The Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital (NVRH) celebrated Breast Cancer Awareness Month this past October with the Vermont Broadcast Association and St. J. Auto Group by hosting a virtual fundraising event with a twist.
When we heard about the campaign, we were thrilled by the results as well as how much fun they seemed to have in the process. The best part is that it was all powered with GiveWP donation forms. So we asked them to be on Give LIVE and here’s what we learned.
The Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital Provides Medical Care to a Rural Area
NVRH is a “rural critical access hospital,” which means that it’s supported by both donors and the federal government to ensure people in rural locations have access to medical facilities. The hospital is home to 25 beds where patients usually spend four days or less. Those that need additional medical care are transferred to a “tertiary center,” usually at Dartmouth or the University of Vermont.
As a rural critical access hospital, NVRH relies on fundraising for special programs, capital projects, and some of their equipment.
“Hospitals, nonprofits – it doesn’t matter our size. Everyone’s out there raising money. Because usually whatever the business is bringing in – the business of the nonprofit – isn’t enough to cover everything we need. And that’s certainly true for hospitals as well. People say, ‘Wow, my bill is so expensive. How can you need money? You must have tons of money.’ Well, that money goes to a lot of places, but at the end of the day it doesn’t go to the hospital, mostly. So, we’re in the same boat as a nonprofit who’s raising money to meet the needs of their community.”
– Emily Hutchison, Director of Philanthropy at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital
How the Annual Gala Turned into a Virtual Fundraising Event
Since the hospital relies on donations to provide services, NVRH was impacted by the pandemic in the same ways as many other small and medium sized nonprofits.
“Like a lot of organizations during COVID, we had to change a lot of what we do in a normal year. So, we had to cancel a couple fundraising events we normally do.”
The hospital usually holds two annual events, a radio-thon and an annual gala. Since both included in-person activities, both were cancelled due to the pandemic.
“We did SOME successful fundraising for our COVID needs as a hospital, but we really wanted to still be able to do some community fundraising, beyond just mailed letters. Like everyone, it’s a challenge to engage people during COVID.”
During their fundraising planning, the hospital was extremely conscious of preventing donor fatigue. Emily emphasizes a few times how important it is to think about your entire fundraising schedule, including impromptu fundraising needs, like the Pandemic.
The main question that they needed to answer was: in light of Coronavirus, how could the hospital raise money for general needs and special programs while engaging donors who are already burnt out from Zoom-style events and might possibly have donor fatigue?
Some other challenges the hospital needed to keep in mind included:
- Most of the area does not have high speed internet
- Many places also have limited or no cellular data service
- Majority of their community is older with less technical skills.
Their solution ended up combining a variety of fundraising marketing tactics with elements of their annual gala and radio-thon. They called it “A Party with a TWIST: The first ever community-wide dance party.”
What is the NVRH TWIST Virtual Fundraising Campaign?
Leading up to that one night in October, donors of NVRH were able to make a donation and request a song to be played on the local radio station between the hours of 6 and 9 PM for the Dance Party. All funds raised were in support of breast care and cancer treatment.
“I think that’s a really good point when we do any kind of fundraising events, but especially virtual events where we might not have all those individual personal touches we might normally have – to pick a cause that’s really going to resonate with your audience – one that will resonate broadly.”
The event included a live stream on social media as well as guest DJs from the hospital on the radio station, Magic 97.7. As donors gave, they were able to request songs that were then played live on the radio while thanking the donor.
Their goal was to raise $20,000 and they were able to raise $38,000.
Event Planning and Goal Setting
Planning this event was a challenge for the Philanthropy team at NVRH because it was something they had never seen any organization do before. Once they landed on the idea, they weren’t sure what to expect.
“During a pandemic, when you’re doing things that are new and creative, give yourself a little bit of a break. And don’t be afraid to try something new and be aware that there can be a lot of other benefits than just the money … So, my goal was to raise one dollar more than our expenses.”
This mindset helped take the pressure off and gave the board modest expectations so that when they reached the goal, it was that much more impressive. Allowing this margin for error also encouraged the team to get more creative, which boosted the visibility of the event as a whole.
“You have to have an open mind when you do something new, but it can have great benefits for you.”
NVRH was strategic about how they asked for donations. They intentionally did not reach out to businesses because many had already given generously to the COVID fund. One business did give a $5,000 donation, but the rest of the fundraising revenue came from individual donations.
Online Donations and Campaign Branding
A virtual fundraising event of this nature is particularly challenging to communicate to donors. Explaining to people what you’re doing and what you’re asking people to participate in is the first step toward success. It’s also the most difficult.
In order to make things clear, NVRH created branding with graphics and clear messaging to include on a unique donation form on their website. The hospital always has a general giving form live on their site, but this was the first time they created a new form for a unique fundraiser.
“What’s so great about Give is it’s so easy. It’s so easy to build those things. I’m not super techy, but I can check in a box and fill in a word.”
The campaign donation levels were set to match the structure of giving for their annual gala. Their donation form allowed for the following giving levels and associated perks:
- A donation of $150 allowed for a regular song dedication on the air.
