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About a year and a half ago the Missouri United Methodist Foundation (MUMF) began hosting educational webinars to deepen their relationship with their audience. Today it's still going strong and growing.  I interview David Atkins and Laura Murphy to learn how they do it and how it's working.

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Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

Using Educational Webinars to Grow Your Nonprofit’s Audience

About a year and a half ago the Missouri United Methodist Foundation (MUMF) began hosting educational webinars to deepen their relationship with their audience. Today it's still going strong and growing.  I interview David Atkins and Laura Murphy to learn how they do it and how it's working.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmZGOO72n5g

Episode Cliff Notes:

Q:  How do you begin fostering an audience?

A:  Start with a smaller, more focused group; begin with your core audience. For example, if you’re a church, start with pastors. From there, expand to leaders of the church, council and governing boards, then to church parishioners. As you grow your audience list, keep that list of contacts accurate and functional by periodically updating contact information where necessary. 

As you build your following, it’s critical to keep your social media relevant and updated.  Present quality information so your core returns for more, as you slowly expand your reach to a broader audience by presenting topics that are relevant to other members of your focus area. One key way to provide quality information is to invite quality speakers for topics they want to hear about.

Q: Where do you find your guest speakers?

A: We draw from people we know who are experts in particular fields, but we also reach out to bigger, more well-known names in those fields.  Sometimes you can find those people by watching webinars that other organizations put on. For bigger speakers, we will put more into our marketing – like sending postcards and even personal invites. More high profile speakers help us grow our audience exponentially.

Q: What platform are you using for registration to sign up for your webinars?

A:  We've been using Eventbrite, but once our new website is live we're going to use a form within our website. We’ll have a little more registration work to manage, but we’ll be able to make our responses much more personable.

Q: How often do you host events?

A: We aim for two a month, with flexibility to add a third for that month if we come across a good opportunity (and it doesn’t overlap with the others).  We want to keep the flow of quality content steady enough to keep our audience engaged, but not so frequent they begin to tune us out. 

Q: Did you see a good attendance, engagement, and retention rates from your audience immediately, or did it build over time?

A: It has improved over time as we learn how to use and promote webinars. The more we started seeing success, the more we offered and the more the success improved in turn. 

Q: Do you take advantage of strategic business alliances for cross promotional opportunities?

A: Yes.  In our case, for example, we benefit from our denominational connection with the Missouri Conference of Pastors. If we have something of quality to offer them that fits a need, they are more than happy to help promote our events to their group and their audience.

Q: What is your cadence for event promotion?

A: We’ve developed a system of organization that allows us to stay well ahead of our events.  It takes the pressure off so we can enjoy the process.  For example, we have currently secured a speaker for an event taking place three months from now.  We have the topics ready and the event scheduled.  That also gives us more room to be spontaneous, so if an opportunity comes up we have room to add it to the schedule.

Q: What are some useful tips you've learned from doing these events?

A:

  1. Brevity is a virtue in the world of online activities.  Even if you have information to fill an hour, an hour and a half, that's just deadly. You've got to keep it lighter than that.
  2. Where possible, allow your audience to keep the conversation going and contact your speaker after your webinar. Give them an opportunity to ask a question they may not have had a chance to during the presentation.
  3. Try to find ways to make up for the lost opportunities to provide in-person hospitality.  For example, give people as much useful information in advance as you can—such as letting them know they don’t have to share their video or sound, or when they will be able to ask questions.  Monitor live chat for them so they can ask questions at any time.  We’ve even sent goodie boxes of chocolate, crafts (to do while listening) and pens to our audience in advance of a two-day workshop.
  4. Always keep evolving.  What worked for our first webinar doesn’t necessarily work now.  Look for the little ways to make the presentation more enjoyable – like minimizing a power point presentation so your audience can see your face when you answer a question, etc.  You might even ask some of your regular attendees in advance to ask questions during your webinar in order to get the rest of the audience comfortable with asking questions.

Q: Any advice that you'd give someone who's considering hosting virtual educational events?

A: Get somebody who is passionate. I would rather have a passionate speaker who gets people excited rather than the most knowledgeable one out there who’s going to bore everyone to tears.  Also, always make sure to have somebody log on ahead of time to make sure you don't have any technical issues.  Have somebody else run your zoom so you can host and make your guests feel comfortable.

Q: If anybody wants to learn more about the Missouri United Methodist Foundation, where would they go to find that information?

A: https://mumf.org/

EPISODE GOODIE BAG

Links Mentioned

https://www.mumf.org

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