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Five Mistakes When Orchestrating Your Online Event

Resource Center - Foundation

Jamie Lehman is the communications manager at the Cornerstone Group of Companies. 

Online events generate many of the donations nonprofit organizations receive each year. The most successful online event fundraisers understand that merely building an online event is not enough in what has become and continues to be a very dynamic and competitive digital landscape. Having designed and executed a multitude of online events for many fundraisers across Canada, and having recently entered the U.S market, Cornerstone’s online fundraising team has seen it all. I sat down with them to discuss the common but detrimental mistakes they see being made when organizing, designing, implementing and running online events.

Here are the top five: 

Online Event Mistake 1: An Overwhelming Web Page

Organizations who create extravagant websites to attract viewers often find that this ends up working against them and their causes. Our experts have three words when it comes to creating an online webpage: keep it simple.

One of the most common problems encountered when launching events, especially new ones, is high drop-off rates. This is the result of prospect donors entering a website but leaving before taking quantifiable action. Building an online event is a challenging balancing act in that it must be engaging enough to draw someone in, yet simple enough not to startle them and push them away.

Unfortunately, fundraisers commonly feel the need to fill their web pages with lots of content, thus placing the onus on the user to navigate their way through too much information. Placing this responsibility on the user increases the chances that they will abandon your site. As Eugene Astone, Cornerstone’s online fundraising account director explains, the goal is to “get [the participants] online, and get them registered”. This is exactly what Eugene and his team accomplished in this example:

The Cornerstone team made use of this “keep it simple” principle when designing the Great Strides™ Walk event fundraising site for Cystic Fibrosis Canada. The Great Strides™ Walk (GSW) is a cross-Canada annual fundraising event in which participants walk in order to generate awareness for cystic fibrosis research.

In past years, users complained that the fundraising site was bulky and counterintuitive. In order to donate, users would go from the Cystic Fibrosis Canada webpage, to the GSW information page, to the GSW landing page, to the participant search form, to the participant’s page, and finally to the donation form. This year, in order to minimize clicks, Cornerstone came up with a system that created independent donation forms for each walk site, and a way for users to go directly from the GSW homepage and to donate to their chosen walk site, landing on the donation page in only one click.

 ewire top story 2014 sept 3 1

Selecting a walk site on the CF Canada homepage

ewire top story 2014 sept 3 2

Linking directly into the donation form for the Toronto walk

Online Event Mistake 2: Not Enough on your Web Page

While ‘keep it simple’ is a good mantra, there is a large distinction between simple and simply boring. Another common error is when organizations design web pages that lack character or personality. While there is something to be said for refined simplicity, in the age of user-driven content website visitors are more technologically advanced and informed, and thus are demanding more from their virtual experience.

To satisfy these sophisticated visitors, your site should include interactive elements to encourage active engagement as well as emotional investment. Each donation is an emotional piece of that individual, and must be treated as such. No donor or donation is the same, which is why your website must be adaptable and engaging without becoming overwhelming.  

An example of this principle is the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada’s (LLSC) Light The Night fundraising event. Light The Night is a nighttime charity walk held in cities across Canada, raising funds for leukemia and related blood cancers.

For years, the event had a mixture of different branding elements across different marketing materials and websites. Recently, LLSC formed a cohesive brand for the event, with a clean, flat-design approach tied into other LLSC events and a simplified red-and-blue colour palette. Cornerstone mirrored this branding on the fundraising they built for Light The Night, with customized information sections, buttons and navigation bars. An integrated mobile app and regular e-mail marketing featuring survivor stories and fundraising ideas all served to form a cohesive experience for walk participants. 

Online Event Mistake 3: Launching Before Edits

The third mistake to watch out for when implementing online events is launching a website before it is perfected. Some nonprofit organizations feel the need to rush and publish their website, claiming that they will sort out the bugs as they go. However, what many organizations do not consider is that these bugs reveal themselves when potential donors run into them. Why chase the mistakes and apologize afterwards when you could have taken the extra time to ensure all is perfect before launching the site? 

The average time a potential donor spends on a webpage deciding whether to stay is less than a minute. Make it count by ensuring you are publishing the highest quality webpages that you can. Invest the time before you launch your website to ensure it is optimal and save yourself the headache you’ll experience afterwards if you don’t. 

Online Event Mistake 4: No Direction

Periodically an organization will approach Cornerstone’s online event team asking to organize an online event because they feel they “need one.” This approach to online events will result in a passionless experience for your participants.

When you are creating an online event, you are creating an extension of your organization, and this extension must provide the same vigor and passion that the rest of your organization inhabits. With this in mind, ask yourself the most basic question: Why? Why are you creating this event? If you cannot answer this question, stop and re-evaluate. The heart of your event is the answer to your why—find it and build a community around it.

Online Event Mistake 5: Stale Content

Some organizations that have great success with an online event stick to the same template year after year because “it works.” This approach can lead them astray. The content, while great at one point in time, can become stale quickly.

It is important to constantly push yourself and surprise your potential donors. Keep in mind that the more mundane, the less interaction. Treat every event as a challenge to push the envelope and produce fresh content. Falling for the status quo gets old fast and interest in your event will wane. The newer the content, the greater the level of donors and participants you’ll receive and the greater the reward.

At the end of the day you’re creating more than a website, you’re creating an experience, an atmosphere and memories. Make those memories last, but be careful not to fall victim to the common but detrimental errors noted above!


Read Part Two of this article: The Five Ways to Pull Off a Perfect Online Event. Download it HERE.  

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