The ever-increasing digital nature of event planning has thrown a virtual wrench into the fundraising gears of nonprofits large and small. So, over the past two years, Salsa has surveyed nearly 400 nonprofits in an effort to understand what they’ve done to successfully bring their offline events into the world of virtual nonprofit events.
What we found was interesting. The type of event was not the largest contributor to why that event succeeded, rather it was how the event was communicated beforehand. To be more specific, we found the organizations that were most successful with their virtual events were those that followed a pre-planned schedule that extended out at least 6 weeks prior to the event.
Further, we found the organizations that used a multi-layered marketing strategy were also more successful. That is, those who pre-wrote and designed messages for email, social media, SMS, and other mediums, and then executed those mediums according to their schedule were the ones that saw the most engagement.
So, in an effort to aggregate this information into a usable format and to build something that would be actionable for your organization, we’ve created the 6 Week Digital Roadmap for Planning Nonprofit Fundraising Events.
The roadmap is listed here in text format, and also as a quick worksheet download so you can share it with your event planning team on your next event. Remember, the more detailed you can be with planning, the more organized your next event will be. The more organized you are, the more you can free up staff and volunteers to focus on spreading the word and bringing more people in to show support.
Download the Roadmap Worksheet Now
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Digital Housekeeping and Your Next Nonprofit Event
There are a few things you can do to help put the focus on your next big event.
Put the Focus on Your Website
If this is the only event that you are currently promoting, you’ll want to make sure that it is front and center on your website. Put the event info in your header, make sure there is a dedicated sign-up page, and make sure your footers and sidebars include messages, ads, or links to that sign-up page.
You want to engage anyone who visits your site and make sure they get to the right place to signup for your event or to receive the additional event messaging you’ll be creating as part of the roadmap.
Hold Your Previously Scheduled Automated Messaging
If there are other automated marketing messages you are sending - try to stop them until your event is done. Again, you want people to focus on the event messages and not get distracted by other messaging that might be asking them to volunteer for programs that will take a back seat to the big event in a few weeks.
If you’re using a nonprofit marketing automation platform like Salsa Engage, it’s easy to temporarily turn off those automated series. If you’re using a platform that is separate from your nonprofit CRM, like Mailchimp, or Salesforce Nonprofit Starter Pack, you’ll want to check on how to deactivate them before starting your event marketing.
Choose Your Words Carefully
As you begin planning your communication, choose your words even more carefully than usual. Have one or two additional pairs of eyes on every post and communication to ensure that nothing is inadvertently included that could be misinterpreted or misunderstood. Assemble the team that will be reviewing your content now, and make sure they know your schedule so they can review and get comments back to you in time.
Don’t Rush It
The reason we plan 6 weeks out is so we have time to organize our thoughts, plan our marketing materials, and create our message. Don’t rush the process. Take your time with it, follow the schedule and you’ll have all the time you need to drip this out deliberately. You’ll find doing it this way actually frees you up to do more important tasks as the event draws near. Your staff will also appreciate knowing where they are in the process and understanding what tasks come next, rather than being scatterbrained and overwhelmed with getting that next message out at the last minute.
Remember, your online reputation matters. As you will be asking people to join you virtually, and people will be introduced to your organization virtually, you’ll want to make sure your organization’s online profile is up-to-date. Check important nonprofit profiling sites like CharityNavigator.com, Guidestar.com, Glassdoor.com, and so on. This is part of building trust with your supporter base and reassuring them that yours is a brand they can trust.
How to Use the 6 Week Digital Roadmap for Planning Nonprofit Fundraising Events
The roadmap was specifically designed to aid you in taking your offline events online, but it will still work as a planning and communication tool for offline events as well. The first thing you can do is to download the sheet here and follow along.
It’s organized by weeks, with the furthest out week on the top. As you get closer to the date (on the bottom of the sheet) your communication frequency will accelerate. This is natural as people tend to wait until the last minute to pay attention to event information, so we want to make sure they get it often as we get closer to the big day.
You’ll also notice a mix of marketing methods, like email, social media, text, etc. It’s okay if you have only one of these methods in your toolbox. If you don’t have any, you’ll want to take a step back and do more research on nonprofit outreach before continuing on. You can’t market your event online if you don’t have any of these methods of communication at your disposal.
