Jun 6, 2020

Virtual Games and Video Impact Go Further

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

Live streaming chat, virtual heads or tails, video impact stories, and mystery box auction items, and more. In our Nonprofit Pivot Success Series, we were joined by Melissa Gorchynsky from Community Sailing of Colorado and Adam Gutcheon from the Windsor Chamber of Commerce. Their stories make the unknown possible with creative ideas and how-to conversations as we move forward with virtual events and fundraising.

The following is a transcript of our conversation from our Nonprofit Pivot Success Series. You can watch all of episode 7 here.

Adam or Melissa, did either of you sell tickets for your original event?

Melissa:  We did and reached out to our ticket purchasers to say “hey, we’re going virtual here your options we’re happy to give you refund. Or if you’d like to take ticket and put it towards just a straight donation or we had the option of also used allowing them to use that ticket purchase cost as a credit towards bidding. And that was a really nice way to ease them into process of like “Oh, well then of course I can still participate.” And then they were bidding more actually in that instance. So that was a nice and easy way. 

Adam, did you guys sell tickets?

Adam: Yes, we did. And just with Melissa we gave people the option of getting a refund or applying that as a donation. Although I do like the third idea as a merchandise credit maybe we’ll do that next.  Next time we’ll have to cancel the live event.

Melissa, what approximate percentage of people picked up winning bid versus requesting to be mailed? 

Melissa: the larger items people are very aware that would be something that we couldn’t get to them and luckily the larger times were all pretty local.  And so, I feel some of the people who were bidding from farther away probably didn’t bid on theme so much. So, about a third of the items we had to coordinate with people to get everything else was something like a gift certificate or an e-mailed certificate that we could get out very easily.

Adam two-part question here. were the item donations solicited before Covid? And were auction item donors hesitate to give donations as the event or the threat was more apparent?

Adam:  So, a good number of our items were solicited in January and February as the storm was brewing. And as February progressed then we got into March it did get a lot more difficult to solicit items. We had to hustle twice as hard to get items. And a lot people who usually say yes and who are long time donors said, “sorry we can’t do it this year.”  So, we had to cast a bit of a wider net. 

Melissa: in addition to that, we same exact thing are all our donors essentially mid-March and kind of shut off. So, he just went with less items and found out that we got feedback people with people saying, “Oh it wasn’t as overwhelming as it usually is.” And we went with smaller items individually as opposed to trying to package a lot of things together to raise that value. So, I feel like having less number of items at a lower value allowed more people participate which was oddly enough. One positive thing that came out of that.

Adam from a high level on your $25 surprise boxes?

Adam: so the centrepiece of the box was a $25 dollar gift certificate to a local business. So people knew that by paying the $25 they would be getting some random $25 gift certificate plus some other stuff. That other stuff included coupons a free coffee somewhere, some pens from one of local companies and very love value kind of coupons. But when people open the box there’s a lot of stuff in there it’s like a Christmas stocking. And the surprise in the surprise box was a hundred-dollar bill which we randomly put in one of them. 

Melissa, any thoughts for those of us with events happening in late summer fall given the virtual/screen fatigue we’re all experiencing already in early May?

Melissa:  For sure. It’s just really trying to engage a participant and in unique way. I think our heads and tails really did that, but we were lucky enough that people are ramping up on the online activity. So, I would say really just trying to get as creative as possible and figuring out what people are really  interested in. our quarantine kit was something that was very relevant to everyone, so it’s a matter of finding what are people are searching for right now, what are kind of some hot search words that are getting used on Google at that time might be very helpful.

Patrick: One thing that I would add because I think probably too humble to admit that I think speaks very just masterfully to what each Adam and Melissa did. Is they kept it authentic to their organizations and in their constituents bases and so just hearing them talking is we’re getting ready for this call. I think doing the gift certificates to local businesses in supporting local obviously use perfectly in tune with the core of the chamber. And then on the community bringing in these people who are apart of the general community whether they were local to the area or I love the idea of the maps and people participating from afar. So, the only thing I would add is the authenticity can’t be duplicated and is impossible to fakes. I think that’s one thing for anybody is to get prepared and are looking at it. What are the true pillars of your organization and making sure that those shine through because if Patrick guides to Maureen it’s never going to work. And so, I think being true to who you are something and definitely shines out as we battle all the differences competing things that people are faced with.

Melissa: I can add just one thing that we found was really important is changing our messaging. Because during our in-person gala, it’s a pretty formal event. It’s a fun event at the same time it’s very focused fundraising for those who need it most but with out virtual event we really pivoted to make it something that was entertaining as best as we could make it personal. We were posting silly videos adding jokes into our silent auction item descriptions. Putting out there as something that we’re just we’re all in this together, we going to give you some entertainment value and hoping to raise some money in the meantime. So, I think instead of people are watching their bank accounts, drop asking them seriously for more money wasn’t it didn’t sit right with us. So, making it so that you know we are here for you, we’re trying to help you out, give you something to do. That really seemed like it landed well. So just as a side note. 

What percentage of items were Buy Now? What criteria did you set for Buy Now dollar for items?

Adam:  we put a Buy Now price on all of them except maybe one or two. And we set it to a hundred and ten percent of face value. I don’t have off the top of my head how many of those sold as by now, but I suspected it was something like 10% of items. 

How many of your items ended up selling gift certificates in the different packages? Did you see that there was widespread of interest because I know there were at one point it said there are a hundred plus items? Did that ratio workout in regards to number of attendees that you had as well?

