Virtual fundraisers certainly present a number of logistical and technical challenges, and we are all missing the face-to-face community and connection building that were so important to in-person fundraisers. However, it remains critical that we find ways to garner donor support for our causes amongst the many other competing charitable interests.

The greatest resource to achieving this end is simple – each other. Our advice is to look to other nonprofits for new ideas and success stories of fundraising done right, even in our new virtual world. And don’t stop there – if you find yourself with a story or strategy of your own, share it with others!

It’s with that in mind that we want to share the work of one of our Charity Alliance members – SEE International, a charity that took what was typically a traditional in-person fundraiser and made it work in a virtual context.

SEE International’s mission is to provide transformative eye care and surgery around the world, including in the U.S. Through partnerships, they restore sight and bring care to people who need it most. This line in the charity’s mission statement brings home the importance of its work: “together we break the cycle of hardship that blindness and visual impairment cause, making patients, families and communities healthier and stronger.”

The charity’s transformational work has evolved due to the changing conditions spurred by COVID-19. For example, it has significantly expanded its programs that provide eye care resources in the U.S. because the pandemic has left so many underinsured or unemployed. And in other countries, SEE International’s work continues with different ways of operating. For example, instead of performing sight-restoring surgeries in Haiti, SEE International is supporting the Haiti Ophthalmic System, a residency program that builds up capacity of Haitian medical staff to address eye care needs in-country. This work with its partners will address long-term community needs in Haiti and improve access to eye care for years to come while keeping staff and patients safe during the pandemic.

In addition to changing their programming, SEE International also had to find a new way to fundraise without putting attendees at risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Taking ArtSEE virtual
Every year, the Abstract Art Collective of Santa Barbara creates and presents an abstract art exhibit that raises funds to help SEE International provide free eye care to those in need. Because of health concerns and restrictions placed on group gatherings, the Abstract Art Collective and SEE International decided to keep the event but hold it virtually for the first time. The resulting success (the charity maintained event revenue from 2019 to 2020!) was impressive given the quick switch to this new format.

We want to share some of the features of SEE International’s fundraising event for other charities to consider this year. Perhaps they’ll inspire more great fundraising ideas!

Launched with a fun kickoff event. Kickoffs are vital to campaign success, even in the virtual space. In July, SEE International hosted a kickoff for their 6th Annual ArtSEE event via Zoom. The general public was invited to join and learn more about this fundraiser as they would any other year, and the upside to hosting this virtually meant that a broader audience was able to join.

The event gave SEE International the opportunity to showcase its work and share information about its mission, while also getting people excited about participating in the fundraiser.

Art by Marlene Struss

Gave donors a unique experience. During the kickoff event, the Abstract Art Collective of Santa Barbara and SEE International invited artists to talk about their pieces while showing the works using online gallery screen sharing. This way, while the audience learned about SEE International’s mission and programming, they also had a unique opportunity to hear about the process behind various art pieces from the artists themselves.

A takeaway we gained from this event: Take advantage of opportunities to add different layers to the donor experience during a virtual event. Charities can introduce donors to program staff in countries around the world, or invite high-level leadership within the organization to speak with everyday donors.

Spotlighting creative outlets like SEE International has done with art is really engaging for the audience and creates a memorable experience. Donors not only form a deeper connection to the art, but to your charity, leaving them more likely to support your work.

Art by Marlene Struss

Used concrete ideas and items in its fundraiser. Donations are of the utmost importance in achieving charitable goals, but a donor may not see where their gift goes or how it impacts someone else, and often the only evidence they have is a receipt.

But through something like SEE International’s art auction, donors have a physical reminder of their charitable gift and its impact, and they have a clear understanding of what their gift has done. Each 10 x 10 art panel was sold for $100, enough for two sight-restoring surgeries for individuals in need. So each piece represents two people whose vision was restored thanks to the donor’s contribution – and each time they look at that artwork, they will remember their impact.

Just as you should add variety in your speakers and presentations, if you’re able to partner with another organization to provide something tangible like art, that may encourage your donors to go the extra mile to support your cause.

Art by Marlene Struss

Involved the press. The fundraiser was included in the Santa Barbara News Press in a featured article that highlighted SEE International’s work and local artist Marlene Struss who was part of the exhibit. The publication itself circulates to about 18,000 subscribers.  This additional reach no doubt played a role in their successful turnout – likely catching the eye of potential new donors among new audiences.

Third party coverage of virtual fundraisers can be critical to bringing in revenue, but it’s also a way to reach new donors and new supporters of your work. This is another boon to connecting with an industry that may not be within your scope of work – you can reach audiences you normally wouldn’t. And it doesn’t stop at online magazines and newspapers, as you can also find further opportunity for social media engagements through artists and other influencers.

We are proud of SEE International’s continued sight-restoring work during these times and share their fundraising success in the hopes that it inspires you in your fundraising goals for 2021. While we’re all hoping for a return to in-person events soon, it’s clear that 2020 changed the fundraising landscape forever. Virtual engagements are here to stay and SEE International’s willingness to try to new things shows us what’s possible.

These kinds of events can be applied to more than just charity fundraisers. Companies can learn from SEE International’s event when planning staff events or employee giving campaign kickoffs. Giving employees the space to connect with one another and experience something unique while working from home could help foster a happier work environment and keep employees engaged in their work and teams. Global Impact is always thinking about how to improve our campaign events and we look forward to learning from all of our charity partners as we plan our 2021 workplace events.

You can even work to make SEE International part of your virtual workplace giving campaign! Contact us for more ideas and find out how you can help support this vital charity.

Keep up-to-date on SEE International’s work by following the charity on social media or joining SEE International’s mailing list to stay up to date on all of the ways its providing eye care and preventing blindness around the world and here in the U.S. Hopefully you can catch the charity during next year’s 7th Annual ArtSEE Fundraiser!