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How to Replace Your Biggest Event with an Online Campaign

Posted by on May 12th, 2020
Posted in Blog, Digital, Email Campaigns, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Fundraising   

“Help! We had to cancel our event! What’s the best way to raise the donations we’ll lose from this?”

You’re probably in the same boat: Your single biggest fundraising event of the year is cancelled due to COVID-19.

For San Francisco Village, a small organization with no full-time development team and overtaxed program staff, the cancellation of their annual fundraising luncheon was potentially devastating to their work — delivery of programs their members of older adults need now more than ever.

They turned to Mission Minded with this question: How can we get donors who would have attended our fundraising event to give anyway, and give BIG?

Fundraising has never been noisier than it is now with nonprofits making urgent appeals and donors thinking deeply about their priorities. So we knew that a generic ask wasn’t likely to bring in the revenue of a carefully conceived event. After all, the lunch would have allowed guests to experience emotional highs, grasp the logic of the organization, and feel the urgency to make a gift on the spot.

So we created an online fundraising campaign using our formula for a successful ask: the right balance of emotion, rationale and urgency. We packaged the messaging into three carefully scripted videos and shared them with donors one at a time via email over a three-day fundraising campaign.

San Francisco Village not only met, but exceeded their online fundraising goals by 6%.

You can read what we’ve previously written about how to balance emotion, rationale and urgency to create the right fundraising case for support. Once you’ve honed the message for your ask, follow these seven steps we used to create an online fundraising event that engages donors and secures their generosity, even without being in person.

1. Select a Defined Time Period

Designate a three-day period for your fundraising campaign. Maybe it coincides with the date of your cancelled event, or maybe there’s an even better time.

2. Leverage Gift Matching

Ask loyal supporters to commit early to create a matching gift opportunity. San Francisco Village secured an early $25,000 gift that would be matched only during the three-day campaign, creating an urgency for other donors to give during this time-bound period. (It also got them $25,000 ahead of the game before the official launch!)

3. Ask for More

Ask donors to give bigger than ever before. For San Francisco Village, this meant asking specifically for gifts of $1,000 or higher. (Many $500 donors that had consistently given $500 in the past increased their gift to $1,000 simply because they were asked to do so).

4. Update Your Donate Page

Set the donor landing page of your website to automatically default to that minimum gift amount, and change your donation page content for this event. You’ll still have other amounts the donor can choose, but reinforce the big gift amount.

5. Create Your Copy

Write the copy for your email campaign – one email for each day to be accompanied by a video (see below.) The text should focus on getting the reader to watch the video, creating excitement and urgency. In the case of San Francisco Village their COVID-19 response was the most relevant way to reinforce their importance in this moment so they were transparent about the need for the campaign.

6. Add in Video

Develop one video for each day using available resources. High production values aren’t required, but clear messaging and narrative are musts. Consider featuring your executive director introducing your campaign for Day One, a board member or high-profile supporter talking about why you matter for Day Two.

On Day Three, feature the most emotionally-compelling person and video to demonstrate your impact with a show-and tell of stories that prove your impact. You may even have a great video already that could do the job, or that could be re-edited for this purpose. Don’t wing it: Write the word-for-word narrative for each video speaker, which you can then marry with existing still or video imagery and music. We even used recent Zoom footage for San Francisco Village.

7. Follow Up Via Mail

Follow up with a snail mail appeal that drops on the second day of your campaign so donors receive it on Day Three or thereafter. Those who didn’t give during the email campaign will be reminded that they matter, and that you need them.

“Thank you for this well thought-out, well-executed campaign and for your hard work. All the donations are not yet in and we’re already well over our goal.” – Kate Hoepke, Executive Director, San Francisco Village

Need help pivoting your fundraising to an online-only campaign? Mission Minded can help! Reach out to us so that we can explore the possibilities for you.


Sarah R. Moore, our Director of Brand Strategy, joined Mission Minded from a career that has spanned both the private and nonprofit sector.

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