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Since the initial outbreak of COVID-19, we have been advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization to practice social distancing. Consequently, there’s been a drastic impact on how we can host and operate events during this time. In-person events likely play a major part in your organizing strategy. And while meeting in real life might be on hold for now, video conferencing apps like Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts make it possible to host most events virtually. This guide outlines how to transition your in-person events to virtual.

Three must-haves for a successful online event 

Get the tech sorted

When you are hosting an event online the first thing to do is confirm that the video technology you plan to use is equipped for your specific event needs. Some important questions to ask:

  • Does this software have a cap on attendees? 
  • Do we need a chat function? 
  • Is there a way to record the event? 
  • Can we mute participants?

You should ensure the speaker or event host is in a location where there won’t be background noise, and make sure to use headphones and a mic instead of the directional mic built into your laptop. This will make the audio clearer for participants.

Bear in mind that even if you’re extremely well prepared on the technical side, problems might arise and it’s okay. Embrace the technical difficulties and smile—participants will be understanding!


  • Video software
  • Strong internet connection
  • Clear audio/headset 
  • Power
  • Mute participants on entry 
  • Tech test before event
  • Welcome slide/group guidelines 
  • Recording functionality 

Create a good experience

When hosting an event online, you’ll want to walk attendees through a few best practices that’ll make it a successful experience for everyone.

Ask attendees to turn on their cameras if they can and feel comfortable, as this will help create a sense of community and make it easier for the host to read the reactions of participants. Ask everyone to mute when they’re not speaking. This will help avoid picking up background noise (especially since many of us are currently sharing our space with family, roommates, etc.). and limit outside distractions.

Record the event so you can send it out to all RSVPs, including those who couldn’t make it. Schedules aren’t easy to manage these days and they’ll be grateful to have access to it as a resource.

Not all of the content you had planned for your event can be ported over to a virtual experience, and it’s important to review your content and trim the fat where necessary. The average adult has a 20-minute attention span, so if you want to keep them engaged, make sure you allow for pauses and questions where possible. 

Another note on content–you’ll want to replace the resources you use to communicate your content with virtual tools. For example, you should avoid writing on a white board behind you, and instead opt for a virtual whiteboard so everyone can participate visually.


  • Ask people to turn on their camera
  • Record the event
  • Ask people to mute when not speaking
  • Review RSVP list and the content to make sure it’s adapted 

Facilitate the conversation

Facilitating a virtual event can be challenging, but like many distributed organizations, we at NationBuilder have been working together this way for a while. Here are some tips on facilitating: 

  • Create or share agreements at the top so people know how to participate
  • When people are speaking, ask them to state their name—and when they are not speaking, ask them to mute
  • Have a call to action for people to engage with during the virtual event

When you are preparing for your virtual event it will be vital to allocate out the necessary facilitator roles. Think about who in your organization can fill the following roles and if they are all necessary, or if there are others you need to add:

  • Lead facilitator 
  • Co-facilitator(s)
  • Chat facilitator
  • Visuals, slides & notes lead
  • Tech lead

As a facilitator, it is important to make your participants feel comfortable with some basic introductions or icebreakers. Depending on the type of event you are hosting, these are some easy prompts that can get you going: 

  • Have participants put their name and city in the chat 
  • If you have a small group (under 50) have participants unmute and intro themselves
  • Find your corner (virtual) ask people to raise their hand/type in the chat depending on which corner of the room that they identify with based on your questions. 
  • Shake it out - have participants join in with a 30-second dance party

During an online event, you should leave time for a question and answer session or a debrief depending on your event format. This will enable you to gain invaluable insights into how your audience responded to your content in real time; it can also give you an understanding of what other content needs are in your community. 

Types of events 

Educational events 

Educational events can be trainings or webinars where you’ll be sharing knowledge and teaching people how to accomplish some tasks. Here are a few tips to make sure they are optimized for an online format. 

Experiential learning
People will more easily remember and be ready to start doing the thing that you’re teaching them if they’ve had an opportunity to conceptualize, experiment, experience, and reflect. Make sure you leave some space for each of these when delivering a training or a course.

Active listening 
It’s important for the facilitator, as well as the attendee receiving the training, to be fully present and engaged in conversations to make sure the material covered or the questions asked are fully understood. Rephrasing is a good tactic to make sure all participants have a common understanding. Use reflective listening when your participants have questions to ensure a check for understanding.

Encouraging practice
Make sure you leave space for people to practice what they’ve just learned through exercises and role plays. This will allow the knowledge to better sink in and increase the confidence of participants. If you’re training your volunteers on how to use NationBuilder, you can ask them to share their screen and show the others what they’ve done. If you’re doing role play exercises, you can create breakout sessions for attendees to practice peer-to-peer exercises.

Follow up
After your session, it’s really important to follow up with your attendees by sending the recording, while also providing them with next steps: this can range from more advanced exercises to directly signing up for a volunteer shift. 

