Oct 5, 2020

How the Chicago Cubs Charities Keep Donors Engaged Beyond Baseball Season

Happy creative businesspeople brainstorming in office, placing sticky notes with ideas on glass

The Chicago Cubs Charities talk us through their annual campaigns, events, understanding your donors, and various ways they keep their donors engaged beyond baseball season.

The following is a transcript of our Q&A conversation from our #OutsideTheRoom Fundraising Success Series – Episode 6. Watch the full episode here.


Chloe first question to you. We had a few people ask about the golden raffle, so if you could walk us through one more time were the raffle ticket was $250 and then if somebody did win it, I believe you had said $10,000 was the price, so what if they won an auction item for potentially lets say $8,000, do they get still a $2,000 credit or is it just for one item and we’re assuming it’s going to be a higher ticket?

Chloe: Yeah great question, we put in some rules there to protect against some of those and a little bit of a risky move for us to assume that things were going to go over $10,000 so maybe understanding scaling that winning credit amount to what you feel comfortable giving in your auction and for us we limited it to one item only so you can’t disperse it amongst several items and if anything goes for under that $10,000 then that’s just unused credit and we didn’t seem to get any pushback from that.


What advice do you have for an audience development in terms of trying to get more eyeballs I believe for a first-time virtual fundraiser at an organization who hasn’t had a live event in a few years, so if they have to do it virtually, maybe some creative ways to try and increase exposure and awareness for the efforts that they’re putting forth?

Chloe: I think that again, it all goes back to understanding your donor base so if you’re trying to think of something that’s on brand with your element, let’s say you are supporting scholarships and mentorships for children but you haven’t done an event before, getting some real-time feedback or some videos or footage of the programs that you impact and those people that you are raising money for. I think understanding the root of why you’re asking people to go to your event. Or your virtual event is really the driving factor that gets people in the door and making something unique. I think we are lucky in that we have strong marketing channels but starting to develop that now and starting to find those people that can amplify your message whether that’s someone that’s part of different boards or has a strong place in the fundraising community or in the business community. Anyone that you can ask to extend to their network to get them see what you are doing virtually is key. But I think where I’ve seen the most compelling messaging from some of our partners is having a thank you video from some of those scholarship recipients or showing the college student getting their acceptance letter and their reaction to that. Showing what impact you have to drive more people to become engaged.


Brandon, question to you is you know you have some experience in regard to in-time donations. Is it historically where the programs are only for the benefit of the local area so I guess in the Cubs example, would it only be for the benefit of Chicago families?

Brandon: That is a great question. The luxury of any teams is their fanbase is not restricted to just this local area. Oftentimes, sometimes their mission is so maybe the cubs are supporting just local organizations, but in-kind donations and those requests really are not restricted to just the communities. Each team probably has some basis for how many they’re going to give out-of-state versus in-state but you know Chloe is that kind of coincides for you guys of you don’t have to be in the Chicago area to get an in-kind donation from the Chicago cubs.

Chloe: Yeah Brandon, you are correct. We distribute all across the county. We distribute 10,000 items a year to anyone. I actually think we’ve done a few international, just given some of our players and affiliations and in other countries but either you can probably find a fan anywhere so that works to the benefit of a lot of in-kind sports memorabilia.

Brandon: Just to add, sometimes that out of ordinary thing so maybe if you’re in Pittsburgh and you have a unique item from a different team that’s not in the area, that might resonate a little bit more if you know your fan base has a few fans from that other team in different areas. So think about maybe reaching outside of the teams right next door.


Bret, question to you. Interesting to see in the data there that travel experiences are doing well. And your experience working with customers. How worried are people about cancellation of events or attendant events prohibited in regards to some of those auction offerings?

