How to safely engage children in virtual events

By Hayley Roffey | April 19, 2021 | Africa & The Middle East, Asia, Europe & Eurasia, The Americas | Youth Empowerment

This article was originally published in the Alliance Magazine blog.

Those of us working in the charitable sector know an effective way to raise money for children’s charities is to share the stories of the children we serve: their experiences, the support they need to access education and new opportunities, and their visions for the future.

At Global Fund for Children, we make an ongoing commitment to including children in our storytelling and fundraising while also honoring their dignity, keeping them safe, and ensuring their involvement is authentic.

Late last year, it became clear our in-person 2021 spring fundraising galas were going to move online due to ongoing event restrictions. As we settled down, via Zoom of course, with the global events team in early January to start planning our two virtual events, we realized the pandemic was about to throw us yet another challenge. How could we authentically, appropriately, and safely tell the stories of the partners we fund, the children they serve, and the incredible, life-changing work they do, via a screen? Virtual events can get especially complicated for an organization like GFC that works on children’s rights. We want to highlight youth activism and give children opportunities to speak during the events, but this presents additional safeguarding challenges.We can’t “see” the audience, engage with body language, and check in with the children in person.

It took a team effort, but as our first gala date looms ever closer, we have stuck to the values that guide us as an organization and used them to ensure safe digital engagement. Here’s what we’ve learned through the process:

Meet children at their comfort level

Despite being on a screen, we have found ways to ensure children are involved authentically in our events in ways that are comfortable for them. Our patron, 12-year-old vegan chef Omari McQueen, will be opening our first gala and welcoming our guests and speakers. He is a seasoned public speaker (he has his own cooking show!), confident on screen, and already involved with GFC. This is important – he is comfortable addressing people via a screen. We are not throwing him in the deep end for our own fundraising gains. He can welcome guests to an organization he is already supporting, via a method he is confident in delivering, and we are working closely with his mom to ensure he has plenty of time to practice.

Consider pre-recording children’s stories

Video is a great way to tell a story and engage donors, whilst keeping children protected. When I say protected here, I don’t just mean their general safety. I mean their comfort, too. By using pre-recorded video, filmed by people they trust, children feel much more at ease talking to a screen. They can practice, re-shoot, and watch the clip back to confirm they are happy with it. You can get written consent and send them the full video before showing it on the night of the event. They can speak in their own language, and you can do the work to add subtitles. You can help them feel safe and make it fun, too!

If it won’t fit, drop it

We love including fun in our events – after all, children bring the greatest fun of all! At previous in-person events, we have welcomed children’s dance performances. The performers have brought joy to evening events and met our partners, supporters, and guests from all around the world. We really wanted to bring some of this joy to our virtual galas, but it just didn’t sit right. We couldn’t work out how to have children participating live in a way that didn’t feel tokenistic. It also felt at odds with our value of preserving the dignity of children at all times. This attempt at bringing in joy virtually was at risk of poor internet connections, different time zones, and mistakes being made that were completely out of the control of the children, opening them up to disappointment that wasn’t theirs to feel. So, we dropped it, and if we raise a little less money, we are fine with that.

Hayley Roffey is Managing Director and Designated Safeguard Lead at Global Fund for Children. 

Header photo: A screenshot of a Zoom video call with GFC staff and partners. © GFC

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Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.

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