- $300 would gain a dedication read by the hospital’s CEO.
- At the $500 level or above, the CEO of the hospital would read the introductions to the songs and sing along live on the radio for a portion of the tune.
Their GiveWP forms included custom form fields where donors were able to include their song choice and dedication information.
Technical Aspects of the Virtual Fundraising Event
With online donations in place, the rest of the virtual fundraising event still needed a lot of work. Emily and her team ensured people would engage with the event by allowing multiple ways to participate, not just through radio listening.
- Radio Station Partnership: Of course, without the radio station’s partnership, all of this wouldn’t be possible. The radio station provided the technology and platform necessary for the song dedications.
- Live Streaming Behind the Scenes: Aside from the live show on the radio, the event was also live streamed online. This was so that donors who may not have access to a radio or limited radio signal in their area were able to participate. This live stream was hosted on a Facebook Event Page as well as embedded on the hospital’s website.
- Involving the Organization’s Staff: The hospital staff participated in creating dance videos together prior to the event in order to encourage participation from the community. These videos were scheduled for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays leading up to the event. The regular schedule allowed their audience to know when to expect the next video, which helped encourage sharing.
- Asking for Donor-Generated Content: Supporters and hospital workers were also asked to create and share their own dance party videos so that the virtual fundraiser was a true “virtual dance party” where everyone participated.
- Hosting a Facebook Event Page: The Facebook event page was home to the live stream and a hot spot for supporters to share their experience and dance videos. It helped to increase visibility of the event through social media.
In addition to all of these things, the hospital also incentivized donations with prizes. So, those that participated from their home and sent in clips had even more reason to do so than simply to be part of the community.
Promoting the Event
The main takeaway from this Give LIVE episode was that when it comes to fundraising, “it’s really important to do multi-channel marketing.”
“If you really want to be as successful as possible and reach as many people as possible…. You really have to think about all the different ways people communicate and receive information.”
The multi-channel marketing plan that Emily and her team implemented for this virtual fundraiser included:
- An invitation to those that would normally receive the Gala invitation at this time of year. This invitation was designed to look like the Gala invitation, but with a “TWIST.”
- A community appeal letter. Normally, the hospital would not invite the general community to their gala. However, this event was different. So, they included a community appeal letter to ask everyone to participate.
- Regularly scheduled social media posts and a Facebook Event Page. The hospital used all of their social media platforms and multiple types of posts to reach people across platforms.
- A series of promotional videos of people dancing. These videos were posted to social media, sent via email, hosted on YouTube, and embedded on the hospital website.
Each of these avenues reaches different audiences and allows people to participate in whichever way suits them best.
Getting Team Participation Has Surprise Benefits
The most popular part of this campaign, and perhaps the reason it was so successful, were the videos of hospital staff dancing.
Most importantly, it didn’t cost the hospital any money to produce the videos. They wanted them to look like they were done at home because that was the whole idea of the event. They were produced by the staff with no professional videographer.
“Being authentic and genuine resonates really well with your donors.”
These videos were also a major factor in getting “team buy-in” from the hospital staff. Team participation can go a long way for fundraisers.
“A lot of times when we do fundraising, we make some assumptions or decisions about who should be involved in that process and we don’t necessarily include everyone in the organization… but what we really learned in this is that there are a lot of people who are willing to be silly and goofy to support a great cause, and they were so happy to be asked to help.”
You might be surprised what hidden talents people on your team can bring to the table. Getting involvement from people outside of your normal fundraising team can also provide a positivity boost within your organization.
“This time has been really draining for healthcare professionals, and this gave them a time to have a lot of fun and just relax. So, while we did not have poor or low morale to begin with, I can say that this was a huge morale booster.”
As Emily said during Give LIVE, this is the “silver lining” of COVID. When you think outside the box, you find new and interesting ways to communicate and engage with people.
Advice for Others Hosting Virtual Fundraising Events
If you’re thinking of hosting your own virtual fundraising event, Emily left us with a few pieces of advice:
- Even if it’s online, do not abandon other ways of communicating with people. The ultimate success of events comes from multi-channel marketing, talking about it through all the platforms you have at your disposal. Make sure you use newspaper, radio, social media, YouTube, email, and regular mail.
- Think about who your audience is. If it’s a virtual event, think about who you’re trying to communicate with and how best to reach them.
- Be creative. Try something new. You have minimal expenses when you do things online, which gives you more freedom to try things.
- Don’t forget to take photos! Behind the scenes is important and it provides you with a lot more content to work with.
Most importantly, don’t forget:
“Any time you can build your reputation and get your word out there, that’s a good thing. Because fundraising is not a one-off game. It’s a marathon.”
Plan Your Virtual Fundraising Event with GiveWP!
If you’re considering planning your own virtual event, make sure it’s easy for your donors to give. Our customer success team is here to help you if you have any questions about using GiveWP alongside your own virtual fundraising event. Schedule a demo now to get started.