Hosting conferences

Many conferences are being postponed or canceled during this time. At NationBuilder we want to help you keep them going in a virtual format, especially since it’s uncertain when we’ll be able to host offline events again. 

Set the agenda
Most adults have an attention span of about 20 minutes, and virtual configurations make it even easier to be distracted, so you’ll need to make sure your agenda is tailored to keep them engaged. Keep sessions short and make sure you include small breaks so people can get coffee and go to the bathroom. You can run multiple sessions in parallel with multiple video conference links if you have the right amount of staff to facilitate each of those. 

Allow for interaction at scale
Most video conferencing software will have features like polls and live reactions which will help get people engaged throughout the conference. Ask questions about what they want to hear about, whether they’ve been a supporter of your organization for a long time or if they’re completely new. That will allow people to feel more included and give you some data about your audience. 

Once again, follow up
Make sure you make the most of your conference by following up strategically with your audience. You can send different communications based on the sessions people have attended that include different calls to action. 

Hosting fundraisers 

Fundraisers are an important part of events for a lot of organizations, specifically nonprofits. You may have had fundraisers planned in the coming weeks and months that are now being rethought. You CAN bring that event online!

Before your event
When you are thinking about moving your fundraiser online it is important to consider doing more outreach to folks than you would normally do for an in-person event. 

Surveying your RSVPs will be key to ensure you have information on why they want to be a part of your fundraiser. For example, if I am hosting a fundraiser to build an animal shelter in my local neighborhood, I might send out a survey to all of my RSVPs prior to the event to learn more about what types of animals they have at home. 

You could use a moneybomb that will allow your organization to collect commitments to donate (aka a pledge) before the event. This gives you another touch point to engage with your participants prior to the live event where they will actually be donating. With a moneybomb, you can time box the action to a specific period to encourage pledges, as a smaller window will create urgency. 

Another tactic that you can implement is personal fundraising pages. These pages allow your community to take ownership over how they are contributing to your organization and share it with their friends and family. 

During your event
If your fundraiser was originally an event that had a keynote speaker or a fireside chat, make sure to prep with those folks beforehand to ensure they can deliver the necessary content and feel confident in doing so.

During the event you should share your screen with the attendees where they can see a donation thermometer ticking up live as more and more people donate throughout the event. 

Another tactic to consider is using a texting program to increase participant engagement. It is important to consider the size of your audience when planning a texting program, since these work best in larger groups, and if your group is smaller than 100 people texting could feel less authentic. 

When you have a smaller group, think about doing breakout sessions to give people the opportunity to “network” like they would at a normal fundraiser—this comes back to the survey before the event. You could break people out into groups based on the animals they said they have at home, then have everyone come back to the larger event and share key takeaways from their small group breakouts 

After your event
You will see a common thread throughout all of these events - Follow-up is key. During a time of physical distancing and an ever-evolving news cycle, you will need to be very diligent in how you follow up. Continuing with the example of the animal shelter fundraiser, I could follow up in two groups: 

  1. Introduce all of the people from the breakout sessions with the ask that they create personal fundraising pages

  2. Break out all attendees by: 

    • Made a donation during the event
    • Pledged on the moneybomb but did not donate during the event
    • RSVPed, did not attend, but did donate
    • RSVPed, did not attend, but didn’t donate 

All of these should have specific content tailored to the cohort they are in with unique calls to action based on how they have interacted with your organization.

Community gatherings

During this time of uncertainty, people are yearning for community, given that the CDC is urging social distancing. Community gatherings can take place alongside all of the other event types we’ve outlined or as stand alone events. These are a few of the community gatherings  you can host:

  • Story circles 
  • Community circles 
  • 1-1 check ins 
  • Lunch or dinner with conversation menus 

When you think about community gatherings as stand alone events you should ensure that these are spaces where people feel comfortable being vulnerable and asking for what they need. It is very important to practice active listening in these spaces. We recommend creating guidelines for people to follow for each of these spaces.  

Community Guidelines
If you choose to host a community gathering, you are agreeing to create an environment of respect and listening. These are some important guidelines to think about as you prepare and may vary depending on your event: 

  • Respect confidentiality. 
  • Be present with the group.
  • Say your name before you speak.
  • Practice active listening.

And if you’re interested, we welcome you to join one of our weekly story circles,Thursdays from 4-6PM ET.

Common NationBuilder tactics for your virtual event

There are a number of events that you can transition to be online. Here is a checklist for the most common events and what you would need to get them up and running using NationBuilder. 


  • Create an event page
  • Advertise your event
  • → Ask your community to share on social media 
  • → Identify target audiences within your community for this event
  • Email RSVPs 
  • → Send a survey to understand what your RSVPs care about
  • Send event reminders to RSVPs 
  • Understand your data through tags and filtering 
  • Make sure you have a call to action. It could be any of these: 
  • → Create a moneybomb page
  • → Create a donation page 
  • → Create a volunteer page
  • → Create a petition page 
  • Follow up with RSVPs & Attendees (Email or Text)


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