Is your nonprofit gearing up to plan the event of a lifetime?

Fundraising events bring in vital donations and have a huge impact on furthering your mission, but they take time, resources, and planning. To execute a flawless event, whether it’s in-person or virtual, you’ll need the right plan in place. 

However, your planning process will look different depending on the type of event you choose to host.

Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! In this guide, we outline the best practices and tips to help your nonprofit choose the right event type to attract the right attendees and boost participation.

Make sure you consider these four factors to help determine whether an in-person or virtual event is best for your organization:

  • Audience
  • Level of engagement
  • Registration timeline
  • Costs

With a strong fundraising event tailored to your nonprofit audience’s interests, you’ll be in great shape to drive engagement and revenue to support your mission. Let’s begin. 

Consider Your Audience

Before you dive right into planning your event, you first need to consider your audience. If you don’t clearly identify the target audience you want to reach, you may end up spending a ton of time, effort, and money communicating and engaging with the wrong people!

Your target audience will influence the channels you focus your marketing efforts on, your messaging, and more. When determining your audience, examine both demographic data and past donor engagement. Key points to consider for each include:

  • Demographic data: Supporters’ age, gender, location, education, family status, and wealth.
  • Engagement data: What types of events (in-person or virtual) they’ve attended, the amount of time or money they’ve invested in your mission, and their motivation for getting involved.

From there, consider your fundraising goals. For example, if your goal is to reach new donors, a virtual event could be a good option. That way your audience isn’t limited by their location! If your goal is to deepen donor engagement, an in-person event is likely the better choice. You’ll have more of an opportunity to form personal relationships with your attendees.

No matter what your goals are, make sure that you can quantify them. Work with your development team to set clear fundraising expectations for the event that support your annual financial budget. When you have a metric for success clearly outlined, it’s easier to measure how well your event does and target areas to improve going forward. 

Consider the Level of Engagement 

Next, consider the level of engagement you want at your event. With in-person events, there are less distractions. They also provide people with an opportunity to naturally network with each other and allow YOU the chance to form lasting relationships with your attendees. There’s no denying that there is more human connection and engagement at an in-person event.

But this doesn’t mean that virtual events should be overlooked. In fact, they can be a great option for organizations to build awareness and reach. While virtual events require additional effort to help boost engagement, you can find plenty of fun ways to grab and keep your attendees’ attention throughout the event if you lean into your creative side. Here are a couple of ways you can help boost engagement for your virtual event:


Fundraising gamification can be the perfect addition to your virtual event to help increase excitement and engagement.

As nonprofit technology has advanced, so have gamification strategies. Many gamification programs are both mobile-optimized and accessible anywhere at any time, making it easy for donors to join and engage in fundraising. 

Turning fundraising into a competition breaks down the barriers between donors and traditional outreach while ensuring the biggest winner is your nonprofit. Instead of relying on multiple emails or phone calls, here are a few easy ways you can turn gamification into increased fundraising revenue:

  • Scoreboards
  • Text Messaging
  • Social Media

By inspiring friendly competition, your supporters will feel more motivated to give and eager to push your organization past the fundraising finish line. 

Social Media 

Tap into the power of social media before, during, and after your event. When utilized properly, social media is a great way to encourage guest participation, further your reach, and build community.

You can foster engagement by:

  • Providing real-time updates: Update your followers about how much has been raised for your cause to amp up the excitement.
  • Encouraging offline donations: Donors don’t have to be in the ballroom to participate. Encourage your followers to donate before and during your event.
  • Focusing on the impact: Be sure to call out how the donations will impact your mission. After all, your attendees aren’t just partygoers — they want to make a difference.

There are many ways to attract people to your event, but your job doesn’t stop once donors have registered. You need to make sure they’re engaged before, during, and after the event – so that they will leave excited for the next one! This may look the same for both an in-person and a virtual event. For example, you can create an event landing page with important event information that captures people’s interests.

  • For virtual events, be sure to include clear instructions for how to join the event.
  • For in-person events, highlight what special surprises or entertainment your attendees can look forward to (amazing guest performance, must-have auction item, etc).

Consider the Registration Timeline

The registration timeline for your event will influence your overall planning and marketing strategy at every level.

Registration timelines will vary depending on if it’s an in-person or virtual event.

  • For in-person events, you’ll likely need a headcount further ahead of time so you can reserve the right amount of catering, set up the right number of tables/chairs, etc. This means that you will have to set a clear cut off date for people to register by.
  • For virtual events, people can often register up until the day of your event! This flexibility can be beneficial to your nonprofit.

 While you’re executing your digital marketing strategy, it is crucial that your audience is aware of your event’s registration deadline. Don’t risk them missing out on the opportunity to support your cause.

Here are a couple of ideas on how to promote your event registration deadline:

  • Use call-to-actions in your content.
  • Cross-promote your offerings in related content.
  • Be creative on social media.

By putting the registration deadline on your donors’ radar in advance, you’ll be more likely to increase the number of registrants and ultimately drive more revenue for your cause. 

Consider the Costs

In order to raise important funds for your mission, your organization invests time and money into making your event a smashing success. Determining what level of investment is available can dictate whether your event should be in-person or virtual.

First, think of the technology you need to host a successful fundraising event.

  • For virtual events, you’ll need live streaming capabilities and software to host your silent auction, raffle, appeals, etc. Adding a peer-to-peer element so you can reach even more people could be a great investment as well.
  • For in-person events, you may not need a tool for live streaming, but you will need additional tools for the guest experience. Guest check-in, item pick-up, and check-out should all be considered. According to the OneCause guide to fundraising platforms, an all-in-one fundraising software solution will help you with the entire event planning and execution process, ensuring that you can run your events with ease. 

 There are other additional costs that need to be accounted for when planning an in-person event. When creating a budget, make sure you factor in the cost of the following:

  • Event space or venue
  • Catering
  • Signage and décor
  • Tables, chairs, dishes, and cutlery 
  • Invitations
  • Promotional items (swag) for attendees
  • Sound or lighting equipment
  • Event Staffing
  • Wiggle room for unexpected costs

No matter the type of event you choose, you should always consider including sponsors and local businesses to help cover some of your event expenses.

BONUS! Develop Your Marketing Strategy

After you decide if your event is going to be virtual or in-person, you’ll need to create a multi-channel marketing strategy that focuses on reaching, engaging, and converting your target audience.

For a virtual event, consider channels such as:

  • Social media
  • Influencer marketing
  • Newsletters
  • Text messaging

For an in-person event, consider:

  • Direct mail
  • Personal email
  • Media coverage
  • Flyers

 After you’ve nailed down your marketing channels of choice, focus on coming up with a donor persona for your audience. As you begin to develop your messaging, it will help you remain personal – even if you’re speaking to the masses!

A well-established marketing strategy will help you:

  • Promote your brand, event details, ticket sales, and registration deadlines
  • Boost attendance, engagement, and donations
  • Increase your reach and revenue

Wrapping Up

There are many factors to consider as you choose between an in-person or virtual event. No matter which option your organization decides to go with, creating a solid event plan and engaging marketing strategy are two critical first steps that will set you up for success.