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Next fund-raising trend: Virtual events

What would you think if you were asked to buy a ticket to a fundraising event that wasn’t going to be held? Or buy a product that didn’t exist?

Virtual events, or non-event events, are a new fundraising trend, says Eva Aldrich, associate director of The Fund Raising School at The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

"So many schools do fundraising events that include speeches, dinner, an auction, entertainment. But when you look at the time required to plan and attend an event, and the cost of putting it on, are you getting out of it what you want?" she says.

When you look at who is really buying tickets, it’s parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and others with ties to the school.

"They are regular supporters. The event is not really bringing in new supporters," Aldrich says.

With a virtual event, supporters are sent a festive invitation to donate the equivalent of a ticket price. There is nothing to plan, no expenses, and donors aren’t stuck with a social obligation they would rather forgo.

Aldrich says an organization has to know its donor pool and be comfortable with them to know if this will work.

"It’s a way to still have some fun, and pique interest," she says. "This way all of the money is going to support the organization."

The idea can also be used for small events such as car washes or bake sales, for virtual events on social media sites, even for virtual sales of products such as wrapping paper and cookie dough.

"In this economy, everyone has so much stuff, then you’re asked to buy more stuff. You don’t look through a catalog saying ‘That’s the prettiest wrapping paper I’ve ever seen,’ you’re thinking 'I need to support my child.' "

Getting away from "transactional" fundraisers can be more time- and cost-effective for the school and donor, she says.

"There’s no reason schools need to get in the same fundraising rut year after year. They need to ask themselves, is this building a base of supporters and raising money for their programs?," Aldrich says. "Ultimately, the most effective fundraising is still person-to-person requests to give to an organization or issue which both the requestor and the donor value."