While I am not an event planner, I am a problem solver. I'm coming from the seat of a consultant who's trying to help people figure out how they're going to run their events. What I do is help people pick a system that will work for them, and will work with their other systems, and then help them promote their events. So today, I'm going to talk about how to choose the right online fundraising event platform so you can pick the perfect one for your organization’s event!

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Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

How to Choose the Right Online Fundraising Event Platform

I’m going to talk about how to choose the right online fundraising event platform. We solve lots of tech problems for people. We started off designing websites and then as our clients started needing more support, we started helping them find good solutions to run their online events. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not run online events. I actually only run one, which is CoMoGives. CoMoGives is an online giving campaign that runs through the month of December and supports 140 local nonprofits. Last year it earned over $940,000. It is so amazing, but that is the only online event that I run. What I do is help people pick a system that will work for them, and will work with their other systems, and then help them promote their events. I’m coming from the seat of a consultant who’s trying to help people figure out how they’re going to run their events.

Today, I am going to attempt to have a one-sided conversation so that you can hear some of the things that go through my mind when I am trying to help someone find the right platform to run an online fundraising event. So before I start that lovely one-sided rambling, I just want to take a second to remind you that if you are planning an online fundraising event, you might check out our free resource, 14 Tech-Easy Online Event Ideas for Fundraising! We talked to a number of nonprofits who are doing just an amazing job of running online fundraisers right now and they gave us ideas about what’s working for them. We shared their success stories so hopefully, you can read them and be inspired to run your own online event. 

It’s like hiring a person for a job.

My philosophy when choosing a piece of software is it’s a lot like hiring an employee. First, you need to start with a job description so you really understand what you need it to do. Then you need to decide how much you’re going to pay it to work for you. Lastly, you might even consider what type of benefits package you’re going to put together.

1. What’s the job description?

The first thing you need to do is sit down and figure out what type of event you’re going to run, and then think through how you want to run the event. There’s a lot of very flexible systems, however you need to know what you need it to do before you begin. The last thing you want is to have to change it at the last minute because you realized you can’t do the thing you wanted to do.

 So write out your job description.

  • What is your event? 
  • What are you going to do during your event? 
  • What are you going to do after the event? 
  • What are you going to do with all the information you may have gathered during the event or during the event signups?

You need to make sure you find a solution that allows you to take all the data with you. If you can’t pull the information out, then you’re at a marketing loss because you want to be able to continue conversing with the people you met at the event. Events aren’t just for gathering donations, they’re for creating relationships. Therefore, if you can’t get the information back out and use it in any other way, then it’s not a very viable solution.

So think through once again…

  • How do you need people to sign up for the event?
  • What’s the next step? 
  • Are you going to send them an email? 
  • Do you need to have an email service in there?  

Think about how you’re going to run the event. 

  • Is that part of this solution?
  • What are the things that you want to do during the event?
  • Do you want to do polls?
  • Do you want to break people out into groups?
  • Do you want to just have a speaker?
  • Do you want to take their feedback? 

These are all things we needed to find first, and then what happens at the end? 

  • Do you want to send out a survey at the end or a thank you?
  • Are you gathering more information from them, and then can you get that information out of the system at the end?

Map all through in your timeline, and then determine if your event software needs to be able to do all those things. If you already have a way to send out your emails and collect your signups and all you need to be able to do is run the event, then you’re golden, and you don’t have to worry about it. But if you don’t have any of those things, or maybe you want to have a more streamlined solution, then you’ll want to make sure the platform includes all the stuff you need. So that’s part of your software, the job description: thinking through all of those pieces.

2. What are you willing to pay them? 

Next, you need to think about how much you’re going to pay. Some solutions are totally free and that’s awesome. Other solutions are not free. The totally free ones are going to be totally up to you to operate. So think back to that job description, what are you comfortable with? Because if you’re not comfortable operating it and understanding the technology of it, then it’s not going to be a good fit for you. 

Pay for someone to help you, if you can. 

As a matter of fact, if you’re really short on technology and short on staff, but you do have some funding to put towards it, you may very well consider hiring an event service to put on your event for you. A lot of those people know so much about what they’re doing and are very good at running these events. I mean, it’s like having a wedding planner for your event. It’s amazing! 

If technology isn’t your forte, then having someone help you through this would definitely be a huge asset. It may result in you generating far more donations and making more contacts than you ever would have before. That’s why I put it underneath the price because if you have to pay somebody $3,000 to help you run your fundraiser, but you’re going to generate $30,000 in donations, then the $3000 really doesn’t seem like a big deal. 

For example, one of my clients has a COVID-19 Regional Relief Fund, and about a month or so they contracted with a company called Armchair Telethon to do a virtual telethon for them. The telethon generated $32,600, so it was a great investment for them! COVID-19 Regional Relief Fund is run by a super small organization, they only have 1.25 people and neither one of them are super tech-savvy, but they had the ability to reach out to the Armchair Telephone folks and have a whole virtual telethon that was instrumental in them now being able to grant out this money to other local nonprofits that need it because of COVID-19. This is a great example of how you can look at the job description and then think about how much you’re willing to pay to be able to get it done.

