Virtual Fundraiser Event Ideas for Artists
Say you’ve decided you want to hold a virtual fundraiser to support your art work or for your arts organization. You’ve read the basics behind virtual events and advice from artists familiar with creating work virtually. But now what? Once you determine that you do want to hold a virtual fundraising event, you’ll have to figure out exactly which kind of event to hold (not to mention which platform you will use).
Virtual events are the norm when we can’t safely gather in person. But they have benefits all their own even when we have the choice between in-person and virtual events. Virtual events can give you a broader reach beyond your geographic community and they can be more accessible to people with certain disabilities like mobility issues or chemical sensitivities. They can be easier to coordinate for organizations with smaller budgets because you don’t have to worry about venue costs or the same level of staffing needs.
Fractured Atlas supports artists by helping them successfully fundraise. We do this by providing our members with a platform to receive tax-deductible donations for crowdfunding campaigns, one-time donations, and recurring donations. We regularly share information about upcoming funding opportunities as well as strategies to help you make the most of those opportunities. We’re on your team and we are with you as the creative landscape adapts to a changing world.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, we hope that it can get your wheels turning about what kind of event is right for you, your community, and your goals. The events we’ve listed below can help you accomplish a variety of goals, from thanking your current donors to bringing in new members of your funding community. These events can help you raise awareness about an issue or provide a bigger platform to artists and community members who you work with.
The Pre-Show Donor Mixer
The pre-event mixer is a classic donor event for performing arts venues. It’s a chance for donors to meet one another, enjoy your hospitality as a thank-you for their support, and maybe even get to chat with some of the people on the creative team. A pre-show event might make sense if you are putting together a screening, a virtual performance, or other type of synchronous event.
By cultivating the same sense of exclusivity and gratitude, you can pull off a successful pre-show mixer. You can create a private event on a platform like Zoom, or get creative and use an alternative like Jitsi or Mozilla Hubs.
For a pre-show event, you’ll want to make sure to have some ice-breaking activities for your donors, especially if they don’t already know one another. Pre-show events could be awkward in virtual space if people don’t already know one another. If that’s the case, plan ahead to shepherd conversation and connection during the event.
If you do decide to go with a virtual pre-show mixer, consider recommending an easy snack and drink combo for a bit of a happy hour feel. And, if you have the budget, you could even send people a little cocktail kit or snack pack to give them a shared, tasty experience.
Consider providing virtual “backstage” tours as well! Is there a way that someone can show your donors how exactly your creative team put together the piece that they are about to see? People love an inside look, whether it’s IRL or URL.
The Virtual Afterparty
Instead of a pre-show event, you might decide to host a virtual afterparty after a screening, panel discussion, or performance. Donors can use this event to meet one another, to talk about what they just saw or heard, and even chat with the performers. Afterparties can be casual celebrations or more formal talkbacks. It all depends on what kind of event you are having and what you think your donors will be most interested in.
Gathering after a performance can ease some of the social awkwardness of meeting new people in virtual contexts because all of the attendees will have just shared an experience that they can talk about together. Attendees likely crave the feeling of wandering out of a venue chatting about the work that they just saw either with the people they came with or with other attendees. One of the challenges with virtual art experiences is that viewers don’t always have a way to process or discuss what they just saw with others. An afterparty can be just the place!
Audio-only platforms might make sense for this kind of event because they allow attendees to move around within virtual space and they preserve some of the idiosyncratic conventions of conversation in real time. High Fidelity or Cozy Room could be good fits for an afterparty event.
The challenge, however, with an afterparty is that people will have already been staring at a computer screen for the duration of the performance and there might be some screen fatigue to combat if you’re asking them to stay online for another event.
The Artist Q&A
The artist Q&A can be a great complement to either a pre-show mixer or an afterparty, or it can be an event all on its own. The Q&A is a structured interaction between your creative team and your donors where they can ask questions about how the work is made, what inspired it, and anything else that comes to mind. It’s a great way to let your audience feel more connected to your work and your team.
You can keep a Q&A private for donors only or you can use it as a way to broaden your reach. If you want it to be available only for certain people, consider a private Zoom link or other private channels. Otherwise, think about platforms like Instagram Live, YouTube, Twitch, or Facebook Live to get the widest reach for the conversation. But whatever platform you use, make sure there’s a way for your attendees to ask questions during the event, either in chat or video.
As with any Q&A, you’ll want a moderator to keep things moving and to fill in any gaps if you find yourself in prolonged and awkward silence. You might also want to have someone managing audience questions or keeping track of who wants a chance to speak. Think about how physical Q&A events often have both a moderator and a person or two running microphones through the audience. You can also solicit questions ahead of time and have the moderator ask them on behalf of the audience, in addition to letting the audience ask questions live.
