5 Free Ways to Dial Up Virtual Participation

After nearly a year of pandemic-induced virtual engagement, we may feel pretty comfortable with our default tools and formats. However, I am amazed by how many folks I continue to meet who remain unaware of amazing free tools. I use the following platforms every day in my work, and I have many clients who have used them in creative ways with their staff, volunteers, boards, and donors.

Here are my top five free ways to enhance participation in your virtual experiences.


Loom allows you to record short vides on your camera or screen. It is free for videos under five minutes.

How I use it: If I’m facilitating a training or experience, I use Loom to convey information to participants or to introduce myself in advance of the event. I also send Loom videos over email in lieu of long written explanations.

How you can use it: You can use Loom to welcome new board or committee members, to introduce yourself as a speaker to a group, and to excite participants or tee them up for intense discussions. Seeing your face and hearing your voice make people feel more committed to you, and to attending your event.


Gatheround is a platform that pairs attendees in speed-dating-style one-on-one video meetings with each other and asks them to “play a game,” which is really just exchanging questions and answers. They have built-in “games” that consist of personal questions like “What do you love about the place where you grew up?” or work-related ones like “What was your favorite insight from the last session?” You can also create your own questions that are relevant to your organization or event. Gatheround is free for up to forty people.

How I use it: If I’m facilitating an experience with a critical interactive component and we have at least twenty minutes on the agenda for networking, I use Gatheround to have participants meet and get to know one another.

How you can use it: You can use Gatheround to help volunteers or board members get to know one another. You can also use it with groups of donors. A favorite question: “Why did you make your first gift to the organization?”


Mentimeter allows you to create word clouds and polls in real time. Once you create the poll or word cloud, you can send a link to participants, who will input their answers. You can share the poll on your screen, and participants can see the word cloud form in real time. The free version provides most novice users with the features they need.

How I use it: I use Mentimeter for activities that harness the wisdom of the crowd in a training and, importantly, when I want participants to see and use in the training. Word clouds can help define values and activities; polls can reveal popular choices or circumstances of participants.

How you can use it: Source information from your donors by asking them to fill out a poll regarding if they have been to a certain country, had a certain experience, or feel a certain way. You won’t be able to trace answers back to participants, but you can see aggregated data.


Jamboard is a virtual whiteboard that allows multiple users to edit the board by drawing, making sticky notes, typing text, or uploading images. It is free, but you need to have a Google account.

How I use it: I use Jamboard when I want participants in a virtual program to co-create something. This could be to create the backbone of a new document, brainstorm ideas, create processes and timelines, visualize a new concept, etc.

How you can use it: Staff retreats (I recall a lot of flip charts and large sticky notes from the in-person days), board retreats, committee planning meetings. Next time you are in a virtual meeting and wish you could just jump up to a whiteboard and start drawing, consider having Jamboard handy.


Jotform is a tool that allows you to send short surveys. It is free for up to one hundred submissions. It has many of the same features as SurveyMonkey but allows you to export forms for free—a very important benefit!

How I use it: I use Jotform when I am trying to collect data from participants either to inform the curriculum of a training or to gather feedback after the training has occurred.

How you can use it: Send your donors surveys around new engagement concepts or to find out how they want to interact with your organization in the coming year. Collect data from the board or staff to inform retreat design or get feedback after the experience is over.