The Virtual Reception? Some early thoughts
A key element of fundraising and donor cultivation is bringing people together for face-to-face contact between donors, potential donors, beneficiaries, voluntary leaders, trustees and staff. Lockdown and other Covid restrictions make the normal bringing together of people nigh on impossible. Is the virtual reception, by Zoom or other online video service, worth the candle? ‘Possibly’, has to be the answer.
The answer will depend on your aim for the activity. There are some objectives more suited to ‘gathering at a distance’ than others so it is essential that YOU are absolutely clear on what you are wanting to achieve. Don’t fall into the trap of just responding to an understandable urge that you must do something and so any activity is better than none. If you aren’t clear in your mind how can the participants receive a clear message. The following thoughts are common to real-life and virtual gatherings, but clarity and thoroughness of preparation are even more essential when both the hosts, guests, and reception management are all operating from separate locations, with the potential for so many hiccups – plans B and C are essential!
What might your desired objectives be?
- Initiating contact with potential donors, volunteers
- Updating and thanking donors, volunteers, trustees, staff
- Updating and thanking funding bodies
- Inviting / encouraging lobbying support
- Asking for money
- A combination, but a combination can confuse a message
So, what might a possible planning path look like?
- Define the aim of on-line Reception / Get-together – think about outputs and outcomes
- The Guest List – who will join you, how many guests are possible or desirable?
- The Invitation – who will it be from and in what format? Consider the reply options and plan timings for follow ups to invitations and acceptances. Above all, the log-in arrangements need to be clear and simple.
- The Content – will it be interactional or presentational format, or a variety/mix of both? Interactional can be much harder to manage in virtual format and therefore trickier to maintain the focus on objectives. Whatever your format, content should inform, impress, inspire and instruct. Don’t forget to lay a clear path for your guests so they know what you want them to do and they know how to do it – an ‘exit poll’ may deliver what you need.
Virtual Reception Pros and Cons – some are both!
Enables live contact and communication
High quality preparation is essential – anything less will be very apparent and risks negative outcomes
Guests are comfortable in being on their home turf – domestic or professional – and it is less time-demanding for them to participate.
Lower sense of occasion and potentially less exciting
No option of using an attractive, prestige venue to attract guests (but option of attractive, prestige hosts whose presence may only be needed in recorded form and so may be more easily recruited)
Doesn’t allow for the same sort of informal socialising – no real opportunities for those spontaneous private conversations that can be so valuable in real-life circumstances.
If the objective is asking, it can be difficult to present full information for gifts at higher levels effectively.
Without doubt the emergence of the Virtual Reception from the Covid experience has added and will continue to add to the fundraising canon.