Chicagoland’s beloved Misericordia shares the unexpected success of their virtual gala. Opening their exclusive event at an inclusive price point drastically increased their participation – across the country.
The following is a transcript of our conversation from our #OutsideTheRoom Fundraising Success Series – Episode 9. Watch the full episode here.
What was your ratio on the items? How much did you earn above the purchase price in general?
Jim: I’m sorry to say that I really don’t know the answer to that. We have another person who is the chair of our silent auction and she keeps meticulous records and watch over the auction items. But I’m sorry I can’t answer that question right now because I was too embroiled in making the technology work to keep close tabs on that.
No worries. There are plenty of questions. So Jim, how did you conduct the paddle raise? What did you do differently?
Jim: That’s the open question that we still have. And so we ended up using a auctioneer. And the auctioneer wanted to have normal fun to need paddle race where you start out with a high number like if you picture yourself in a banquet hall and everybody after dinner has got dessert in front of them and the auctioneer starts out with who’s going to bid 50,000$ on funding this special need. And it goes very slow and pretty awkward and then somebody raises their hand and you get one, if you’re lucky you got two. And then they go to 40,000$ etc. And that’s they wanted to do and we had misgivings about that but we didn’t have an alternative so we said “Go ahead and do that.” And so when the paddle raise was happening, we actually stream two different things. To the live stream to the 3000$ plus viewers, they could see an aggregate number that was increasing so how much was raised collectively and it would increase. And they could see a ticker of names that they were donating but they could not see the amount of money that individual donors were donating. In the studio, it was the same except we could see the individual donations. And so as I was sitting in the studio I could see that and I noticed that there was no coordination whatsoever between what the auctioneer was asking for and what people were giving. So he asked for 50,000$ and the first donation came in 4,000$ thousand and then all of a sudden another one came in for 2,500$. And then another one came in for 75 and then it was just haphazard donations coming in for any kind of an amount. And at our debrief meeting last night we talked about this and what we believe happened was people saw people’s names coming up on the screen. Remember this is a very catholic organization and there’s a play called do plaque do black patent leather shoes really reflect up. And something in that play is a line that talks about your permanent record and those scrolling names are the permanent records. The administration, sister rosemary, they can see who’s donating. And our thought now is people just wanted to get their name up on the screen. And what would happen is that ticker keeps recycling so the earlier you come in the more your name comes through. So one thing that we’re going to have to rethink before we do this next year is how is it that we really stage the pathway. We’re not complaining because it was the biggest amount of money we’ve ever raised. It did go on for a very long time and there were people who have said to us that they would try to, that we should try to change that. It was one part of ours that droned on but it was hard to shut it down when people are still donating. And we have a quandary about it but there was a plan but what happened was like nothing like the plan that we had.
Patrick, do you feel virtual galas are going to be less successful as time goes on because streaming events which were unique and new in spring 2020 are going to be old news in 2021?
Patrick: If you would asked me that a few months ago, I think my answer would be different than it is today. But what I love about what Jim did in the market research and all this thing is I actually think that they would there have the likelihood of being more successful. Because the difference between today and the future is people have the benefit of what’s happened before. And so not only are there more examples to be gleaned from, I mean people like Jim and all the folks we’ve had of these webinars over the past few weeks. They built the plane while flying it and by no means is the plane fully built but there’s a whole heck of a lot more plane built today than there was before. And so I think not only is creativity and innovation takes place but I think every technology company under the sun I knew ours included is making sure that they’re ready. And I think people were caught off guard in the spring and so they did the best they could under a truncated timeline versus now. If I’m planning in August for my thing in October I know what I am planning for. And so I would actually say that only if people do their diligence of the planning and the research and making it authentic. Will it work but I actually would argue that it stands the likelihood of being more successful.
Jim, did misericordia send cocktails to those who purchased the virtual cocktail party? Was there a price to participate in the virtual cocktail party? And was it done on zoom or how did you connect people?