But, perhaps the most important part of a Q&A is to end it. We’ve all sat in interminable Q&A’s that have gone on longer than anyone wants and yet somehow seem propelled by their own momentum. A graceful end to a Q&A, as with any event, is a show of confidence and skill on the part of you, the organizer. And it is respectful of your audience’s time and your artists’ time.
Panel discussions are great opportunities to share information about an issue you care about, to boost the profiles of artists in your community, or accomplish a variety of other goals. They can be structured in a variety of ways. You could moderate a discussion between several participants, you could invite two people into conversation with one another, or you could include the audience’s questions in more of an open forum.
Panel discussions work well because artists and community organizers tend to be able to ask one another interesting and surprising questions and find unexpected resonances between their work. Bringing together people from different creative paths or who are working on an issue using different strategies can be fruitful and engaging. You can think about bringing together a panel of people whose work is very similar or whose work seems a little more disparate (but connected enough to where they have something to talk about together).
Panel discussions translate easily to a virtual format because the threshold to entry is lower. You can be anywhere in the world as long as you have internet access. This means that you can spread information in a way that is more accessible to people who might not be able to pop over to places like the 92nd Street Y on a weekday evening either because of location, schedule, mobility issues, or something else. You can also share the recordings of your panels for people who can’t make the event when scheduled!
The Virtual Gala
Many nonprofits and arts organizations count on galas to bring in a lot of financial support through high ticket prices, silent auction items, and the additional goodwill generated after a few drinks and a convivial atmosphere. Galas can be challenging to shift into a virtual event because it’s hard to justify the high ticket price without a venue, food, drinks, or entertainment for guests. Lavish experiences can be difficult to translate when guests are at home instead of all together in person.
But virtual galas can be done! If you decide to go this route, you can preserve some of the special experiences of a gala. Sell tickets ahead of time, make the event exclusive to members (and a plus one if you like), and encourage festive attire.
Even though you might not be providing hand-passed canapes or flutes of champagne, you can still pour care and consideration into the event. Consider sending your guests cocktail kits or dinners from local restaurants or a swag bag. You can also include a private performance as part of your gala entertainment.
As with any big event, you’ll still need a team for a virtual gala. Virtual galas will need people to plan, people to run tech and be on hand to troubleshoot the event, as well as an MC to keep the program moving along. Use tools like breakout rooms to give people a way to meet one another and chat in smaller groups. You can also create rooms and shift folks around so they can meet many other people during the event.
A bonus for galas, virtual or in-person, is that you can reach out to corporate sponsors to support your event or even provide the food or drinks. You can also create a way to encourage peer-to-peer fundraising where guests are encouraged to buy a “table” together.
Exclusive Artist Performance
One of the most magical experiences you can provide to your donors is the experience of a private performance. It’s intimate, special, and ephemeral. If you or one of your collaborators is willing to donate their labor and perform for free or if you can pay an artist to perform, you can give your donors a truly unique experience. It’s best for your bottom line to find artists who can donate their talents for a performance, but if you have the means to pay your performers we highly encourage you to do so. This year has been uniformly bad for artists and whenever we can affirm to one another that creative work is valuable and crucial, we should.
You can use an exclusive artist performance as a way to thank your current donors or to draw in new ones.
If you decide to offer an artist performance as a virtual fundraiser, you can sell tickets ahead of time. And as a bonus, offer an opportunity for the performer to receive tips or share the word about their work as well.
Pro Tip: Run a dress rehearsal to make sure that the audio and visual elements all work as expected, and that camera angles are optimal.
The livestream is a great way to boost the work that you and your community is doing in a fun way that’s more casual for guests or viewers than a gala or formal event. We’ve done virtual telethons in the past to support our artists. They each had a short amount of time to perform or to talk about their work on Facebook Live and on YouTube.
The livestream is a flexible form that lets you highlight a lot of different members of your community and do a lot of different kinds of programming from performances to short interviews to virtual studio visits. You could even have a livestream of art being made, for example a painting or ceramic piece. With livestream programming, your audience can dip in and out freely.
You can use a livestream to just give your audience some entertainment and to share your platform with artists whose work you admire. You can also use it as a fundraiser. If you do, make sure to have donation links displayed easily for your audience so that if they feel moved to give, they can easily do so.
For livestreams, check out platforms like Streamyard as well as Twitch, Instagram Live, Facebook Live.
Set Up Your Virtual Event for Success
Regardless of what kind of virtual event or fundraiser you decide to host, the general basics behind virtual arts fundraisers remain the same. You’ll want to weigh the pro’s and con’s of virtual events, communicate before, during, and after the event, and ask yourself some questions to help design the right event for your needs.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.