Start by going to the bottom of the page and add the date for your event. Then work your way up to the top of the document, stopping at each section header and adding the date for each week prior to the event.
For example: If your event happens on June 28th, you’ll enter June 28th at the bottom of the page. Then you’d enter the following dates on each line above it:
- Week 1: June 21
- Week 2: June 14
- Week 3: June 7
- Week 4: May 31
- Week 5: May 24
- Week 6: May 17
Now the important weekly dates will be top of mind. And don’t forget to post this sheet somewhere in the office (or home office) where you will see it every day. That way you’re reminded of that day’s communication each and every day. If you are using marketing automation software you can schedule these messages to go out automatically, which is good. But keep the sheet handy anyway so you stay on top of where your messaging needs to be. As you answer questions on social media or respond to request for more information you’ll always know where you are in the process, what the next step is, and be ready with a quick response.
Keep in mind, it takes a few weeks to develop all the content you need for your six-week roadmap. For that, we recommend taking an additional 4 weeks to prepare documents, graphics, and links you’ll need during the campaign. This also gives your internal review team time to go through the marketing material and make recommendations for improvement that your campaign team can implement and still have the time they need to implement the campaign at least 6 weeks out.
Make sure to assemble your campaign team and let them know the schedule so they understand what will be expected of them and by when they will need to participate.
As we progress through the roadmap we’ll use the above-referenced example again.
Week 6 - Nonprofit Event Communications
For an event scheduled to take place on June 28, six weeks prior brings us to May 17. This is when your marketing effort will begin.
Use this first message to introduce your supporters to the upcoming event. You’ll do this via social media only.
This first message is not a hard sell. You’re simply telling them about the event and giving them the particulars like name, date, time, and how they can get more information or RSVP. It should be short and sweet and include a contextually relevant graphic. Include a link to your main event page on the site.
This message will usually be all that is needed to convert your most ardent supporters and those who frequent your other events. Those who are new to your organization or don’t have as much experience will need a few more touches, and we’ll cover that next.
Craft 2 versions of this message with different wording and at least one unique graphic. That way, if this is the only social content you post, you don’t have the same images back to back in your network feed.
Space them out by at least two days. We recommend a Monday-Thursday or Wednesday-Saturday type of schedule. Also, don’t post every message at noon. Try to vary the time you post on each network to get maximum exposure and be seen by those who might only be looking at social media outside of work hours.
You can read our post on increasing your engagement on social media for a recipe on how to determine the correct networks to post on and when your audience is most likely to be paying attention.
Week 5 - Nonprofit Event Communications
For an event scheduled to take place on June 28, five weeks prior brings us to May 24. This week, you’ll add your first big email message to the other notes going out on social. Again, keep your message simple; just the facts, with a link to the main information page. The goal here is to catch the supporters who might be looking at email but not your social channels. Yes, there are still some people who don’t use social media!
If the event is intended for a very specific audience you can segment your list and send a message to that special audience. If you're planning a big fundraising event, this is one of the very few times we recommend sending a message to your full subscriber list. That means, send it to EVERYONE! It’s a big event and everyone should get the message.
Make sure to frame your appeal with the impact your organization brings. Make sure people know what the money is going for and what they can expect to experience at the event. You can read more about framing the appeal with impact in our article on How to Create a Fundraising Call To Action.
You’ll also post back on social again. Follow the message and theme from your email. If you posted Monday last time, try a different starting day this time. Again, vary the timing of your messages on the days you post. One during work hours, one outside of work hours.
If your event requires volunteer activity, send them a separate message about the event with the schedule of activities and timeline with which they will need to be involved.
Week 4 - Nonprofit Event Communications
For an event scheduled to take place on June 28, four weeks prior brings us to May 31. This is essentially just one month out.
This week, you’ll continue with a cadence of 1 email and 2 social media posts. When you write your email this week, continue to frame your appeal with impact statements, but make sure to use different impact statements than what you used previously.
Now’s a good time to think through some of the critical statistics of your work and to roll up your successes into a few short snippets. If your team is good with graphics, showing your impact with an image is an even better way to get your message across. Our article on creating impact pages for your nonprofit website is a good place to get examples of how successful organizations have framed their impact.