Jim: The answer really is all of the above. We put out an email to all of our members that said we invite you to hold virtual cocktail parties in the pre-hour. And that sister rosemary will attend those who the first five when the auction starting bid is a thousand dollars. And we put together an online form, I put it on our web page, created the form put it on the web page for the name, address, phone number, email address, cell phone number and platform that they are going to use. Because our experience is that different people use different video chat platforms. And so I put a drop down list. You use zoom? Are you going to use WebEx? Are you going to use Skype? Are you going to use Google meet? And they could use whatever they were comfortable with. We did not tell them what to use. And they would invite friends and family to come to their cocktail party. We had two different families who were pretty good at doing this and very creative. And they held training for folks on how to stage a virtual cocktail party. One family used zoom and they did a breakout groups and they did party games and breakout groups and stuff. So they all got really creative with it. We had one family that did one with a dozen people in it. And they dropped off cocktail ingredients to the 11 other homes where people were participating because they were all local. They did deliver liquor but nobody else did. And one of them came up a cocktail a misericordia cocktail party a special cocktail. And they did a little mixology class but they emailed everybody the ingredients you would need to make the cocktail. So they all made a misericordia martini or margarita or whatever it was. They all made it together while they were online. So everybody was kind of free to have their own theme.
Jim, did you have an instance where Amazon ran out or quit carrying item since you didn’t order it until post event?
Jim: I don’t believe we had it where it ran out but we did have a strategy for that. And the strategy was to have a similar item for replacement and give somebody the option of having the similar item or not taking it and go to the highest bidder. But we didn’t have to do that. We did learn about Amazon though is between April and June when we first put the items up online and when we actually had to purchase the items some of them had price variations. So there was one that was maybe 300$ more than what somebody bid on it. And we are in a middle of active discussion right now to figure out how to cover for that. Right now the thinking is to inflate the prices that we put on the GiveSmart site. So that we start a little bit above fair market value of the items so that if the fair market value changes will be at the fair market value. But we did not have the problem of Amazon not having the product available.
Tanesha or Patrick, how do you use the platform to invite people?
Tanesha: So the best communication would be the GiveSmart email feature. And also there’s an opportunity. We have the text message feature as well. So as long as you can reach your supporters with an email address or a mobile number, that’s an opportunity for you to connect with them through the platform by just sending your registration or your site so that they can register there and participate in your fundraising efforts.
Patrick: I think the multiplier effect is the thought that comes to my head as well. On all these campaigns there’s an option for donors to share it through their own social networks knowing that for a lot of people listening it’s golf event season. Thing as simple putting as card where we always recommend people for a golf event. Put in text keyword to the short code. But putting that in email communications around your social media or pinning it in tweet things of that nature. Making it as easy for people to find you and find out how to participate. But I think engaging the donors in one of the emails we had, asking them to show up sharing for friends I think is a great accompaniment to the technology side as well.
How did you market getting people to pre-buy the products?
Jim: We have a constant line of email communication with our Misericordia Family Association members. We send out a weekly email every Sunday morning that is an index of clickable links to get to all kinds of different information about misericordia. And so at the beginning of April, we call that Ms. Biz miss recording business and at the beginning of April we first started in miss biz with an explanation of how the auction prize acquisition was going to be different this year. And with a clickable link to get to GiveSmart to find the auction prizes that you could donate. And then we followed that. Actually, we reversed order we sent out a special email telling people that and then we follow that up with having that same email in an index form in Ms Biz every Sunday for the next month so people could keep coming back to it. A new strategy that we use this year. We have 37 residential areas and on the family association board we have 37 site representatives who are families who have a resident in each one of those residential areas. We had them call all of the other families from that residential area three different times. One, to tell them about collecting the auction items. Second time to tell them about the giving three when we put that up online. And the third time was people to register other themselves and others for the virtual events.