In Episode 8 of our #OutsideTheRoom Webinar Series, Mandy Fingerhut of CURE Childhood Cancer joined us to talk about how they pulled off their virtual run, annual Believe Ball, awareness month, and other campaigns over the last few months. The pandemic hasn’t slowed them, that is for sure, so have a peek at the webinar recording and see what translates for your organization’s initiatives this year.
Below are Mandy’s answers to questions submitted through the chat during the webinar.
How do you get corporate sponsors?
For us, at CURE, each event is very different. All of our events have different markets. We define who’s the right ask for each event. For example, Believe Ball is typically a black-tie event with a lot of corporate sponsors who want to be in the room with a certain level of executives. A lot of our sponsors come from or personal relationships we’ve made with them. Our board is incredibly instrumental in making a lot of these asks with our corporate sponsors. Not many are cold calls, they’re all mostly obtained through relationships.
Regarding your Believe Ball, how did you facilitate a virtual paddle raise for your donation appeal portion? And did you also show the donations coming in real-time?
For each level, we created their own item, as a donation item, within GiveSmart. Each level had its own graphic and a description of what it could fund. We linked to those pages in our marketing components for each level, in our virtual platform it would link right over to those levels so people could purchase it like you would an instant item. Which I think is so easy and helpful. We did not use a leaderboard in real-time to show the funds coming in. I’ve seen it done a lot and I do really like it, we just didn’t have it on this particular event.
How soon in advance did you open registration for the Believe Ball?
We opened registration a few weeks in advance so that we could start pushing people to the site. I would say, 2-3 weeks. We started pushing people there with that incentive. Then we had information on the page specifically about the auction items, what’s coming soon, when to check back, the silent auction will open Wednesday at 9 a.m. and closed on Saturday at 9 p.m.
How do you get matching donations? Is it through an individual or a company?
This year, we were really lucky, we had someone last year who wanted to do this match for us at an in-person event and they came back this year and said that they wanted to give at that same level. And they asked if we wanted to use it as a match or for another purpose. It was kind of easy, I hate to say that! In the past, when we’ve done it in other years, we’ve gone to companies and individuals who have been major donors at particular levels and has a history of giving. We ask would you consider giving but giving in a different way. And then we make it a challenge grant. A lot of people are open to this because providing a matching donation, in a way, doubles their contribution.
How much of the Believe Ball was live vs. pre-recorded?
It was actually all pre-recorded. It was another thing we went back and forth on. We just felt that a lot of the live can come off as awkward if you don’t have filler. It’s also less risky if it’s pre-recorded. So we decided to do it pre-recorded, but it became available and went “live” 7 p.m. And because it was on YouTube you couldn’t fast forward once you tuned in.
We typically have our annual gala on a Saturday evening but we thought about having a virtual fundraiser on a Thursday evening, thinking that this might provide more engagement. Any advice on the best day and time to hold the live stream portion of the fundraiser?
We have seen people do more live streams throughout the week. You do need to consider that some people are working from home and staring that their computers all day, so sometimes they’re ready to log off and rest their eyes during the week. However, we have seen successful live streams during the week. I will say, the most successful ones are often happening on the weekends. Even utilizing a Sunday. It doesn’t have to be just a Saturday. It can be a nice thing to wind down a weekend with. If you’re planning for Thursday, stay with it, see how it goes, and you can modify in the future if you need to.
(This question was answered by Kirsten Primozic, Training Specialist at GiveSmart)
When did you launch your marketing plan? I know that you mentioned kicking it up the weekend before, but I’m wondering what your frequency of posting was prior to that.
We sent out our first email to officially “announce” the Virtual Believe Ball five weeks prior to the event. Ideally, we would have liked to have sent that a week or two earlier, however, I do not think it had a negative impact. We then sent another email out with a registration incentive (Register through GiveSmart by 6pm on event night for your chance to win a YETI Hopper) about 2.5 weeks prior to the event. At this same time, we started pushing it out on social media. We held off on our social media marketing until we wrapped up our virtual Lauren’s Run event because there would have been content overload on our social media otherwise. Starting just under 3 weeks out from the event, we did one social media post a day for VBB. These posts would range from sharing the registration incentive, thanking sponsors, teasing auction items, etc.
How long was your silent auction available to bidders for the Believe Ball?
We opened the auction up three days prior to the event and closed it at 9pm on the night of. With our next virtual event coming up in November, I will plan to keep it open for a full week prior to the event.
How did users increase their social media presence? Did they use sponsored ads?
We did not use sponsored ads for the event. We provided graphics and suggested templates and asked the performers to share on their social media platforms. We also asked our board and committee members to share on their social media platforms.
Read: How nonprofits can utilize social media insights
What types of items were you able to offer at the auction? We’re debating having one but are unsure about donations given that businesses are struggling.
We were somewhat fortunate that we had started our solicitation for our in-person event, about a month and a half prior to the pandemic so we already had some items in-hand. Many of our board members helped to secure items, as well, either by asking their network or donating personally. We also put together an Amazon wish list and shared with our board (Here is a fun tip – let your board members know that they can use their American Express points on Amazon purchases 😊)
Read: 4 ways to ask for donations in trying times
How did CURE fit all of the entertainment and material you needed to cover in just 40 minutes?
I think the key is to find the right balance and figure out what sort of information needs to be shared to appeal to viewers and get them to participate. For us, it was important to have our Exec. Director talk about the importance of continuing research in the midst of a pandemic, so that all of the advancements that have been made are not lost. Additionally, we always share a patient family story to connect guests to our mission. Having the content all pre-recorded instead of live allowed us to really tailor the program and messaging to fit in the allotted time.
Read: Hybrid fundraisers and how to run them
Regarding the live platform you used, how did you navigate to direct your audience to GiveSmart and live platform? How did you streamline that process?
I created a button on the homepage of our GiveSmart campaign to direct people over to the event site. On the event site, we hyperlinked all donation buttons to our GiveSmart page and linked each spotlight auction item directly to that item page on GiveSmart. We made it as streamlined as we could, given that it was two separate platforms. We also had our event emcee call out the Text-to-Donate information, as well as put it on lower thirds of the video.
For the Believe Ball, what percentage of your revenue came from the silent auction vs. donations? Were these the only 2 sources of revenue?
We had three sources of revenue for the Virtual Believe Ball; Sponsorship = 63%, Donations = 25%, Silent Auction = 12%. As a frame of reference, at our in-person event last year we had five sources of revenue (standard for our in-person event); Sponsorships = 40%, Donations = 40%, Silent Auction = 11%, Live Auction = 7%, Raffle = 2%.
How many guests did you attract to the virtual ball compared to the in-person ball? Did you change the pricing? Were you able to meet your fundraising goal?
The in-person event has 600 guests each year. The virtual event had more than 1,300. We did not do additional sponsorship solicitation once it was decided we were going virtual. We let all of our confirmed sponsors know of the change and honored refunds if they were requested. Since we already had our sponsors confirmed, we opted to not charge guests to participate in the event in the hopes that we could drive more traffic and generate more participation. We changed our fundraising goal when we decided to go virtual because we knew we would not meet the in-person event goal. We were able to exceed our virtual event goal.