As nonprofits scramble to reimagine their fundraising goals, many have chosen to cancel in-person events altogether. But without annual galas and luncheons scheduled for 2020, organizations risk missing an important opportunity to receive much-needed funding. Worse still, they stand to lose engagement from key donors over time.

Creating a compelling virtual fundraising event might feel like an uphill battle. But with a little creativity, an online fundraiser can deliver many of the perks of an in-person event. Organizations can also extend their reach further online and connect with potential donors across the globe.

Successful fundraising events must do more than simply share an organization’s mission and motivate attendees to donate. They also need to provide enjoyment along the way. A Zoom meeting with board members won’t replicate the experience of a sorely missed annual gala. However, a virtual casino night with home-delivered cocktails, appetizers, and table decorations might do the trick.

The key to hosting an engaging virtual fundraising event is to tell a good story and to remember how to entertain your guests. To keep donors engaged during your next virtual fundraiser, consider the following ideas.

Set the tone.

Pre-record or livestream footage of the VIPs of your charity making a red-carpet entrance. Or, invite guests to record and submit a short message of themselves at home in full cocktail attire before the event.

Rather than just signing onto another virtual meeting, streaming this footage beforehand creates a soft entrance that mirrors the staggered arrival of attendees at a typical in-person event. Not only will this lighten the mood, but it can also create an opportunity for guests to recognize and reconnect with familiar faces within their organization.

Give attendees a fun night out at home.

Swanky cyber-soiree attendees could enjoy an elegant dinner delivered to their homes by a local restaurant. Table settings, party favors, and décor can be pre-shipped or even personally delivered by a local representative in black-tie attire. Consider working with a well-known chef to create a custom menu for the event. This will make attendees feel like they got the chance to have a fun night out without leaving the comfort and safety of their own homes.

Use entertainment as a tool for both engagement and fundraising.

Just like a headliner draws people to a live event, booking a well-known performer can also attract potential donors to an online fundraiser. A renowned keynote speaker, musician, comedian, or magician can reinforce your organization’s message while entertaining guests.

For virtual auctions, pull in a local or national celebrity as the auctioneer to bring another level of entertainment to the fundraiser. Auction off a VIP “backstage pass” for a one-on-one video chat with the celebrity. Or, send autographed swag to the winner in the mail.

To entertain guests and raise money, host a virtual casino night. Or, offer attendees the opportunity to purchase tickets to join various virtual breakout sessions, like cocktail-making classes or a meet-and-greet with a local celebrity. Get creative and know your audience.

Keep it professional by hiring a professional.

Technology is great — when it works. However, we’ve all experienced technological malfunctions and user error. This can be embarrassing and seem unprofessional, especially in front of a live audience. Instead of trying to do everything on your own, hire a producer or production company. They are excellent resources for all aspects of your event.

In addition to technical support, these companies can provide event talent and create custom written speeches for the executive director, board members, and others. Trained coaches can help your team look and sound their best in a virtual setting. This will leave you more time to focus on the guests and the fundraising, making the event more worthwhile for everyone.

Don’t let the party end after guests log off.

Virtual platforms allow event organizers to keep track of their attendees. Be sure to follow up via email to get feedback on the event and to provide actionable ways for attendees to assist your charity during these difficult times. Consider thanking participants by mailing them gift bags with custom masks, hand sanitizer, or other branded items.

Before too long, you will be able to rub elbows again with your generous donors in person. Until then, virtual fundraising events can help you keep donors engaged by bringing entertainment right to their door.