Lisa Schra, Advancement Director at Living Stones Academy, and Paul Hart, a long-time brand and communication volunteer at LSA, will share about their recent “Stones of Hope” gala-type fundraising event. Through this event, Living Stones saw an increase of 50+% in revenue and attendance. They will share their suggestions for helping you make a similarly successful event.

Here is a recording of their event:

Full Transcript of Webinar:

Steven: All right, Lisa, Paul, it’s 1:00. Is it okay if I go ahead and kick off this party?

Lisa: Let’s do it.

Steven: All right, awesome. Welcome, everybody. Good afternoon, if you’re on the East Coast. Good morning, I should say if you’re out on the West Coast. If you’re watching the recording, I hope you’re having a good day because we’re here to talk about how to run a successful virtual fundraising event. That’s right. We got a real bonafide case study for you. It’s going to be awesome. You are in for a real treat. I can’t wait to have you hear the presentation.

But just a couple of housekeeping items before we get going. I’m Steven. I’m over here at Bloomerang. I’ll be moderating, as always. Please feel free to chat us questions and comments throughout the hour. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A. I know it’ll be a lot, probably more than we can get to, but ask early and ask often because I’ll look at that as we choose the questions. No favoritism, I promise.

If you haven’t introduced yourself in the chat, please do. You can ask questions there. There’s also a Q&A box. Wherever you want to type it in, I’ll find it. Don’t worry. And have no fear because we’re recording this session as well. So if you have to leave early or if you get interrupted by a kid or something, don’t worry, we’ll send that to you. You should already have the slides in the handout. But if you’d missed those, we’ll get those to you. Don’t worry, you will not miss anything.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to tell you a special welcome. We got a lot of folks here. We usually have a few first timers. If you’ve never heard of Bloomerang, if you’re wondering what the heck is Bloomerang. We’re a software. We’re donor management software. Now we’re going to talk about that today just for context. But if you’re interested in that, check out our website. We’re pretty easy to find.

But don’t do that right now because I’m so excited. We got an awesome organization represented here. We haven’t done a lot of case studies, which I feel bad about. I need to do a better job of that but this one is going to be a good one. We got Lisa and Paul here. They’re from Living Stones Academy up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Awesome school. Awesome mission. Lisa, Paul, are you doing okay? First of all, thank you for being here. How is it going?

Paul: Doing great. Doing great.

Lisa: Of course. Thanks for having us.

Steven: You two, we had a great call a couple of months back, maybe last month. The backstory here is Living Stones, they gave this presentation to their local AFP chapter up in Michigan. And we caught wind of it. It’s a fabulous presentation and I said, “You got to come on.” By the way, we’re going to do something for Living Stones as a thank you. I forgot to tell you all. But just some background on Lisa. She’s their advancement director over there. She’s been doing fundraising for over 25 years. Paul’s the kind of supporter that every nonprofit wants, right? He’s a founding parent of the school, super involved, helping out in lots of different ways, got a background in design and communications. You’ll kind of see that expertise come through. But they did it.

There’s a lot of people talking about virtual events right now, especially Bloomerang. You know, we’re guilty of that. So we’re trying to show, “Hey, this is what some folks actually did.” And that’s what they got for you. So I’ve already taken up way too much time from them. So I’m going to pipe down, and I’m going to let . . . I think Paul is going to drive his slides. So Paul . . .

Paul: Will do. While I’m transitioning, I should say, you know, we’ve been using Bloomerang for quite a few years and it has been an integral part of all of our processes as well.

Steven: Oh, thanks. We love it.

Paul: We couldn’t do it without it.

Lisa: Yeah.

Steven: All right. Looks like it’s working there.

Paul: All right, can everybody see the first slide?

Steven: Yeah. Take it away.

Paul: Lisa.

