Event Canceled? Have A Live Stream Event Instead

By Britta Olson

Are you considering canceling your event? Waitstop…this week’s blog post gives you an alternative.

Whether it’s your biggest fundraising event of the year or your program classes, it’s all moving online fast.  Yet, according to the latest survey from the Chronicle Philanthropy, 44 percent of nonprofits have no plans to mitigate losses from canceled fundraising events. After you read this, you won’t have to be one of them. You may even find yourself in a better position, considering the significant cost-savings of moving your event to a digital space. The cost of a venue is eliminated for one and that cost usually represents 30% of the event budget.

Live streaming your event will take preparation, however, you most likely will use your webcam on your laptop or desktop and its internal mic. This is to your benefit because it keeps things simple. Also, to help you keep it simple, I will walk you through how to decide which live stream platform to use. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. The right platform for you depends on your specific needs. Let’s get started.

Determine the Right Platform

Before you choose a live streaming platform, answer these questions to better determine your needs:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. Where is your audience located (online or on the phone)?
  3. What age group?
  4. How many people will be watching?
  5. What is the purpose of your stream? (specific $ goal in mind, a fun “touch point”, an update without an ask, delivering a talk or program, etc.)
  6. Do you need a chat function? I highly recommend this; people want to feel involved and heard right now.
  7. Do you need multiple presenters?
  8. Do you have “assets” (photos, videos, graphics or PowerPoint) you want to share during your event?
  9. Will you and other participants have a Wi-Fi connection? 
  10. What is your budget for this live event?
  11. With this information in hand, you’re ready to choose the right platform.

If you send me your answers to this questionnaire, I will respond with a recommendation for a live streaming platform.

Choose A Platform

When choosing a platform, you need to take into consideration the audience you are trying to engage.

For donors: If you’re creating an event tailored to your donors, you must make the event exclusive to them and not available to a larger audience. Make sure you tell them that in advance. 

For clients/supporters/general public: If your goal is to reach as many people as possible, you must create a budget for boosting your post. It is pay-to-play on social platforms. An important note about boosting on social media: it’s better to boost one important post with $100 rather than two posts with $50.

Here’s a comparative breakdown of live streaming platforms, all of them have a live chat option:


Choose Content

I urge you to create a consistent series of live content tailored to your donor or client’s home-based situation. Here is what I am seeing:

  1. Weekly updates from your ED
  2. Monthly panel discussions or webinars
  3. Casual coffee chats
  4. Testimony or chats with clients, assuming you have their consent

Whatever your focus, keep the format consistent.

Consistent Format

Your format should allow for Q&As, polling, challenges and other fun ways to get your audience engaged. (Many of these options are built directly into the live stream platforms themselves).

Tailor your content to something people can do with you in their homes. Get creative. You can offer a series of donation-based meditation sessions, educational courses, show and tells, naming competitions for pets, dance-offs, storytelling, or sing alongs. Whatever fits in naturally with your mission.  

One LAPA client with a mental health clinic conducted a record-breaking 1,000 therapy sessions last week via telephone and video, an increase over the same period last year. They responded quickly to an influx of new clients requiring support and reassurance in this time of crisis.

Create some structure for your donors, a place where they know they can tune in and interact on a schedule. A live stream event usually lasts from 30 minutes to 90 minutes, but there are exceptions. Some live streams, say, an online auction or a fundraising paddle call, may last two to four hours. Live stream events done on social media, shouldn’t be longer than 30 minutes unless you’re getting exceptional engagement.

Reaching New Attendees

56% of event creators surveyed by EventBrite said their number one challenge is reaching new attendees. To this end, it’s vital for event organizers to refine their skills in marketing, promotion, social media, and community building. Further, when you reach out to a wider audience, you will expand your support.

As most people are home, it’s a great time to bring powerful guest speakers into your virtual event. Normally, one of the difficulties of securing popular speakers is that they have to block out a large part of their schedule to attend your event. Since they will participate remotely, it is more likely they will attend. By having a guest speaker, you leverage their popularity and own network to reach new audiences.

Make the Most Out of Your Webinar

Webinars are a great way to engage your donors, and Zoom Webinar is particularly well-suited for this format. An emergency webinar about your response to Covid-19 will certainly help alleviate anxieties of your stakeholders, but beyond that, there are many opportunities to use webinars to creatively educate donors about your organization. 

For example, Zoom Webinar offers the option to set up multiple “rooms” within your virtual session. You can have each of your program directors inside of one room, delivering an educational session related to their program. You may even have a client from the program join them. With this set up, donors can enter and exit “rooms” depending on their interest, deepen their knowledge on your programs, and even get to know your staff. 

If you wish to utilize webinars at this point, I recommend using either Zoom Meetings, Zoom Webinar or Vimeo Livestream, since these platforms all have an option to share your screen with you participants. This will allow you to share photos, video, graphics, or PowerPoint with your participants.)

Taking Your Big Gala Online

People are already making donations online, so why not take their donations a step further and have them experience a new way of Gala fundraising? Virtual events at this time will be welcomed more than ever before. The three top revenue sources for galas are ticket sales (70%), sponsorships (50%), and donations (35%) according to the PulseReport 2019 Industry Trends. With live streaming, all three revenue streams can be maintained!

Seafarers’ House in Fort Lauderdale, which provides refuge and services to mariners, provides a terrific example of how to be creative with your digital event. In 2013, Seafarers House started their “Couch Potato Ball”. In doing so, they have found people that want to support their cause without needing to go out.

A second example comes from a nonprofit called Humanium whose focus is raising awareness about children’s rights. Their virtual gala is an online public entertainment and fundraising event marking the celebration of International Children’s Day. Over a 5-day span, their supporters, volunteers, donors, sponsors, team and board members host dinner at their home. The hosts create a table on Humanium’s platform and invites guests to join the dinner virtually. The guest then attends the dinner and makes a donation for their seat.

You can do the same and take your Gala online. Vimeo/Livestream would be a great platform for a Gala, you can add in high quality videos, photos, and graphics. The end product is very polished and smooth. This is the most sophisticated live stream service, but for first-time streamers, Vimeo has terrific producers that will work with you at a reasonable price.

Take Action Now

As you go into the live stream world, you’ll probably find that your audience will be especially forgiving in this moment. Your preparation will make it magical and show that you are adapting to these trying times. You may not feel 100% ready, but as someone who has done live streaming events for quite a while, here’s my last but most important tip: you’ll never be 100% ready, just go for it.

I welcome your questions and feedback on the LAPA blog. I promise I will respond.


Britta Olson is the Video & Multimedia Associate for Doctors Without Borders, where she provides a range of support in media and technology. This includes management of live stream events and video production for marketing, communications, fundraising, recruiting and programs.

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