While virtual experiences continue to be the only way we can connect with our supporters during this pandemic, many organizations are wondering what more they can do to incorporate equity into their events. Don’t let this powerful principle live in the HR manual—in this article, I provide five ways to incorporate equity in your virtual events.
Be “the Microphone,” not “the Voice”
I’ve always felt discomfort when reading “we are the voice” statements from organizations, as in “we are the voice for the voiceless,” “we are the voice for the poor,” “the voice for the children.”
What I always want to say in response is that no one is voiceless – they are just unheard. The people in your programs already have a voice – their own voice – but they don’t have the platform – or the microphone – to be heard, listened to, and truly understood.
Your virtual events should showcase speakers from different backgrounds and lived experiences. It is very important to evaluate other voices – right now and always – and to draw attention to multiple perspectives.
If you are hosting a panel, you should aim for diversity on that panel in a variety of dimensions (race, gender, age, ability, etc.). If you have guest speakers participate in an educational series you are facilitating, make sure they also come from different backgrounds.
If you are a small organization and used to only running events with your own staff, then you may not have enough representation. In this case, I recommend you turn to your partner organizations or others in your network. Provide them a platform to be heard and compensate them for their time and expertise. Which brings me to my next point…
Be a Collaborator, not just a Creator
Use your platform to invite leaders from other organizations or experts in related areas to talk about their work. You do not need to be the definitive resource on all topics. Harness the wisdom and resources others have created.
If you don’t have enough representation in your organization to host a dialogue on racial equity, consider sending a book or article to participants written by a recognized expert and facilitate a debrief around that material instead.
If there are other dimensions to your work that your organization does not specialize in, invite your partners and related experts to present on those. You don’t need to be the subject expert—your greatest offering may be your access to experts and the platform you have to connect them to your audiences.
Again, I recommend that you offer to compensate all guest experts who devote time and energy to your virtual event. If funds don’t exist for compensation, this is a great ask to a corporate sponsor, who will understand the need and get valuable exposure to their brand. Some people will decline a fee or will accept an honorarium, but you should always offer compensation as a means of building trust and economic justice.
Create More Financial Access
Economic justice is an important part of equity, and many organizations aim to increase access to their virtual events by making them free or low-cost. The goal is to engage supporters at various levels of giving, volunteers who donate time but may not be able to afford the cost of the event, and even program participants and the community at large.
While the intention is a good one, there are a few pitfalls you will want to avoid when making your events more economically just.
- If the event was meant to be revenue-generating, then making it free for everyone is not a strategy that will achieve your revenue goals. If you are truly offering value and creating memories, people can—and will want to—pay to attend. Charging for the experience allows you to be compensated for the value you are offering, but providing a coupon code that makes the event free increases access for those who cannot afford the fee.
- Don’t charge admission on a sliding scale. The “pay what you think it’s worth” method is confusing. I don’t know what something is worth until I have experienced it. The “pay what you can afford” tactic is also too subjective. What I can afford depends on what I’m receiving in exchange for my money. Again, charge a flat fee, but provide a coupon code.
- Don’t ask people to contact you if they can’t afford the event. That puts people in the humiliating, disempowering position of explaining their financial circumstances, at no benefit to your organization. Instead, publish the coupon code on your website, so anyone who needs it can apply it. If you can’t do that, ask people to email a generic account with a simple subject line of “request the coupon code.” No explanations needed.
Be Thoughtful When Involving Program Participants
Many organizations like to ask their program participants to present in virtual donor events. Assuming that it is safe and appropriate to do so, these opportunities can be a fantastic way of cultivating empathy and deepening our supporters’ understanding. They can also run the risk of being exploitative. I have a few tips to ensure you are doing right by your program participants, setting them (and your donors) up for a successful experience:
- Be explicit about expectations with both program participants and donors. This includes things like whether they will need to be on camera, the kinds of questions that may be asked, and the format of the event.
- Consider inviting two to three program participants to present in one event. Putting one person on the spot can be a lot of pressure for some individuals. Also, it helps to have other people at the event to share their identities and experiences, so no one is the only one. Most importantly, hearing from two to three very different program participants reveals greater diversity and helps diminish stereotypes.
- Always have a facilitator (someone the donors know and someone the program participants trust). There should always be someone on the call whom all parties know and trust, and that person should moderate the conversation and ensure that it does not harm the program participants and also meets the donor education goals of the session.
Commit to Changing Beliefs and Behaviors
While incorporating equity into our process and events is good, it is not enough. Ultimately, we want to see changes in systems and societies. That is not a project any nonprofit can undertake alone, but we can do our share to deepen our audience’s consciousness around critical issues.
All virtual events should be educational. Perhaps the education component is the core content of the virtual event, or perhaps you work it in to a closing talk after a virtual happy hour, but the point is that every event is an opportunity to provide new insight and perspective. And we can only achieve this by actively engaging with educational content: conversations, connections, dialogues, debriefs, and discussions.
Virtual events should never just be passive webinars and lectures. Ask yourself:
What would solve the problem we are trying to solve—besides more money?
What do we really wish people understood about our work?
Answering these questions will help you to identify topics and themes to address in an event that further your mission and change the beliefs and behaviors needed to make our world more just and equitable.
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