Lisa: Great. Well, thanks again, Steven for the invitation, and so glad so many of you could join us today. We are really excited to share with you what we learned through doing our very first fundraising virtual event. And through this COVID-19 era, we are not yet sure all the ways that our industry will be impacted. But I’m pretty sure that we all have a sense that virtual and online events will be a new tool that we will all need to be versed in. So we’re really excited to be able to share what we learned, as Steven said, as a case study. And we hope that you’ll take what you’re learning here, apply it to your context and make it bigger. Paul, you want to make more about . . .

Paul: Sure.

Lisa: . . . why we’re here today.

Paul: Yeah. Thanks, Lisa. And thanks, Steve, for giving us a great introduction. You know, what I have always loved about Living Stones Academy is that I can get fully integrated and, you know, use my skills that I have on a day-to-day basis. I basically do a lot of the same type of thing here. And so I get to use that muscle with an organization that I love over the years. And we’ve been there for 10 years and now all of our kids are out of it, but we’ll stay involved as much as we can. We just wanted to say a little bit about this presentation. You know, just to make it clear, we are not experts in live events, just want to set that off straight from the start there. However, I think the combination of all of our backgrounds, Lisa and I’s background, and others that have joined us, we were able to pull the pieces together and make it happen. So, as Steven said, feel free to, you know, chime in on the chat anytime you have a question.

Lisa: Good. You want to bring up that next slide, Paul? And here’s how we’re going to structure our time today. We’ll give you an overview of what we did, along with our context so you can understand where we’re coming from. I’m sure a big question you’re wondering about is technology. We’ll talk about that as well. Some principles that we use to develop our story through our event, and actually using our event as an experience of the story. And what we learned, our aha moments, our tips, and our tricks.

We’ll jump right into the overview. So as Steven mentioned, Living Stones Academy is a private Christ-centered school. We began 10 years ago with the goal of breaking down economic, racial, and ethnic barriers and welcoming all students into Christ-centered school. We describe ourselves today as unwaveringly Christ centered, academically rigorous, and radically inclusive. In order to be radically inclusive, we rely on funding from our donors to fill the gaps between what our families are able to pay and the full cost of tuition.

So we are very intentional in our fundraising. We just have three efforts during the school year. We want to ensure that our donors are not overwhelmed with our asking. And our annual fundraising event is a cherished tradition that we have each spring and typically is about 25% to 30% of the total that we need to raise each year. But this spring, we were behind already. We were about $25,000 short, where we had hoped to be on by the time we were planning our event. And so we needed to raise about 35% of our budget. Paul, I think you had a question that you wanted to throw out there.

Paul: Yeah. So we just wanted to ask the group. You know, we’re at about 25% to 30% in this one event for our entire annual budget, and we were just curious if you wouldn’t mind shouting out and telling us what percentage your fundraising goal is for your events. I think I might have to slide over to Zoom to see some of the answers.

Lisa: I’m seeing 10%, 95%, 50% 30%, 70%, you know, 25%. So 60% across the board, but still obviously a significant part of what we do as fundraising. So let me give you a little context of our event so you can understand where we’re coming from. Our fundraising event is similar to a gala and a sizable number of our donors come each year. But it’s also been growing with new donors. And that’s good. Because of the last five years, our school enrollment has been growing. And so that means that we also need to raise more and more money.

Our guests do not pay a ticket price ahead of time. The funds that we raised ahead of the event come from our corporate or business sponsors. And at the fundraising event, we have two main components. The first being the social hour. We have appetizers and drinks available, and our donors love to come to that first hour, and just connect with others that are involved with the organization, people they haven’t seen for a while. And so that’s an important part of our event. Then the second hour, we keep that pretty tight. It’s usually right around an hour is where we . . . It’s more of a sit-down portion of our event. And that’s where we share our story. And we find new and compelling ways to do that each year. And the end of the storytelling ends with a specific ask to support the school.