Confirm volunteer activity at this time with another message and some offline work calling through or emailing volunteers separately. If you’re good with the number of volunteers, move forward. If you’re short on required volunteers, your week 4 message should include a call for volunteers in the main email message and an additional social message focusing just on soliciting volunteers for the event.
If you’re shipping out merch or gear to participants, make sure to mention any timing particular to shipping here. That can sometimes spur people to action, especially if they want to have the gear in time for the event.
Week 3 - Nonprofit Event Communications
For an event scheduled to take place on June 28, three weeks prior brings us to June 7. Your messaging cadence will really begin to pick up the pace here. Consider adding a second email per week and an additional social message, specifically a graphic-only message.
Your previous emails were soft asks, which means you didn’t put pressure on people to sign up, register, donate, etc. You made them aware it was available and you led them to the forms. Now, your appeals are going to be more explicit. Use more urgent language and ask direct questions like:
- Will you donate right now?
- Can you help us on this specific day?
- Can you chip in $25 right now?
- We need 5 volunteers before the end of the day, can you be one of them?
- There are only 100 spots left, can you register today?
Now that you’re sending two emails you have more room to tell stories. This week, your first email should be a dramatic story of your work and why it’s important. If you have a story from someone you’ve helped that would fit well here. If you have a graphic or video of that person that’s even better.
Video can be a powerful medium for these emails. People will be motivated to attend your event when they see the impact your work has. Video is a great way to demonstrate that. Make sure that the video ends with a call to action that goes to your fundraising or event forms. Let the story do the talking for you, then at the bottom of the email make your appeal. Keep it simple, include a button or link, then a personal sign-off. These emails are best delivered coming from the executive director or a single member of your team. They should not come from the entire team or the organization on the whole. Personalize it - it’s more powerful and meaningful that way.
Your second email will reference the first email. This can be in the form of an “In case you missed it” type of email, or perhaps just a quick statement recapping the story.
“Last week, Judy told you her powerful story and how XYZ nonprofit helped her get out of an abusive relationship that threatened her life and the lives of her children. It’s just another example of the work we do at XYZ nonprofit and why your participation in our event is so important...”
Try to provide another short statement on your impact or a shorter story from another person you’ve helped, but keep it brief. You want to spend extra time asking people to donate or RSVP to your event at the top, middle, and bottom of this email. Make it explicit.
“Every $100 we raise provides another day of shelter for a displaced family. When you reserve a table of 5 at our event, you are providing shelter and resources for 5 families all month long…”
Continue varying the dates and times you send messages, but for social messaging, you should be thinking about an M-W-F cadence or a Tu-Th-Sat cadence. Put a day or two in between each message, and try to work on a weekend day if possible. No fewer than 3 social messages per week.
Week 2 - Nonprofit Event Communications
For an event scheduled to take place on June 28, two weeks prior brings us to June 14. Just two weeks to the big day.
Review your analytics. As you get closer to the event you’ll likely see RSVPs tick up, but if you’re not where you want to be with registrants you’ll need to be more direct in your messaging.
You can stick with the 2 emails this week and 2-3 social messages. You can keep the same cadence or switch up a bit based on what your analytics are telling you is getting the most engagement.
Continue with the hard appeals in your email and add them to your social messages. Whereas before your social messages were graphics and text letting people know where to go, you’re now asking questions in your social media posts and encouraging people to take action now too!
Review your analytics at the end of the week. Are you closer to your RSVP and fundraising goals? If not, you’ve got one more week to make it happen. Pull your internal committee together and make sure everyone is prepared for the last week of communication and everyone is working together to get the word out in all the channels they have available to them.
If you did reach your goals already, congrats, everything you do in the last week will just be gravy on top.
Week 1 - Nonprofit Event Communications
For an event scheduled to take place on June 28, one week prior brings us to June 21. This is your last chance to communicate with your people. This is the reason you create all your messages ahead of time and get them scheduled in your email marketing and social media automation systems because during the last week you are going to be busy making sure your event is ready to launch.
In-person events require checking the location, making sure the food is ready, the entertainment is set, and the host is ready to go. It requires checking physical tickets, safety and security measures, and getting gifts prepared and ready for distribution. The point is, this is the week where you are happy you took the time to get your messages ready to go and in the queue.
