Oct 6, 2020

Summer Fun, First-time Virtual Events, and Finding the Sweet Spot for Communications


POH-Logo-2021Place of Hope walks us through their various summer campaigns and how they continued to fundraise all summer, despite the pandemic. YouTube is their preferred way to share stories and fun is always at the heart of their fundraisers.

The following is a transcript of our Q&A conversation from our #OutsideTheRoom Fundraising Success Series – Episode 7. Watch the full episode here.

Many of the auction items that you had were group activities and hotel stays and so how are we able to encourage people to buy being that group activities are a little bit up in the air in some of the travel packages. So kind of how did you really cater those particular items given some of the uncertainty?

Monica: We wanted to ensure that you know it had an extended date or it had a little more leeway in those kinds of things pushing it way out into 2021 and such. So we didn’t want to put anything out there that expires too quickly because we just don’t know the state of everything so we wanted to ensure that there was extended grace.


 How do you do a live auction in a virtual event?

Susannah: Great question! I hear that a lot. I love Monica’s idea of using that display so usually how this works is you put this live auction items as a silent auction item and people would be able to bid directly from their phones. So what Monica did is she created a display so everyone could see during the virtual event, the bids going up and they had a live auctioneer who was calling it out thanking people, pushing items and doing the such. Sometimes people also will take that live auction and just open those items for a certain amount of time. You can also do zoom as well if you want to make it super interactive. So, there are definitely a few ways that you can go about that.


Do you feel that the auction had as much engagement as you all have seen in previous years or the interest in engagement that you saw this year maybe compared to things you guys have seen previously?

Monica: Well I can tell you nothing in the world will beat a room full of people with an amazing auctioneer. That being said, you know we did not know what to expect with our first virtual event, but we were very pleased at how it did come out. This is our first foray into using any kind of platform at all for any of our kind of auctions and it takes a little bit of getting used to and I think with time and education our events will even get better.


With it being a new process obviously for donors in the reconciliation after the fact. Did the other internal team members find it easier or more difficult than some of the processes you guys had previously?

Monica: It was a little bit of a learning curve, but we were able to work through it. Again, trying times call for you, you just have to go with the times and you just have to go with the flow and that is what our team has done and we’ve been really successful and I’m very happy with our decision.


How do you balance giving donors enough information without irritating them with the numbers of emails and text so I guess from a communications standpoint, how do you find that sweet spot of the right amount of messaging without being too overbearing?

Monica: It was all new because you know GiveSmart requires the text or mobile phone number so the text options in GiveSmart were good and I think leading up to the event, sharing and reminding “hey two more days for the auction to close or hey these items have no bids” and that communication was neat. It’s in your hand, you click the link, and you go right to your item. Or you’ve been outbid, so I love the communication there. Trying to be mindful of not overbearing it either.

Susannah: Absolutely. I think there is a lot of different types of communication channels that you can do as well so if you know your donor base and your audience pretty well you know are most people on social media. Is an email a better touch? Is a handwritten note a better touch? So really knowing that base and kind of segmenting people out and communicating the best to those specific groups may help that as well.


Talking about the virtual brunch is there any aspect that you wish you included that you didn’t or you know, I guess from an AV standpoint, looks like the question is anything that you learn from that experience that you’re either going to do or not do moving forward?

Monica: Who knew that I was going to be a TV director. I swear it was the craziest thing sitting side by side with my AV guy telling him “okay go with this video” you know it was just unreal like anything I’ve ever done before. But my AV guy working with my auctioneer, my MC and our team, we are just able do a couple run-throughs ahead of time I would make sure that you run through so people know where to look, know what to do, know what the cues are, you know your timing and I just hire the professionals they know what they’re doing.

Eric: I’ll add on to that as well. I think Monica’s points are spot on and if there’s kind of general lesson that I have heard our clients just say and I totally agree with it. Reallocate the funds that you would invested in certain areas for a live event towards what’s going to be an impactful for your virtual events. And what I mean by that is just because you maybe aren’t setting in a big gala space. I think it’s worth if possible, investing in the experts, the video production folks, or just somebody that can help out your team with. Just understanding what’s going to make a live broadcast, sink or swim. And so instead of maybe a full sound suite at the event space, maybe just consider who you can bring into the team to coordinate the live stream if you don’t feel like that’s your area of expertise. And obviously prepare like Monica said, maybe one other tidbit would be focus on tightening your program if that’s something you haven’t already considered just because you are trying to capture somebody’s attention. To a live steam, typically you’re going to be able to do that for a shorter period of time than you would if you’re feeding somebody and giving them an open bar. So maybe just keep it to that 45 minutes to an hour as opposed to a two- or three-hour program.

