How The Funding Network adapted live crowdfunding events to a virtual format in a pandemic…and what we learned

TFN Virtual Event

Back in June, we spoke to F&P about The Funding Network’s pivot to virtual events in the face of COVID-19 restrictions. At the time, we had successfully delivered two events online, dipping our toe in the virtual world, determined to keep the fundraising wheels turning at a time when the sector needed us more than ever.

This was a completely new approach for us. As Australia’s largest collective giving model, TFN’s crowdfunding events have facilitated over $14 million for more than 340 non-profit programs. Our engaging ‘pitch and pledge’ style format gives grassroots nonprofits the skills and opportunity to share their stories, impact and present a case for their deserving programs. The audience then pledges their financial support, which is usually matched by our generous corporate partners.

Once the pandemic hit, we decided to jump in headfirst to understand whether our model could still thrive if the in-person experience was replaced by a virtual one.

Since the initial success of those first two virtual events, TFN has gone on to deliver another five events, raising a remarkable $1.1 million in around 10 hours of online live crowdfunding. Working with clients including Wayside Chapel, Habitat for Humanity and Sage, we have been fortunate to help them deliver their own virtual events, to engage their supporters during this tumultuous time.

The success of TFN virtual has led us to rethink how we may deliver a virtual/live hybrid model once restrictions have eased. This year truly has been one of experimentation, tweaking, tailoring and a few prayers.

So what have we learned?

  1. Storytelling is king

Back in June, we were getting ready to launch our 100th event, which was an exciting milestone, and one we never would have expected to be celebrating online. It was a really moving evening that raised over $275,000. It also reinforced the power of strong storytelling. This has never been more important than in an online environment – short, sharp, engaging storytelling is key to opening hearts, minds and wallets. At TFN Virtual events, the audience have really responded to the presenters’ stories through the Chatbox, which has lifted the energy levels before people begin pledging. These learnings have shown us the potential for this format to evolve beyond a stop gap during COVID.

  1. Technology is your friend

As to be expected, the transition has come with some hairy moments and plenty of opportunity to learn and evolve. While most events tend to play out with a degree of unpredictability, there are definitely extra nerves involved when you are relying so heavily on technology to hold the whole experience together. We have had our moments where the connection fails briefly and everyone holds their breath, but the audience is pretty forgiving in this environment, and we tend to recover quickly because we do a lot of practice in the lead up. We also have the calmest event manager in town! But platform rehearsals have become an ever-important area of focus to ensure everyone involved knows what to do and when. We have been learning quickly throughout this journey, incorporating our network’s feedback so we can improve each time. As a result, we have developed a formulaic process to more easily replicate events, streamline our processes and allocate resourcing.

  1. Better than a Gala Ball

There are also some distinct ROI benefits to this format. We’ve always seen our model as being more cost effective than a gala style event, where storytelling drives the fundraising instead of elements like prizes or auctions. The event format is simplified even further when it is virtual, so it is quite cost effective and low risk. A Gala Ball in Sydney can still only accommodate 500 people who all need to be in Sydney on the night. At TFN Virtual we have had guests login in from across Australia and indeed the world from London, Dublin and Kenya – all enjoying the experience from the comfort of home. This ability to extend our reach to a larger national audience each time really breaks down the geographic barriers we face with live events.

  1. Build a higher percentage of ‘no-shows’ into your registration numbers

One major learning is that it is a lot easier ‘not to show up’ to a virtual event, so this should be considered when building your network of guests. At a TFN live event, approximately 20% of guests can’t make it on the night. In a virtual world this is closer to 40%. But once again, with no limitations on numbers the sky really is your limit.

  1. Virtual offers additional benefits to your corporate partners

With no geographic limitations, live events offer corporate partners a more inclusive way to engage their employees nationally. As an example, AMP are one of TFN’s generous partners, hosting an event in June each year. Until 2020, only a select number of AMP employees, could get involved as the room had a limited capacity. In June 2020, AMP extended an invite to their entire national employee network. Interestingly, while the fundraising was on par with the previous year, the median pledge was lower but there was a 46% increase in the number of people donating on the night.

It has been a lot of fun developing TFN Virtual events with much to do before the end of 2020. To December, we will work with twelve clients to deliver their own events as well as host TFN Virtual Rainbow on 15 October 2020 in partnership with GiveOUT and Macquarie Group. The event will be opened by world-renowned LGBTQ+ advocate, Holly Ransom in support three LGBTQ+ grassroots nonprofits.


Outcomes of our virtual events at a glance:

  • 7 virtual events generated $1.1million
  • Attended by 1390 guests
  • 1412 pledges from 740 unique donors
  • Average 54% giving rate
  • Corporate matched funding return on investment – $3.87


If F&P readers would like to see a TFN Virtual event in action, you can find out more about upcoming events on our website or if you’d like a confidential discussion about hosting your own live crowdfunding event, drop us a line at [email protected]


Julie McDonald is the CEO of The Funding Network

Subscribe to access this article.

Continue reading your article with an F&P subscription

Join with other top fundraisers to receive insight, analysis and inspiration to help you raise more funds.

subscribe now for $1

Cancel anytime.

Already a subscriber? LOGIN HERE