In 2021, virtual events are all the rage. Associations and organizations are turning to virtual events to fundraise and engage with their members in new and exciting ways. From virtual conferences to webinars and online networking events, associations are successfully pivoting to the virtual sphere to create experiences that rival their in-person counterparts.

Your organization has likely had some success with marketing your virtual events, but you’re still looking for new ways to give your advertising efforts an extra zing. For your next virtual event, consider giving direct mail appeals a try!

It may seem counterintuitive at first—as the term suggests, virtual events take place in the digital realm, while direct mail is an advertising method that relies on printed materials. However, that’s exactly why it works; with direct mail, you can augment your virtual marketing efforts and speak directly to supporters with personalized messages. Here’s what you need to do to make the most of this promotion opportunity:

  1. Invest in powerful marketing software
  2. Take a personalized approach to outreach
  3. Follow up with attendees after the event

It can take up to 18-20 different touchpoints to reach a member of your target audience for the first time, according to Nonprofits Source. This means, with your direct mail appeals and online marketing efforts in tandem, you greatly increase your chances of reaching your supporters and rallying them to register for and attend your virtual events. Let’s take a closer look at this process!

Planning a virtual conference for associations? Contact Web Courseworks today for assistance.

1. Invest in powerful marketing software

To set your organization up for success with virtual event marketing, there are a few tools you’ll need to acquire before you can get started. These resources will help you track your supporter base as it grows and improve your communication efforts to keep everyone in the loop about your virtual events. Be sure to invest in:

A constituent relationship management (CRM) system

A CRM is an organizational database that allows you to keep track of your supporters by storing their contact information and logging basic characteristics such as demographics and communication preferences. This information allows you to conduct better outreach and stewardship efforts because you’ll have a more thorough understanding of your audience. You can then use the contact information stored in your supporter CRM to create and send personalized direct mail appeals to your supporters. You can automate these appeals to streamline your marketing efforts and take a lot of the stress of event-planning off your plate. Additionally, you can use your CRM to store data on the effectiveness of your virtual events (how many people RSVP’d, how many attended the event, etc.) This guide offers plenty of data hygiene tips to keep your CRM neat and organized including conducting an audit and removing unnecessary information. Use this data to analyze your level of success and adjust your future marketing efforts accordingly.

A direct mail platform

You might understand the effectiveness of direct mail appeals and perhaps have even seen some success from using direct mail in the past, but don’t have the time to devote to fully develop this effort. This is where a dedicated direct mail platform can be extremely helpful in getting your organization where it needs to be. With a direct mail platform, you can craft and send effective direct mail advertising messages in minutes using pre-configured mail packages. Direct mail platforms even provide design assistance based on best practices that ensure a greater ROI with this marketing platform. A quality direct mail platform allows your team and volunteers to save time, money, and energy on your marketing efforts to focus on other aspects of the event planning process. Plus, investing in a dedicated direct mail platform upfront allows you to learn the ins-and-outs of the system and use the platform in future marketing campaigns. You won’t have to worry about finding a new platform or sending appeals yourself each time you start a new campaign.

Association management software

Lastly, you’ll want to make sure you have access to powerful association management software to give your events the extra edge needed to entice members to get involved. With association management software, you can create custom courses and modules, personalized learning opportunities, and group learning experiences. If your upcoming event has an educational focus, you can create a custom course for participants that supplements the event and allows them to deepen their knowledge in the issue area. Or, if you’re holding a group training session, association management software allows you to host discussion boards and live chats to facilitate group exercises. The more opportunities for engagement you provide alongside your virtual events, the better response you’ll get from supporters. People like to share their thoughts and ideas and collaborate with others because they feel like their voices are being heard and their opinions matter within your organization. You can promote these features within your direct mail appeals to encourage members to get involved.

2. Take a personalized approach to outreach

Your previously mentioned CRM database contains a wealth of information about your supporters to help you understand them and connect with them on a deeper level. Don’t let this information go to waste! Use the information in your supporter CRM to craft personalized, poignant direct mail appeals that capture your members’ attention and drive them to get involved in your virtual events. For example, if you’re hosting an online association conference, you’ll want to meet members where they are and provide them with information about the conference that’s most relevant to them. Here’s how to put this concept into action:

Personalized messaging

Direct mail messages are much more powerful when they’re addressed to a specific person rather than using a generic greeting. For example, addressing a letter to Jim Bailey, your member who’s been with your organization since the beginning, or Samantha Parks, one of your newest recruits who’s just getting started, is much more effective than using a basic “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Member.” Find supporter names and addresses within your CRM and be sure to use them in your direct mail appeals about your upcoming virtual conference.

Segmented communications

Your CRM not only includes supporter contact information, but also basic characteristics and notes. For example, supporters may have provided their demographic information, geographic location, and communication preferences in a survey or form when they first signed up. You can also log their engagement history in your CRM to track their involvement in past events. You can use this information to create supporter groups based on shared characteristics and send relevant information to each group. GivingMail’s nonprofit digital campaign guide explains the efficacy of segmentation—communicating appropriately with each supporter lessens your non-response rate and boosts overall conversion. For your upcoming virtual conference, you can segment promotional communications into groups based on age or history with your organization. From there, personalize your messages to be most relevant to each group. For example, you might send a message to recently-joined members along the lines of “Ready to deepen your involvement? Our upcoming virtual conference is the perfect opportunity to meet new people and gain more knowledge about our field.” Personalization and segmentation show your members that they’re valued and seen as unique individuals rather than just a number in your system. Plus, by recognizing members individually, they’ll be more empowered to not just attend, but also participate in your virtual event because they were personally, specifically invited. It’s like a birthday party invitation—you’d much rather your invite say “[Your name], I’d be honored if you would attend my party” instead of a vague, “You can all come to my party if you want.”

3. Follow up with attendees after the event

After your virtual event, be sure to follow up with every attendee to express your appreciation for their involvement and support. Couple your appreciation efforts with opportunities for further engagement to boost your event retention rate and keep supporters engaged in your future efforts. Right after the event concludes, you should send participants a thank-you letter expressing gratitude for their engagement and offering opportunities to give feedback. Fundraising Letters provides supporter thank-you letter templates that can easily be adjusted to show your appreciation for event participants. Recognizing that attendees took time out of their busy schedules to attend your virtual event will go a long way toward earning their continued support and respect. In your letters, include a brief survey asking supporters for their opinions on their virtual event experience. These surveys not only promote goodwill by making event attendees feel their perspective is valued, but also provide your organization with helpful feedback to incorporate in upcoming events. Be sure to maintain your engagement efforts after your virtual event has concluded to retain supporters’ attention and generate interest in upcoming events. For instance, you can create a webpage of resources such as educational videos, infographics, or online courses that attendees can visit at any time to broaden their knowledge on your organization.
Overall, prioritize developing your relationships with supporters to earn their ongoing support, rather than attempting to boost your virtual event attendance numbers just to say that you had a certain number of participants. Direct mail appeals can be a powerful marketing method for associations and organizations to meet supporters where they are and speak to them on a personal level to secure their future engagement. Good luck!  
Contact Web Courseworks today to start planning your next virtual conference for associations.