Susannah in your experience, what advice or trends have you seen in terms of people charging a fee to a virtual gala as opposed to having a zero-dollar cost to attend virtually?

Susannah: I think it is really unique for different organizations. I would say that we know that ticketing and sponsorships is a huge part of that revenue. So, if that is something that you’re counting on let’s go for it right. People are still going to be able to purchase it, they still will. They are going to support you in that way. A benefit of making it free to register is that you now open up just like Monica had you know 1,100 attendees to that virtual brunch. You now open that room up to everyone. Your donor base can expand. You’re going to get first-time donors, major donors. All these different things that you can continue to grow your base with that free registration. So, consider even maybe doing different parts. I’ve seen people do kind of VIP sections, so they have people purchase a ticket for like a networking thing in the beginning or a connection point or creating individual zoom channels for different groups to connect before. Those might come with a cost and then beyond that maybe it’s free to register. So definitely ways to continue to do both or one or the other. 

Monica: I can speak to what we did so, with the virtual brunch we did have a VIP access so people could go on and purchase a VIP, we called it a brunch basket. We worked with the caterer, she puts the basket together and we were able to deliver those the day before the virtual brunch. Kind of a Mother’s Day thing so it was a little added touch that raised some extra dollars for us.


Question Monica, Actually I share the persons curiosity with it is at place of hope, how do you all avoid donor fatigue or communication fatigue so you guys have multiple campaigns that have happened in a relatively short timeline. You know is a different invite list for each event or how do you guys make sure you balance inviting people and raising money for these great causes while also not overwhelming them?

Monica: That is a great question and that is a big concern. You know we’re all in this crazy time together, but you know we still have the kids to think about and keep in the forefront, so we just try to look out and line up what we have coming to try and not overwhelm our donor base. We do have a couple of different regions as I was saying so certain events will only go to those certain donors in the north end or central campuses or the south campuses. So just keeping a good tight outline of what you are pushing out to your e-blast, to your social media, to your donors. You have to be very cognizant of that.


Eric and Susannah, a question for either one or the both of you. Pre-COVID we have heard a lot of times that there are better times of the year to conduct fundraising events so during tax times some are around the holidays based upon what it was so do you believe their same ideology still applies in light of COVID virtual fundraising events so I guess historically we’ve seen a spring in a fall busy season, so do you think that is out the window now or what sorts of trends are you guys seeing in that regard?

Eric: Open to re-thinking, yeah it is a great question. I think you should be open to re-thinking a lot of you know what has historically been just like a carved in stone rule of fundraising. I mean just the first few things that came to mind for me just about picking a day of the year or picking a time of the year to concentrate your fundraising is that you know a lot of those rules are in place because of physical logistics and you know I live in New York and if you’re trying to pick a Friday night in the year to maximize the most donors you can get into Cipriani wall street, you’re competing with all these other non-profits. You’re kind of dealing with limited venue space and you’re considering the fact that hey maybe in the summer time my donors are going out to the Hamptons or the Caribbean or something like that. So for reasons like that people tend to focus on the spring and in the fall. I think now that you can pretty much engage somebody hopefully 365 days a year regardless of where they are on the planet. I think you should be open to considering the middle of July as potentially a time to get them involved with your organization and I think some of the data that we looked at earlier like the fact that we’re seeing much more fundraising in the morning than the evening is just one small example of the fact that donor behavior has significantly shifted. So I think be creative and feel encouraged to take some risks.

Susannah: Yeah Eric I love how you said all that too. I think that is perfect. Only thing I would add as well is I think there is something to be said around people’s a little bit more comfortable with technology and kind of doing some of this stuff now so being able to engage your donors, keep them year round with this type of interaction with you is always beneficial for you as them so that is what I would say.