So that again, gives you the format and the structure of the event as we had started creating it in our mind. And you can see from the slide there, our theme was creating belonging. And we’ve been working on the event since about November with the date set in late April. However, in March became quite clear that we would be unable to meet in person. And so with about four weeks to go, we made a decision to quick pivot the event and create an online version of it. So we decided to keep the date and try to keep as many elements as possible from our successful event. You know, no big deal, just to change the format. So, Paul, maybe you can talk about some of the challenges that we realized in making that decision.

Paul: Will do. So yeah, one of the main concerns we had, as you can imagine, and maybe some of you have the same concerns is, you know, could we actually replace the in-person event that . . . ? We had, you know, a pretty strong reputation in our in-person events. People liked coming, looked forward to it, had good things to say about it. So that was a big concern of ours. You know, how do we do that online? You know, where do we even begin with technology? I think we had some ideas, some initial ideas, but as we learned, there was a lot more than we had to consider along the way. You know, will people actually come? That was a huge question back in March and April when we were planning this. I think it was early on in COVID. And we just weren’t sure, you know, what I think people were just kept expecting to have to, you know, being able to go back in-person and it just wasn’t going to happen. You know, how will they know what to do. It’s a brand new type of event. And then would we raise as much money?

Lisa: Yeah, great. Yeah. As Paul said, our context was it was early on in COVID. And so people had not necessarily started with Zoom. It wasn’t so well-known. But yeah, so will they know how to access this was a big question. Before we . . . I’m going to use our presentation today to kind of demonstrate how we met all of these challenges and what the result was.

But before we jump into that, I just want to share a quote with you that I’ve been holding on to during this COVID time from Bob Tiede, and it’s really helped sustain me in those times, where you’re just like, “I have to rethink everything.” And that is so true. But for me, I have found that creative and invaluable ideas have come because we’ve had to rethink how do we do what we do. And, you know, the last line there is when we work together. And I wanted to emphasize that as well. Like, none of us have the answers. This is all new for us. So learning from each other. And that’s our goal with this presentation today is share what we learned and hopefully, you’ll have others that you can share from what they learned. And our event certainly became one of those creative and invaluable ideas. And a little teaser, people came and they loved it. So we were happy to share what we did. So, Paul, you want to get concrete with, you know, what we did with the online?

Paul: That’s great. Yes. So normally, you know, we work really hard to generate excitement. If you look on the left-hand side of this screen here, you can see some of the structure of our normal event. Big question was, how are we going to do that? How are we going to reenact that? And we usually give a big overview of our night. We have a program that talks a lot about our why. And I’ll be talking a little bit more about that later. You know, meaning, why are we doing what we’re doing? Why are we bothering to be here? You know, why is it important?

And we’re usually in the range of, you know, 60 to 70 minutes. We like to keep it tight. We like to be respectful of people’s time and realize that sometimes things can go on too long. And I think people really appreciate that, have appreciated that about our events. And as you can see on the right-hand side, you know, these are all things that we were pretty much able to replicate, and some of them we had to tweak a little bit in order to, you know, adapt to the new format. But that was kind of our rubric. And that’s how we were able to structure our online event.

You can see the online or the donation ask or donation part of things was done online. Normally, we don’t do that. It was very seamless, I thought through this software that we used. And we usually like try to try to insert, some student involvement. We were able to do that, as well with a precious song at the end of the event that I think, again, people loved. And then we were also able to integrate staff. So pretty much everything that we normally do was there, but some of them were just slightly changed.

Lisa: Great. Thank you. The next slide shows three benefits that we realized from a virtual event. I think the first one probably is fairly self-evident. We reduced our expenses. The other two were a bit more of an aha and I’ll get into those. But as far as reduced expenses, we did have a 30% reduction on our expenses. I will say that does not count staff time. That was totally off the chart. We just had, you know with a such a short timeline, four weeks before the program, trying to figure out how are we going to do this, our staff was a bit off the chart. We did spend more money in postage and mailing. We’ll talk a little bit about this later, but we sent all of our guests a red envelope. And that played a key role in our event. And obviously, technology and videography, were also a bigger portion of the money spent. And I’m going to give an estimate of for that. I’m sure you’re wondering, $5,000 or more, depending on what you want to do.