These last few messages should follow a quicker pace and cadence. You should prepare an email and social message for every other day prior to the event. Two of those emails will be to explain to your audience this is the last chance they have for registration/fundraising. You can keep them simple, and reiterate the date and time of the event and give them links to RSVP or to donate. You can recap short impact statements. This is not the time for long stories, case studies, or detailed graphics or pleas. Give them the links and encourage them to complete the RSVP or donation.
Take a picture of your team in the midst of preparation. Now’s the time to add that image to your email and use it as your social message. It shows people how you are hard at work making this event as good as it can possibly be. People love seeing other people in action and this one tactic may motivate some people to RSVP.
Use those pictures in the final two emails where you confirm the date and time of the event, give your supporters any information they need like directions to attend, information about tickets, shipped items, or links for virtual logins.
Communication on the Day of the Event
Congrats - you made it. The big day has arrived and hopefully, you’ve hit your fundraising and RSVP targets. If not, there’s one more bite at the apple and we’ll cover that next.
There are some people who have ignored your emails, social messages, and any other appeals. That’s okay. It happens. But they’re still going to get a message from you, but not until tomorrow.
There’s only one email sent today and it will go out a few hours before the event and only to the people who RSVPd. It will serve as a reminder of where they need to be and when they need to be there. Make sure to include any contact information for your staff who might be fielding calls or emails before or during the event.
Make sure someone takes pictures during the event because you’ll be using that in your last email which will go out a day or two after the event has ended.
Communications the Day After the Event
A day after your event you’re going to count your receipts and let everyone know, in one last message, just how successful you were! These are the only messages that don’t get queued up ahead of time because they require final numbers from the event before they get sent.
Create a graphic with the fundraising and/or attendee totals. Grab the pictures you took during the event and use them in your email recaps.
You’re going to send 2 emails; one to attendees and one to everyone else.
Email to Attendees
The email to attendees will thank them for being a part of the big day and explain all the good things you’re going to do with the new funds. That email might begin like this:
Thank you so much for being a part of our 2021 Gala. Because of your support, we were able to raise a total of $3,500,000 which will allow us to start construction of our new facility this fall.
You should know that your participation and your support will help us provide food and shelter for 250 families every year; a big step toward ending homelessness in our community. You are a true hero in every sense of the word.
Here are a few additional tips for writing donor thank you letters.
Email to Those Who Didn’t Attend
The email you send to those who didn’t attend will be virtually the same, except it doesn’t thank them for attending. You’ll give them a little snippet of what they missed out on and give them one more chance to donate. That email could start like this:
We’re sorry you couldn’t attend the 2021 Gala, but we wanted to let you know it’s not too late to make a difference.
We raised enough to take 250 families off the streets and provide them with shelter and food for the next year. If you make a donation today, we can add another 5 families to that total and get one step closer to eliminating homelessness in our community.
You’ll have to wait until next year to attend the next big event, but you can still be a hero to 5 more families right now. Can you make a $50 donation right now?
You’d be surprised at how well the last email works.
If you haven't done so already, download the 6-Week Nonprofit Event Communication Roadmap Worksheet and get started planning your next event and the communications to promote it.
If you’re counting along, you’ll have created between 13 and 20 social media messages, not including any messages you’ll send during the actual event. You’ve also prepared between 7 and 12 email messages with stories, impact statements, links, buttons, and graphics.
That’s it. You’ve made it to the end. Nice work. Hopefully, you’ve reached your goals.
If you’ve got comments on our roadmap or suggestions for improvement, share this message and tag us in one of our social networks and we’ll reply there!
Good luck and happy planning!
Download the Roadmap Worksheet Now:
If you want to unlock more strategic fundraising tips, check out these additional resources:
The Complete Guide to Nonprofit Advocacy. Nearly 40 pages of advocacy tips, tools, and worksheets to plan and implement a successful advocacy campaign.
Nonprofit Editorial Calendar Toolkit. Put your marketing strategy into overdrive with our toolkit and templates to plan, organize and implement all your nonprofit marketing content.
Digital Fundraising Checklist. 50 online engagement best practices to build long-lasting, authentic constituent relationships.
The Definitive Guide to Nonprofit Websites. Learn how to create the perfect nonprofit website, design great fundraising and volunteer forms, and integrate it with your CRM.
Free Demo: Salsa's Fundraising Software. See how your nonprofit, campaign or 501c3 organization can leverage our online and offline fundraising tools!