The following 2 questions here, I guess among the three of you whoever feels good, I guess. Susannah I’ll be throwing this one to you first. How long would you recommend before an event doing a run through to work through all these issues a week, a day, what is the ideal timeline that you’ve seen and talking to people where they get the prep call and have enough time to make the adjustments?

Susannah: Yeah great question. I think it’s a work in progress as you move forward I think a lot of these times are the videos are pre-recorded or there is some sort of pre-recorded aspect of that so going through with your AV team going through with whoever is going to kind of be that TV broadcaster as Monica said as early as you can, you know making sure that those transitions are smooth and you have an understanding on how that works. But definitely just like you would do a run through maybe a week before your speakers and then again the day before, don’t think of it as different as you know a live event and still want to do those.


What are some perks that either you have offered sponsors or have thought of offering sponsors with these virtual events and is it a radically different idea than what maybe you guys have done historically or you know pretty in line with kind of the standard offerings the sponsor might get for you all?

Monica: I think what we are hoping that we can be live in person in our November events and pretty much with our sponsorship. You know we offer them everything that we would at a normal event where we’re highlighting them on our social media, we’re putting them on our web page. They get invited to a VIP sponsor reception typically ahead of time or maybe towards the end of the year. I think the VIP brunch basket was kind of our take on trying to do something a little bit special for those that might want to quote sponsor the event but we are not opposed to thinking of new ideas in which again this is all about innovation right?


The final question that I will pose to each of the three of you because I think you’ve made some great points about the streaming and some of the setup and configuration, so the question is when it comes to the streams or the recordings, is it better would you recommend doing live? A mix of video and live? Or you know what do you think the best blending is in terms of live versus recorded in terms of the messaging and communication during an actual live stream event?

Susannah: I would say that the majority of everything that I’m seeing is definitely having some pre-recorded component whether that’s a tour of your facility or something that kind of really brings the audience into your mission. Anything like that, that you can pre-record really helps even if you have a zoom where it is super interactive, anything like that again bringing it back to your mission and showing that is going to be helpful.

Eric: Great points Susannah. I think the honest answer is that you know you could probably put together a successful campaign with no video, pre-recorded videos, or live stream video. But maybe the best approach in my mind is to try to take advantage of everything and to use pre-recorded videos on your homepage, on your GiveSmart site so that if somebody you know comes to check out the campaign or is curious about your organization before you’re doing the live stream, you still have the opportunity to educate them and if they’re arriving at your campaign site at 1am, 2 weeks before your event, you can still tug on their heartstrings and get them to make a donation. But then if you can also capture everybody’s attention, build excitement around a live streamed event, I think that’s a great thing to build in and I’ll pass it over to Monica in case there is anything she feels we’ve missed out.

Monica: I would reiterate everything you guys just said. You know when we decided to the virtual streaming event, we watched a couple of people that kind of stepped up a little bit ahead of us and I was like okay and you know some of your people that have used GiveSmart. I used some of their YouTube videos, so I knew what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do and I felt like a combination of both laid out precisely in that we had pre-recorded video specific to one of our programs and then our live MC coming in right after that to pull at the heartstrings and encourage bidding. And then we’d come with another video and pre-recorded and talk about a different program and follow that immediately up with a live person in front of a camera. I think the combination of the two was very successful for us.



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What our clients say

We needed a platform to make sales online and to track and display ads for our sponsors. GiveSmart was perfect. We ended up making close to $15,000 more than we had hoped for. Definite better ROI than we anticipated. The interface is easy to use and provides plenty of options to get help if needed.

Michelle M.

The Rotary Club of South Whidbey Island

Using GS has created ease in auction bookkeeping, payments, and generating post-event thank you/tax letters. While we were online during COVID, our interactions with our GiveSmart via phone, email, and zoom were seamless. A representative always got back to us within the day. I would recommend GiveSmart to anyone doing a large online event.

Julie G.

MicroFinancing Partners in Africa

GiveSmart is highly flexible - you can use it for [a] simple registration and check-in, to full-scale galas with complex order forms, onsite upsells, live auctions, seating management, and more.

Jamie F.

Hope Chest for Breast Cancer

GiveSmart is easy to use and ideal for virtual events and can be used for in-person events to manage the silent auction, seating charts, and check-in to the event. Being able to use the platform for unlimited events within the contract year is very useful and being able to add other users and volunteers for different levels of access is helpful as well.

Dawn L.

Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County