Lessons Learned from a Year of Virtual Events

RKD’s VP on what went into making Cleveland APL’s Fur Ball 2020 such a smash.


The virtual event space has been such an inspiring area to be in this past year. We’ve been able to watch innovation in real time, seeing nonprofits successfully promote and conduct virtual events in new and exciting ways. 

Nonprofits of all shapes and sizes have taken galas, fur balls, and auctions, and turned them into virtual experiences that donors can enjoy from home. 

We’ve certainly learned some lessons along the way, but I can’t wait to see how the virtual event space continues to grow in the years to come. I could go on and on about all of the major takeaways from the various events I’ve been a part of, but for this blog I want to focus on just one. 

Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. Donors want something engaging, immersive, and powerful. And we were able to successfully accomplish that in our work with Cleveland Animal Protective League’s Fur Ball in 2020. Let me set the stage. 

Building a virtual event to promote engagement and raise revenue

Due to COVID-19’s continued impact on in-person events, Cleveland APL had to make the difficult decision to take their annual Fur Ball virtual. Virtual was a completely new channel to them, so this was a hefty undertaking–but they were ready for the challenge. 

Together, we worked to develop an event that was not only engaging but also helped them raise revenue. Their auction was a large source of funding, so, in conjunction with their auction partner, we helped them convert their in-person auction to online and developed communication materials so that attendees knew how to access it during the event. 

With the revenue portion under control, we shifted our focus to bringing the fun. Cleveland APL chose to develop attendee experience boxes to help lift engagement and excitement surrounding the event. Donors received boxes with bandanas, branded swag, and even a drink recipe called “The Great Dane” to enjoy during the production. 

This thoughtful and cost-effective move was just the right touch needed to take their virtual event from good to fantastic. So much fun was had that several of the break-out rooms had participants in them well past the end of the event.

With more than $204,000 raised and 188 screens actively engaged throughout the event, we were able to successfully pair fun with fundraising.

Click here to read more about the event.

Like I said earlier, I could talk on and on about my love for virtual events and why I believe they’re the future of fundraising. But I’ll save that for our upcoming webinar. We’re sharing even more lessons in virtual fundraising, case studies from successful events, and our secrets to planning, creating and running fun, engaging experiences in our Wednesday, May 19, webinar titled, “Virtual Events: Lessons Learned in a Year of Chaos.” 


Learn more

Blog: Stewardship: Breaking Free from the Ask-and-Repeat Model
Blog: One Small Change That Can Have a Major Impact on Digital Revenue


Karla Baldelli, Vice President, Donor Engagement at RKD Group, is an elite nonprofit fundraising executive with a 25-year career in mid-major donor fundraising, engagement and stewardship. Her experience includes transformational roles with JDRF, Coast Guard Foundation, American Heart Association, Arthritis Foundation, The Salvation Army and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Since coming to RKD, she has helped organizations implement holistic mid-level programs and execute virtual events. Karla believes in keeping the donor experience at the heart of all fundraising efforts, which results in more inspired giving and increased revenue.


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