Bret: It is still successful and to me historically the experiences are to me the better item when it comes to auctions  because the fair market value as Brandon went over earlier usually he’s higher off your return is better and from a winner perspective it’s that memory of that item that you’re experiencing. So people are still interested in purchasing those. Now the key to handle that is with that donor, whoever donated that item figuring out “okay is there a cancellation fee? Are we going to be able to refund the guests if for some reason it had an expiration date of October 2020? Maybe they didn’t open up his restaurant or due to the pandemic with Covid that they had to adjust and maybe they’re extending it another year” so I think putting that information getting as much info from that donor regarding that item before you throw that into your auction is key. Letting people know “hey okay there is a no cancellation policy. You will be refunded if for some reason its cancelled from the donors side of it” so putting those restrictions and that information up front regarding that item is key because ideally you’re not going to have as many questions that come into play when people are interested in wanting to donate on the item. So as much information as you can get ahead of time before you add that item to your auction is very important. And nowadays with all this we’re learning that a lot of restaurants and companies that our teams that are “hey we’ll make exceptions and if we have to push it another year we’ll make it work or we can do a refund”.


We have asked donors to double up next year if events are cancelled so that we can replace this year’s items and potentially get a different item for next year’s auction. Should we state this to reassure people that are concerned about scaring people off so in terms of kind of following up right in the comments you made about items as people examine how to do it and what’s possible and especially being cognizant of not scaring people off. What sort of things have you seen people do or recommendations might you have in that regard?

Bret: Regarding the items and doubling up for the next year or doing multiple fundraising and potentially scaring off donors or giving items multiple times a year. A lot of companies put away kind of like what the in-kind auctions with what the cubs do and restaurants do as well regarding their gift certificates to a restaurant. They put that aside ahead of time so they already have that built of for the yearly budget regarding how much they can give per year to specific organizations. So it doesn’t or shouldn’t scare off donors regarding “hey do you want to donate an item for this event and then six months from now another one or doubling up doing two in 2021 because they should have that set aside for it and if not to me the biggest thing is ask. You can’t go wrong with asking. Ask donors, ask these local companies. Reach out, call them. They are willing to help even with everything going on now they want to give to your cause. So, it doesn’t hurt to ask we’re saying you can say “hey now we can’t do that right now”. Okay maybe you reach out in a year so don’t be hesitant to actually pick up the phone and call donors restaurants getting those items even if it’s doubling up year after year.

Brandon: Just to add to it I mean that’s an excellent point and you know think of it also as a opportunity to do something now and something later. Also, with a virtual option, online auctions, online raffles or online games with chance opportunity drawings whatever you want to call them. Have the opportunity for people to support you know when they can so you can still be bringing in some of the revenue you were hoping for from those donated items. And if it is something that you can put some caveats in so people are clear and understanding of if it’s a travel package or ticket package or anything bad aspect. Make sure people know that there’s an extension on it or some freedoms if you reach out to a donor who has tickets and they have season tickets to the cubs, we’ll make sure that they’re flexible and allowing people to maybe use those next season. Communicate that openly and all that.


Choe, the final question to you. As you guys look towards potentially 2021 and some of the plans not knowing with the uncertainty of everything happening. How are you examining potential spot, sponsored partnerships or engaging with sponsors with the uncertainty that the region might be facing you know, a second state homeowner or anything like that in terms of potentially as you look at the bricks and ivy ball in 2021 or other plans in that regard?

Chloe: It is still a work in progress. I think we are really having constant talks. We have people that are that’s their sole responsibility right now is to be that mediator. To be that representative and the voice for those partnerships. A lot of what we are exploring is using things. For example, the stands. Using the stands in a way that we have not had the opportunity to do before because of the lack of fans. So, I think we’re doing some branding in the stands. I think we can do some other opportunities on the field, around the ball park with those partners but a lot of it is kind of like make good and so association with what we’re doing as a non-profit now has been carrying a lot of weight and a lot of leverage with sustaining those partnerships for our organization and keeping us as a strong position in the market as a fundraising group. And I think again understanding what was promised with your partners and trying your best to make good on what you can. But I think that being creative in a space that is allowing us to be creative is the most exciting part of this. I think we had a brainstorming session a little bit ago in May and there were some really awesome ideas that came out of those few weeks. So, I would advise maybe doing that. When was the last time that we were able to just sit down and think about “okay if we had nothing in person if we had if we could start all over with our fundraising what would we do? And okay who is in our rolodex with our sponsors now. How can we pair some of the things that we know that they like to make good with some of these brainstorming ideas” so I think let the creativity flow and then match your partners with some of those big ideas that you have. 



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