We did save money, of course, by not having to pay for appetizers, and drinks, and desserts, the venue. Any of the printing of programs or anything that you have on the tables that night, centerpieces. So that’s where our reduction in expenses came from. So save your money from your chicken meal and your venue and put it to great tech partner. You’ll want to have someone on your side that can really help you get your message out in a seamless way, not to have that technology stands in the way.

So reduced our expenses, but we also were able to expand our audience. We were no longer held back by the size of our venue. And that was a real treat. We increased our attendance from, last year, we had 273 guests. And this year, we had 247 households. So probably 500 people watching online or more. And that was wonderful. We had people from around the country, not just Grand Rapids joining us. And they too were really excited to be able to participate. You know, normally, our grandparents are not making a special trip to come to Stones of Hope movement. So they were really excited to be a part of it.

And it meant also that, not only those that were far away, but those that were near could participate. And by that, I mean, about 50% of our donors are not families or relatives of folks at the school. And so when we’re creating our event, we always have to juggle. We want to make sure we have enough room for our donors. And we can only invite some of our families. And so that’s always something that’s really hard for me.

It’s such an inspiring night, that it’s hard for me not to have all of our families there, but this year we could. And you’ll see a picture there of one of our students watching with her dad. And she wrote in her journal for her class that one of her favorite memories from COVID was watching Stones of Hope with her dad. So that was really, really exciting for us.

It also meant that, you know, people that don’t go out at night or people with limited mobility, maybe people that are single parents might have a hard time getting a sitter. Things like that some of those barriers were removed and those folks can also join in. Paul, do you want to say anything just about people that are in tech averse, low tech people?

Paul: Yeah. So as you can imagine, we were a little bit concerned about that. Some of our audience that we were assuming didn’t necessarily have all the technological skills needed to, you know, figure out how to get into the event. What if they had an issue with it? And so we considered a couple of things. And two of them . . . A couple of them were to actually bring computers to those people, you know, get on the phone with them and say, “Hey, you know, we’re having this event. I know you’d like to come. You know, what can we do to help you?” I think we had some phone calls like that. And then also we had the idea of dropping off a DVD of the event after the fact to those people, you know, assuming that maybe they couldn’t get online, but they might have had like a DVD player in their house. So those are some of the ideas we had. I don’t think we had time to execute all of them, but just maybe a couple of ideas for you.

Lisa: Great. And our third benefit, and this is not one that I hadn’t really considered before but learned later from talking with our donors. This was such a donor friendly event. We’ve decreased the burden on their time and energy by having an online event. I was used to thinking about, “Oh, we’re creating this great event. We’re welcoming our donors. You know, we’re creating something they want to come to,” which is true. They get engaged. They feel inspired. They see that they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

When we create an in-person event, there’s a lot of energy there. But I never really thought about the time and energy that it goes to get to the place, right? You have to think about, “What am I going to wear? What time do I have to get in the car?” Maybe you need childcare for your kids or feeding dinner to your kids before you come. So all of those things were just not an issue. And our donors said, “Hey, that was really easy. We could just sign up and come,” as one of my donors said, it was an easy yes. And he shared that. It was such an easy yes, that it was easy for him to encourage his friends to join online with him, “Hey, we’re doing this night, you guys want to do it too?” So that was maybe a bit of an aha for me.

Paul: So that all kind of leads to our biggest conclusion in all of this, looking back on it is that it is possible to replicate the best elements of the live event that we really wanted to hold for this event. So I think that we were just really glad to have that and it worked out really well. So that’s pretty much what the rest of this presentation is about. We’re going to get into a little bit of the details here. We’re going to talk about technology and how we did it.