3. What’s the benefits package?

Last but not least in hiring this software employee, we need to think about the benefits package. This really piggybacks on the last idea of how tech-savvy are you. One of the things I look at whenever I’m evaluating software is does it come with support? Does it come with updates? How long do I get those updates? How long do I have access to the information stored within it? What types of other software does it interface with? Some of them can interface all the way into your donor management system and then all the information you need is right where you need it to manage it every single day. Others do not merge with the management system. So all those features are part of the benefits package. 

Some benefits are like the “want to have but don’t need to have” items in some cases. In other cases, they might really be a need item, so then they would move up into your job description. Definitely check and see what types of support they have. Does it have live support, chat support, phone support ect.?

How to Search for the Event Platform 

So now we understand selecting software to run your online fundraiser is a lot like hiring an employee, how do you find the software options? 

Reach out to the people who are doing what you want to do. 

So the first place you could go to find it is asking for referrals from other people. Go out into your Facebook groups, send an email out to people you know have done it before and just ask! Honestly that’s how I find out a lot of information. 

Ask Google 

The next thing I do is go out into Google. What you need the software to do is going to be part of the search term you’re looking for. You’re going to search for [top “what I need this to do” software] For example, “top online 5k software,” “top online auction software,” whatever you need, that’s what you search for. Then I find the easiest thing to do is to click on one of those articles like Top Five Softwares For Running Your Online Auction and I’m going to click on all those. I click them all open, I start reading through them and I start seeing the softwares that overlap in many articles. The overlapping ones are definitely the ones I want to take a look at because there’s a lot of people talking about them. A lot of the articles will have a bulleted list of the services and what they like or don’t like about them so you don’t have to dig through all these websites to try to figure this information out. 

How to Document Your Search Results 

Now when I’m evaluating them for a client, once I get this list together,  I literally make a rubric for myself. It could be in a table or a bulleted list, but I started off with the service name and links out to the services. Then I write down all of my must-have criteria and my benefits package and the pay. So all the things you just outlined for this job description, they go on bullet points underneath. You’re searching for those very specific answers. If you think it meets your criteria, but you’re not sure, you’re going to document it. Then if you have to have additional add ons or upgrades to be able to get what you want, you’ll document it as well. Often, I like to put a little screenshot of the actual website I’m looking at because I’m very visual, and it helps me remember what I saw later. 

How to Format the Document

I’m going over how I format this document because this makes it easier for me to present it to my client. You might be presenting it to your board or your executive director. 

  1. Go through and list out each one of the services you want to evaluate. 
  2. Link the name of the service over to its website. 
  3. Underneath the name,  list out the job description; the income and the benefits package, all those things you need from it. Easy bulleted list style. 
  4.  Out to the side of all of those requirements, document what you see. Just find the information so you can mark yes or no by each bullet point.
  5. Lastly, I usually narrow it down because there’s a couple who just don’t have everything I need. 

Narrowing Down the Options 

To narrow down the options, I’m gonna look at things like when was it last updated? Is there a Help section? I always look at the help section to make sure there is a super-easy way for me to get answers on my own. So I see how often people post and how quickly the company responds. Do they have an onboarding system I can go through and use to set myself up easily? I put that criteria underneath each one of them in my final lineup because it needs to be easy for a client or my own team to use. Once again, I haven’t used the software yet. I’m evaluating it to hire it for this job. 

Evaluate the Help Section

I need to make sure my client has all the support they need to be able to set up this event platform and run the event. So I go through and I’ll analyze the Help section. I’ll see if it looks like they do a good job of getting you started and set up. There are lots of help videos here and they have a forum, but are employees answering the questions? It may look like the same problem is popping up over and over again. Make sure that issue isn’t a deal-breaker for you. But really looking through the help section and how they’re supporting their clients is an important piece of deciding whether you’re going to work with somebody or not. You don’t want the people who are just ignoring everyone. 

Read Reviews 

Obviously, you can read the reviews and see what people have said about it. It’s really tough because some people are only going to leave a review when they’re really angry. You really have to take those with a grain of salt. 

Does it have a phone number for help? 

Last but not least, I like to look for a phone number. Do they have a phone number on their website or is it just a chat or an email form I have to submit to them? When you’re in the middle of launching this event, you don’t have time to sit and wait for the chatbot to answer you or for them to respond via email. I am not advocating you wait till the last minute, but there are times when your technology is not working the way you thought it was going to work and you need someone to help. Understanding if they have a phone number and when their office hours are is a big deal. If you can’t call them at eight o’clock at night when your event starts and you’re having technical issues, then they’re not a good fit for you.

You’re ready to select your software! 

Hopefully, you can use this system to better evaluate the different event softwares you might use to power your own fundraising event. Just to recap, think of it like you’re hiring an employee. What are its job responsibilities going to be? How is it going to help make your life easier? Really map out what you need out of it. Then think about what you’re willing to pay for the work. Remember that sometimes even though it comes with a bigger price tag, it’s going to do a much better job of what you need. Next, consider it’s benefits package. What are the things that you would like to have, but don’t have to have? Go out, do your search, and format your search document. If it’s not well documented, when you go back to it, there’s no way you’re going to remember it. Evaluate each one of these systems for the job description, the income and the benefits package. Finally, dig in a little bit deeper. Look at their support forums, resources library, make sure they have a phone number, and their office hours match up to what you need. That is how I do consulting to help people pick software. Now you’re ready to go evaluate your own! Good luck friends 🙂 


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