Picture this: You work at an online non-profit. You reach out to your users asking them to put on events in order to celebrate your organization’s birthday with the intention of driving new users and activity on your website.
The result of your outreach? You raise more than $509,825 within the course of six days.
This was the kind of offline event success that Kiva, a website that helps its users make microloans to underprivileged entrepreneurs, enjoyed last year. Since April is the Month of Microfinance, and since writing about successful events is what we do, we reached out to Brandon Smith, the Community Marketing Coordinator at Kiva, to learn just how this was accomplished. We also speculate a bit on how Kiva’s success could be used as a model for other successful offline events for a largely online community.
Online Meeting Spaces Come First
Even before Kiva started actively coordinating with volunteer event planners across the country, its lenders were already organizing events. The Kiva New York lending team, for example, started out as a small, casually organized group where lenders within the city could meet for happy hour and socialize with other lenders. Since its founding in 2008, however, the team has grown to more than 2,600 members and has lent more than $1,144,000 worth of loans to entrepreneurs in need. The growth of the team and the number of loans was due in part to the many events held by the group–everything from wine tastings to 5k runs.
The New York lending team organized a 5k run independent of Kiva HQ.
All of this, however, would have had a difficult time getting off the ground if there wasn’t a place for Kiva lenders in New York to get in touch with each other. By providing this basic functionality, Kiva was able to facilitate the online meeting between some very enthusiastic lenders who, noticing that they had a lot of values and interests in common, decided they wanted to meet offline. From these casual beginnings, eventually the New York team created a website of their own complete with a blog and and events calendar.
If you have community of online users, do what you can to provide a space for community members to get in touch with each other. While Kiva does this by creating team pages whereby team captains can message members and make announcements through a message board, you don’t necessarily have to go this far for your organization. You could start out, for example, with links to a Meetup group or a Google group for each major city, where users can communicate and organize happy hours and other meetups on a regular basis. If your online users are passionate about what you do and who you are as an organization, they will naturally want to meet other people who are passionate about your organization as well. You just have to provide them with the means to do it.
Helping Facilitate Offline Events
Besides providing a space for people to communicate online, what can you do to encourage more events, events which help you reach some of the goals you’ve set for your organization?
First of all, while many people may want to organize an event, not everyone may know where to start. This is where an event resource page can come in handy. “There’s a site at kiva.org/events that we created as a launchpad for all of these offline events that could potentially happen around the world.” says Smith, “A lot of people really took to it and we started developing a community of people who were interested in offline events.”
Kiva in a Box: A Free Resource for Event Organizers
The centerpiece of this offline event launchpad has to be Kiva in a Box, a free resource created by Smith and the Kiva team last year. Inside this box is everything Kiva, from Kiva balloons to Kiva event hosting T-shirts to Kiva Cocktail recipes. Also, and perhaps most importantly, there’s a set of 10 free trial cards which event attendees who aren’t Kiva members can use as a way to experience the Kiva lending process without initially putting any of their own money in.
Not only does the “Kiva in a Box” provide a free resource for Kiva event planners, but it also provides Kiva HQ with a list of people who are interested in organizing events. Thus, when Kiva wants do nationwide event campaigns like the birthday loan-a-thon it did last October, Kiva HQ has a ready-made list of would be event organizers whom they can contact about the campaign.
Harnessing the Power of Your Community
While offline events may not be appropriate for every online community, it’s definitely worth looking into. The commitment you make can be minimal at first. See if you can’t organize your fans into a online group where they would be able to communicate often. From there you can gauge just how active your community can be. It may even be good to organize some initial meetups yourself to see if they’d be worthwhile. These meetups can be:
A happy hour or wine tasting where members of your community can get to know each other. Be sure to encourage members to bring friends and also provide a “station” like a laptop or iPad with brochures and other material laid out so that visitors can learn more about your organization. Also, do what you can to have tie-ins to your organization at the event.
A Kiva New York Wine Tasting Event (Source: Kiva NYC Blog)
For the Kiva New York wine tastings, the team captain, Valbona Bushi, said that they chose wines from the countries where Kiva entrepreneurs happen to live. Not only that, but they often also sell some of the actual products created by Kiva loan recipients at the events. While the main purpose of the events are social, the tie-ins to Kiva are always there.
A Book Signing Event in LA (Source: The International Book of Bob Facebook Page)
Kiva is currently encouraging their volunteer event planners to put on book club events organized around the promotion of the International Bank of Bob book, a personal account of Bob Harris, who went around the world actually meeting the recipients of his Kiva loans. In order to promote awareness of the book, Kiva sent out free copies to active members on the “Kiva in a Box” list, and suggested organizing book club events as well as to put the word out for when Bob Harris was in town doing a book tour.
Goal Oriented Events
Perhaps you want to organize some event like Kiva’s birthday loan-a-thon to reach a goal of raising a certain amount of money over a specific period of time. In order to make this work Kiva created a Loan-a-thon leaderboard showing the teams who lent the largest amount as well as the total amount lent during the six day time period. The page updated by the minute and served as a rallying point for all the teams.
The Austin Loan-a-thon event. Pictured in the Center is Event Organizer Miku Sakamoto
The lengths that some event organizers went to help Kiva reach its Loan-a-thon goal was impressive. In just one of many examples, Miku Sakamoto, the organizer for the Austin Loan-a-thon event, assembled an event team, lined up sponsors for food, drinks, and raffle prizes as well as made event flyers. Finally she promoted the event through every conceivable channel including Eventbrite, Facebook, online community calendars, locals news stations, and finally through the Kiva Austin team message itself. The result was a well attended event that helped raise $2,575 in loans in just one night.
“I think there’s such value in having these small events where people can see other Kiva lenders face-to-face.” Says Sakamoto, “[The Austin event] was really awesome because I could see people talking and they light up when they talk about who they lent to and how much of a difference it made. It’s very exciting to meet like-minded people.”
And that’s what offline events are all about. While an inspiring online presence with videos and case studies and blog posts can go a long way. offline meetings can inspire volunteers to work extremely hard to pull off incredible events with no compensation other than the joy of working with like minded people for a great cause.