Lisa: Yeah, great. We mentioned, you know, pulling together a team of people to have around you. You’re going to need a different kind of team than you do for an in-person event. You can see there the roles that we had to create this event. And some people will play more than one role. And in our instance, I was advancement director and the project manager, Paul was an experienced designer and visual designer. But as you’re thinking through these different roles, think about other volunteers, friends that you have. Maybe you’ll need to contact the local agency to find a freelance photographer or videographer. But I would definitely encourage you to find a company if you don’t have a volunteer or someone else that can really advise you on the best ways to do the streaming. You can certainly do it on your own, but you really want to make sure that it’s a great experience. And so you’ll probably need to rent some equipment. And Paul will get into that a little bit. You’ll see exactly our setup.

Paul: So for those of you wondering what an experienced designer is, an experienced designer is somebody who thinks through the details of transitions between elements of the program or the environment, how things are set up, working with interior designers to make sure the flow works and things like that. We’ll talk a little bit more about the experience in a minute.

Lisa: Great.

Paul: So the technology we considered here, I know a lot of you have questions about that. We did look at several different options. And, you know, one note, I just want to say here, before I tell you about the various ones that we looked at, is that we did . . . At first, when we created the content for this event, we pre-recorded everything from start to finish from the introduction, all the way to the outro with the people that we’re going to be on with . . . or be our host and be our content.

And when we looked at it, we just realized that just doesn’t come off well, and we were very concerned about that. So we decided to introduce some live content. And so that was a very key factor in the decision that we made on this technology. So we did look at Facebook. You know, Facebook has a live feature, Facebook Live, that does work very well. However, the thing that we noticed about Facebook, in doing some research, is that people feel a little bit insecure because Facebook does a really good job of pushing the fact that you need an account even though you don’t. And so we put that aside and decided not to use Facebook for that reason.

We looked at the YouTube Premiere, again. YouTube Premiere is a live version of YouTube that does a very good job of streaming content. So it checked that mark, but it didn’t allow us to integrate any live content. We could do our pre-recorded material or our live material but we couldn’t combine them. And so it does also have a chat feature and it’s a, you know, good system for what it is.

Over on the bottom right, we looked at Zoom. At the time, we didn’t know enough about how it was going to work technologically to share video through Zoom. And we had some bad experiences with it in school events, where video was delayed or echoey, or, you know, stuttered. And so if we were going to introduce pre-recorded material, we were really concerned about that. Even though Zoom does have chat and a lot of the other features that we were looking for.

So we ended up settling on a webinar software. You know, webinar software, the one we used was WebinarJam. It was very easy to use. And what it did differently than all the rest is, it has the ability for us to kind of schedule in the type of content that we needed at the time. So we started out with live content. We had a live camera and we’ll talk about that in a minute. And then quickly transitioned over to pre-recorded. It allowed for donations. It allowed for a chat and all of that. So that’s how we ended up settling on webinar software.

Lisa: Do you want to show a few pictures of kind of what that looks like?

Paul: That’s right. So right here, you can see this is what it looked like to the viewer. In the web browser, the viewers just clicked the link and they were brought to this web view. You can see the main content areas here. This is actually a screenshot of the live content of Aaron, our Head of School, introducing people. And over on the right-hand side, you can see there’s the chat. And then this other feature which they have is a promotion or an offer that you can put in whatever link you want to. You cannot do breakout rooms with WebinarJam as far as I know, but you can have co-hosts. And we ended up only having one host.

Another picture here is this is what the room looked like, and you can see Lisa and I over there at the table kind of manning the station, if you will, the control station. We had a camera pointed at our live content. And we had all these monitors and lights set up and the monitors . . . This is Aaron actually doing the content. And the monitors were set up for him to be able to see what it looked like to the rest of the world. And we had two monitors because we also wanted the ability to communicate with Aaron if we needed to kind of, like, cue cards. So one of them was . . . sole purpose was to kind of just see the activity and the other one was to communicate with Aaron. And that’s our video guy right there.

