How to Run a Successful Virtual Fundraiser

Virtual Events are here to stay

Introducing a new type of event

With thousands of online and virtual fundraising events under our belts since the pandemic began, we’re looking forward to getting back to in-person events, fundraisers, and canvasses. But virtual events are here to stay, running alongside in-person campaign events and fundraisers.

Virtual fundraisers can be used to engage out of state donors, as well as surrogates who may not be available to attend in-person events.

There are two main events your campaign will run online:

  • Fundraiser (closed): Use Zoom or Google Hangouts for closed-door fundraisers to give your donor’s a private space to chat with the candidate directly about the state of the campaign.

Including the use of breakout rooms can change up the format while giving donors individual time to speak with the candidate and other campaign and caucus staff. This can also be used for closed door press conferences with reporters, or similar press events.

  • Town Hall (open): Use Zoom or Google Hangouts for open town hall type meetings to talk openly with volunteers, supporters, and possibly even reporters. Make sure your candidate is prepared to answer tough questions about decisions made over the course of the pandemic, as well as specific policy proposals from your candidate and their opponent.

Additional platforms like Maestro and Tele-Town Hall can also be used for larger phone-based events.

This guide is primarily written for the use of Zoom. If your campaign is set up on Google G Suite, Google Hangouts can be used in a similar fashion as Zoom’s Free and Pro versions, although there are fewer controls and video/audio quality are often not as strong.

What about Facebook or Instagram live for town halls?

If your candidate is press-trained, nimble on their feet, comfortable with technology, and has a strong Internet connection at home, then a Facebook or Instagram Live is a great option for an open town hall. For candidates that do not satisfy those four criteria, it is better to use a moderated format like a videoconference or to post short selfie videos addressing specific questions. Those are much less daunting formats, less technologically fraught, and safer for campaigns that need to stay on message.

You can also investigate the use of the Zoom to Facebook Live function, so the format is through Zoom and more controlled while the video is also being streamed to Facebook.

What Tools to Use

TFC recommends Zoom for most uses, but there are multiple options for both video and telephone conferences. For many campaigns, the free versions of Zoom or Google Hangouts are fine, but larger campaigns might want to splurge for Zoom’s extra features:

Google Meet vs Zoom Overview
Zoom's extra features

Planning and Execution

Good news! There are straightforward best practices to follow

  1. 3-4 weeks ahead of time, find co-hosts for the event who are willing to send around the link to friends and neighbors who might be interested in attending a remote fundraiser. Give them a goal: for example, ask each person to invite 20 people. Make sure you find a time that works for all your co-hosts and the campaign to hold the event.

Quick Tip: With their permission, list co-hosts on the donation page. A friendly name often helps encourage people to donate.

  1. Once you have co-hosts, create a custom ActBlue or NGP link for the event as its signup page, including the date and time of the event in the page’s description. You can include the open Zoom link at this point; be aware that it will allow people who haven’t donated yet to enter the event. Further donation asks should be made throughout the event, just like an in-person fundraiser.
  1. Send out the invitations! Ask your co-hosts to send their invitations via email and follow up with hosts frequently about reaching out to their friends and neighbors about the event. The campaign should send the invitation to their own list of supporters. Be sure to have your candidate call donors who aren’t responsive to the emails!

Quick Tip: As in-person events resume, virtual events are a great option (now that we all know how to use them effectively) to meet face-to-face with out of state or out of town donors. Don't limit by location when inviting guests, people can attend from anywhere!

  1. Before the event, put together a visual aid or presentation. Videoconferencing does not have the same degree of natural interactions that in-person events do, so it will fall on the campaign to fill the gap. Here are some suggestions on what to include:
    Updates: An update on the district, redistricting concerns or opportunities, legislative decisions, and new laws passed that are important or impactful to your constituents.
    Electoral Reminders: Why your race is still important this year. Is your race very competitive? Is your seat one that might flip a legislative chamber?
    Visuals: Use Google Slides, PowerPoint, or Keynote to control the flow and present your screen. Use screenshots of recent local news articles, photos, and avoid text-only slides.
    Surrogates: Are there experts or community figures that would help the candidate create
 interest in the event and drive home your points? Virtual events will continue to be important to engage surrogates who may not be able to attend in-person, and would still add value to your campaign.
  1. Send out the details for the Zoom conference one day in advance. This allows you to control distribution while creating a reminder. Optionally, include in the email a calendar invite with the login information. We recommend you use Mail Merge on gmail to automatically send a personalized email to everyone who is signed up. There is a greater chance they will open and read the email before the event, growing the number of people who are on the call!

    For people who already donated to the event, thank them in the email. For supporters who RSVP'd to the campaign but haven’t donated yet, this is a great time to send them the link again to the event page.
  1. 30 minutes before the call, have the candidate and moderators sign on early to test the microphone and camera. Check the camera in the same spot the candidate plans to do the event. (Sometimes you don’t realize what’s behind you until the camera turns on!) Be aware of the lighting and make sure their computer is plugged in and ready.
  1. Have a staffer ready as a moderator and “Co-Host” in Zoom to keep the conversation moving along. The staffer, if enabled as a Co-Host, can mute loud attendees and sift through any questions. The staffer should read questions aloud to the candidate, so the candidate can focus just on answering rather than navigating the software.
  1. Have a great event!

Drawing - sharing visual content
Sharing visual content is a great way to keep viewers engaged

Tips and Tricks

How to open the event

  • Give attendees a few minutes to get everything loaded—for example, start at 3 minutes past the hour.
  • Set an agenda at the top of the call to give everyone an idea of what to expect timewise and when they can ask the candidate questions.

The update and pitch

  • The candidates’ talking points or presentation should be at least 15 minutes, ideally with visuals—a 10-minute stump speech is less effective in this format.
  • Seed a few key supporters with questions to kick off the Q&A period—silence can be intimidating!

The ask

  • Take advantage of that you know all the attendees are at their computer and able to fill out the checkout form.
  • Attendees who donated prior to the event: recognize those folks, and get reliable supporters to say in the chat or verbally that they donated
  • Attendees who did not donate prior to the event: The staffer should paste the ActBlue link in the chat and use the audio track to call the audience to action—“Go there right now, I know you have your credit card ready”, and encourage attendees to say when they donated.
  • Give donors the option to donate in other ways, sending a check or calling a staffer to give their information over the phone.

After the event

  • Have language prepared so it’s easy to individually send emails to supporters after the event. Thank all the participants for joining and be sure to include any upcoming events or information provided during the presentation part of the event.
  • If there was a link/article your candidate mentioned that people responded positively to, considering including it in the email. If there were folks on the call who said they might want to support the campaign further or may have friends who can support, make sure to send them the link to donate again so they have it readily available.
  • Keep notes on donors' expressed interests and preferences.

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