By Matthew Burnell, Founder of ClickBid, a mobile bidding provider for online auctions, virtual galas, and in-person events.

As a nonprofit, you have undoubtedly heard the term “virtual events” over the past six months. As the global pandemic continues to limit the ability to hold in-person fundraising events, nonprofits are forced to create new and “virtual” giving opportunities. As a provider of online fundraising tools, such as online auctions and virtual gala software, our team has helped charities move their events online. In the process, we have heard many stories about their experience. I’d like to share some of those stories to help normalize concerns and confusion on what steps to take in this new world.

What were your initial thoughts when confronted with COVID-19?


“We were in a frozen pattern for a bit trying to decide if it was cost-effective to have an event during the pandemic”

“How we were going to pull off a Virtual Fundraiser in a short amount of time. With people out of work, would they be willing to donate, etc.”

These were very common concerns that we heard throughout March, April and May. Organizations had planned, booked and were ready to hold in-person events. No one would have guessed that the whole events industry was going to turn upside down. The number one concern was “if we go virtual, will we raise money?” followed by “how do we even go virtual?”

In addition, from March through June, we saw many events push to the fall hoping to weather the spring storm. Unfortunately, the storm has continued and those who held off now face the same challenges in the fall. Faced with limited options, organizations are nervously entering the virtual fundraising world. I’m here to confidently say that making the decision to move forward is the hardest part. From there it gets easier and details fall into place.

How did you make the jump to virtual?

“We were able to postpone one of our events to the fall (a run). We immediately started doing research on holding a virtual event for one of our larger events. We reached out to our vendors and were able to cancel most of our reservations. I was able to convert our band deposit into a silent auction item. We then shifted all communications to an “Online Auction” event, transition ticket purchases into auction credit or donations, sponsor dollars into auction credit and online marketing, and schedule virtual happy hours every night of our 5 day auction.”

“[I] watched every webinar that I could on how to host virtual events, how to do online auctions. I was amazed at the amount of options out there for nonprofits to learn from and the support.”

“We pulled together a virtual fundraiser show (which included the online silent auction) and it was all executed in 2 weeks.”

The common thread in these statements is “We moved forward.” It’s important to keep in front of your donors during COVID-19 (or any crisis). The good news is that a virtual event is a cost effective way to engage your donors. A quick and simple video from your organization’s leader is a personal touch that tells your story. They can broadcast the video right from their laptop web camera. They can personally cast the vision of why funds are needed during these challenging times.

Take it a step further and do a personal video every day of your virtual event. Announce it with email or text messaging. Once you have done one video, you can do two or three just as easily. Services like ClickBid make it easy to broadcast videos (either live or pre-recorded) to your donors. By the close of your auction event, your donors will have a wonderful picture of your charity – thanks to the transparency of your videos.

In addition, you can also pivot some of the money you earmarked for the ballroom, catering, bar(s), valet and wifi to a video production company. They can help you produce a complete event video that you can stream, either in real time or pre-recorded.

Overwhelmingly, nonprofits we worked with were very successful and happy. Entering into the virtual space is new for most nonprofits and adding video components into an online auction is new and it can feel like the Wild West. Something you must consider when jumping into a virtual gala is the support you will need and receive. Be sure to clarify with any vendor that there are experts in video production, broadcasting, event management available to you for video specific questions. 

Lessons learned?

“Plan time for a dry-run so you can see the event unfold before the real event.”

“Ask for a readiness checklist so there aren’t any surprises on event day.”

“We let people sign up for the event when they wanted to bid. Next time, we will import a large list of donors and send them a welcome message to participate and watch the live stream. It creates more excitement.”

Virtual events are a new format for fundraising, but also an easy way to stay engaged with your donors throughout the pandemic. What’s more, you may find them to be a long-term solution for fundraising post-COVID that continues to drive support from new donors.

Founded in 2002, ClickBid serves as the hosting platform for 2,000+ online events each year. Their product offerings include online auctions, virtual galas, text-to-give, raise-the-paddle, and online ticketing.