Lisa: Great. Yeah, so that takes us through the technology. And now we’ll jump into some principles. We wanted to talk about four principles that we keep in mind when we’re developing our events, and Paul could bring to the next slide then you can see the four areas that we wanted to talk about. So communication, fostering community, telling your story, and providing a great experience. So I’ll jump in with the communication piece.

For communication, our goal is to communicate clearly and simply. We want each of our pieces. You can go to the next slide, Paul. To be visually interesting and simple to follow. Sorry, one more as well. Yeah, there. You have an idea of . . . These are our emails that we can send out through Bloomerang, yay Bloomerang. We love that. And Bloomerang keeps track of who’s opened it and if there’s any bounced ones. So that’s pretty great, right in the software. Anyway, we like to keep them visually interesting, simple to follow languages direct and clear. We want to lead the reader and digest the information.

In this scenario, we really had a few more things that we needed to communicate about. We had the added challenge of trying to describe what is an online event? Now people kind of know what that means. But back in late March, early April, that was a little bit of a new concept. But we wanted donors to feel welcomed. We wanted them to feel that they could do it, even if they felt unsure or less than tech-savvy. And we wanted to communicate what can they expect.

I’m sorry, our next slide just gives a little bit of a rhythm of communication. And communication is really a way that you lead your donors and steward your donors, as well as building excitement for your event. So just like an in-person event, you’re going to want to build an online event schedule for communications. And you have to find that balance between not too much so that you’re annoying, but not too little so that the donor forgets about what you’re doing.

So for us, that looked like a save the date card in January, late February. The invitations went out and business sponsors contacted. Early March, we invited key donors to be ambassadors for the event, which they would invite their friends too. And then in March 27th, just four weeks before, we decided we are not going to be able to do an in-person event. We are going to go online.

And so from there, because of the short timeline, we really needed to focus in on email as our way of communication. So we sent out an email, letting people know about our change. We also had several volunteers who were able to call everyone who’s already RSVP’d. It was a fantastic time for people to hear from us. Our volunteers said, “I could hardly get through the phone calls because people wanted to talk to someone and share.” You know, they’ve been at home. This was all new. So our volunteers made those connections and also answered their questions about, what is an online event? So we probably called about 100, 150 people. And from there, used email to let people know what to expect. We put the event on Facebook and Instagram, of course.

A big piece that we haven’t really specifically said is we decided that our event was going to be at a specific time. And so that everyone was together experiencing the same thing at the same time. And that was part of our community-building effort. And I’m so glad we did that. It also meant that we could encourage people to RSVP ahead of time because we wanted to share with them a small gift. And I’ve mentioned the red envelope. We’ll have a picture of that a little bit later. But we had some gifts that we wanted to send to our donors and people RSVP’d. And so that was one way we could get people to move from, “Maybe that’s a great idea. That’d be really cool,” to committing to come, RSVPing, and putting it on their calendar.

So we had the RSVPs one week ahead. We had 119 people. We reminded them to encourage RSVP. A few days ahead, another reminder, please share with your friends. Two days ahead, how to sign up in a timeline for the event. You’ll see that there. Again, people really appreciated that they didn’t know, again, like, how long is this going to be? How long do you have to be online? And so that was an important piece that we did. Reminder one hour ahead, just to send that link out one more time, in case people have missed it.

After the event is also you want to thank the people for coming or even just reporting back to those that weren’t able to come. And so we said, “Thank you for joining us,” included information on how to give, because, of course, it was a fundraiser. One week later, we sent the recording of the event. And two weeks later, we were able to give an update on the fundraising. And I’m so pleased to share with you that we reached our goal, and that was about six weeks earlier than we’d ever been able to do that before. We’d never been able to close out our fiscal year that early. And that was with starting about $25,000 behind. So, as we said, our donors showed up and showed up in a big way.

