were secured in advance to boost momentum, and the challenge was “time-bound” which created a sense of urgency.

A different spin:Another take on this is to combine an extended crowdfunding campaign with a more traditional online gala with tuxes, champagne, and “tables” for networking. The event would mark the close of the multi-week online campaign. It’s important to gauge your audience first to decipher which type of format will resonate best.

“Changing Our World was instrumental in the success of the College’s first-ever large-scale virtual fundraiser. The expertise, work ethic and ability to collaborate so well with our staff, committee members and team captains helped us transform our event and exceed our fundraising goal.” – Erin Wooley, Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Chestnut Hill College 


Two weeks before the 4-H Legacy Awards gala was scheduled to take place at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, DC, the National 4-H Council development team quickly came together to shift the event to the first ever Virtual 4-H Legacy Awards via Facebook live. This 30-minute mission-packed event met its net fundraising goal and featured remarks from celebrity chef Carla Hall, reflections from lead sponsor Microsoft, and vignettes on the four 4-H Youth in Action award winners who have overcome obstacles to contribute back to their communities. The event provided new donors and constituents the opportunity to interact with 4-H in a novel way through the comments feature on Facebook live. The party favors were even put to good use and donated to local 4-H clubs to give to pet shelters and humane societies in their communities1.

Why we love this: The event had over 50,000 views on Facebook live. A much bigger reach than an in-person gala could ever have.

A different spin: Consider adding another interactive element by partnering with a local restaurant to deliver gift boxes of food or a “party kit” with a cocktail recipe, a glass and ingredients ahead of time right to the doorstep of attendees. The kits could even include a preview card of the top auction items available for bidding.

1Stiffman, E. (2020, April 29). How 4-H Turned Its Largest Fundraising Dinner Into a Virtual Event. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, pp. 1-4 (The content for this article was taken from an interview with the National 4-H Council).

Written By:
Kaitlin McTighe
[email protected]

The best cultivation event Kaitlin attended pre-COVID was an outdoor lobster fest in Montauk. When she’s not supporting clients in engaging their constituents, Kaitlin enjoys yoga, beach walks, and trying new recipes.