Adam: Yes. So the kinds of items that get higher bids, we found were different in an online event that we were marketing toward the community generally rather than at a gala. For example, artworks, housewares like lighting fixtures, kitchen sink and then travel items. I think for obvious reasons those all did rather poorly this year and usually do much better. It could be a combination of doing it live or online vert or because people don’t want to travel right now for one thing. What did really well this year were anything with a local hook and I’m not saying that local is the way for everyone to go. But it works really well with our mission and our messaging. So, things like gift baskets from a local brewery or a basket of gift cards to local restaurants, a night on the town, think I mentioned a limo ride. And a couple of restaurants, we have breakfast every day for a week or week for a year at one of our local diners that went really well. All anything local and especially gift cards either got Buy-it-now or sold for those to or above face value.

But how did you keep on a time schedule? Did you have a script with slotted times, mapped out? Did you rehearse anything beforehand? How did you handle that?

Melissa: we did have a script or a timeline kind of throughout the week to really schedule our posts and texts and emails. And that was something that definitely very helpful in keeping us organized and making sure that at 3 o’clock every day we were having a donor impact donor story. And at 5 o’clock the heads and tails video was going out. And first thing in the morning people were going to get a ping about these items are the ones that are really hot right now. And at noon they are getting which premiere item is featured that day. So that was definitely something that we did in advance. One thing that we wished we had done was do a dry run of our live Facebook on Friday and Saturday. And we had a few technical difficulties that really stuck with us which was nice and again we’re all just human. I feel like a lot of people are very generous with their leniency there but that was something that I would highly recommend for sure if you are thinking about doing anything live. 

Patrick:  When we were talking about it is, I think Melissa said that each person that was kind of coordinating it had eight million tabs open. And their team was kind of coordinating eight and all that kind of stuff. So, think similar to right now on this webinar our team we got this thread in this and we’re tying to everybody been communication. I think over communication internally and then exactly what Melissa has said is everybody has a run a show for a physical event and wouldn’t consider  putting together one or executing it without having that run of show and making sure everybody internally is on the same page. And more than anything, remembering that’s probably needed now more than ever because at a physical place I can look you in the face and tell if you are listening to me and virtually is al little bit triggers. So, I think having that plan making sure that everybody knows the coordinated the message was going to go at each time each day. I think gives your donors kind of something to look forward to and similar to both groups here who did kind of week-long thing. And examine the results and did it and I think is a great example you can never be over prepared or over organized.

Melissa: And one thing we really sure about it all regarding the number of texts that we’d be sending out because I have an event. You’re expecting essentially to get texts throughout the night, but we ended up sending one text every evening specific to our premiere item that was being featured that day. And the feedback that you did get from our post-gala survey was actually the right amount. We weren’t bothering people too much. By the end of the week they were hooked they were expecting it. They knew how to click and get back into the gala so that was something that we learned that was helpful.

Large expense in mailing wine and auction items out?

Brandon: Yes, I definitely want to hear how mostly you guys took care that, but we did on a previous webinar. I’m trying to think as time runs together, I believe those three weeks ago went through like 25 different ideas of what you can do to kind of manage the cost and make a little bit extra and in the virtual event. And one of those was offering for people to pick up the shipping as well as a separate item. And the organization that did that actually saw a good percentage of people pay for the shipping of their auction item to help the organization out. So that is one option to kind of manage the cost there. But Melissa just real quick over to you on how you guys kind of handled the costs, taxing or Adams on you end as well. 

Melissa: we only had a handful of items that actually needed to get shipped pretty far otherwise for it was more people who were local enough that we could coordinate pick up. So, our total shipping costs were probably less than $30. And with those donors we were able to say like “hey, if you don’t mind putting in a $10 donation item for your particular items” they were happy to do so. So, we did specifically go case-by-case with that and just asked for the exact amount. 

Both of your organizations had to pivot quickly when all this was going down. Is there anything you would do differently if you were doing it again? Or is there anything you learned from your process here that you’d absolutely continue to do in the future?

Melissa: as I mentioned earlier definitely some dry runs through anything that planning on doing live. Just for the technology side of things. I think also we learned we were back and forth about whether or not to open the silent auction up on a Sunday we continue to post that it would be Monday 9:00 a.m. and kind of as the last minute we decided to do Sunday evening knowing that people might have more time to be engaged. And just by looking back at the bidding history we found that it was 25% of our bids came in on Sunday. So, I think that would definitely something for sure would do again. And as much as we could just driving people back to that homepage was definitely important and then as regard to the live donation counter that we put up, I do want to say like we would absolutely do that again. But just know that your sound is on so I’m sitting there typing and responding to emails and I get email from our board of directors and he’s saying “I can hear you typing. You probably shouldn’t speak while you’re doing minute.” But it was one of those things that could have easily turned into something that wouldn’t be as well received by accident. So just know that if you are planning to do that, put your computer in another room close the door and walk away.

Adam any words of inspiration for your peers on that as well? Anything you wouldn’t do differently or anything you will continue in the future because of this?

Adam: Well i would have done some of the things that Melissa did. The only thing that I could think of is something I would liked to have done was that we did very well in getting new people to participate. People wouldn’t be ordinarily be a part of this auction. But I noticed during and after the event that a lot of our regular attendees who used to buy tickets and come to the gala event never registered, never bid, never bought anything. So in a sense, we were replacing our long time bidders with new people when it would have been much better to have them both. And have them supplement and bid against each other. So what I would liked to have done was to  make sure we reach out to our long time bidders, make an effort to welcome them, invite them and help them understand that the technology isn’t scary, that it’s going to a successful event. And they can help us make it.


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