Paul: Lisa, there’s a question about did we use Bloomerang to register?

Lisa: We did. I don’t know what more you want to say. But yeah, we did. They have a form that you can use. We put it on our website. People could use that to send in their RSVP and it gets loaded right into Bloomerang. So yeah, that was a great tool.

Paul: Yeah, a big part of our registration process. And there’s another question about the length of the show. As we said before, this was a 45-minute show. We did have to take out a few pieces and shorten a few pieces in order to keep it down to 45 minutes. We just felt like we needed to keep people’s attention in that time.

Lisa: Great.

Paul: Are we ready to move on?

Lisa: Yep, I think so.

Paul: Okay. So I’d like to talk about the second principle that we always keep in mind with all of our events. And it is about telling your story. And there’s a lot of, you know, talk about story and how to tell a story in the business world that I live in. And I’m sure you’ve picked that up in your world. And I’m here to tell you today that I’m a true believer in story. It is a very powerful tool in order to connect with people and help them understand, help people understand, you know, why it is what you do, why it’s important.

And so the thing that we focus on when we do our events is to make sure that we communicate our mission through almost, you know, everything that we do. So we sort of use that as a lens by which we make judgments or decisions on what we’re going to include, how we’re going to include it, and make sure . . . And sometimes we even help write the script for the presenters. And we do actually write the script for the presenters and make sure they hit on these certain points. It’s a very big part of every event that we do. And so we did not lose that element in any way, shape, or form.

We had already had a story picked out because of the planning that we did in November. And it was this teacher here, Kassandra, that we just was extremely articulate with her story. And it really fit well with the overall mission of the school. So we wanted to use it, decided to keep it. And for her comfort level, what we did is we ended up pre-recording her story, her content, reading her script. And that just allowed her to, you know . . . She felt like, you know, she could take her time, and it was a good move. I think it was a good move. And then what we did, again, is we weaved the live content around it. We introduced her story in with a live person, our Head of School, Aaron, and then went right into her story.

And so why story? Let’s talk a little bit about story. So in the story that we do and the events that we do, we construct our entire event around these three main elements. And it is that people need to be brought along in this journey through understanding the why we exist. And whether they’ve been with us for years or are brand new, we don’t assume that they know exactly, you know, why we do what we do. And the big . . . And then the other two parts are we talk about how we address the why or how we address the problem that we see, that we’re trying to address with students or on a bigger level, even with our school or even our community. And then, we give them a very specific example of that. And then we always end with “Well, what does this mean and how does it have an impact? So what is the result?”

And by doing that, our intentional process of leading people through that journey, it just leads them to an undeniable conclusion that they can choose to participate in that story or not. And so we put it out there. We put it on the table and they can choose to pick it out. And so everything that we do is lined up against kind of this basic structure. And then in addition to that, we also work with, as I said, with our presenter, like in this case, Kassandra, to kind of fashion her story, make sure that she hits on all these points. What is the problem that, you know, existed in her life? You know, what happened that transformed her life? And then what was the result of that? So no matter what level of story we’re at, whether it’s the individual or the whole event, we use this rubric.

Lisa: Yeah, super. Oh, I’m jumping in, but maybe you’ve got more to say. At the end of our slides, we’ll share a link if you are interested in watching our event, and you can kind of see that in process.

Paul: Yeah. So I just wanted to make one more point about story. You know, the temptation, I think in any organization’s existence is to tell the story as if you are the hero. It’s to position yourself as the hero, that you’re going to save the world. And that is not the way that a good story works to effect change in this way. If you position yourself as the guide, as the person who’s going to come along, the student, or the member, or the person in your organization that you’re trying to help, if you come along as the guide and make them the hero, they will ultimately succeed. And the same is true in an online event or in an event, you want to make the donor, the hero, and come along as the guide. And as I said before, if you set up the story in such a way that presents it to them as a problem, but we have a solution for it, we have a way that we kind of go after that problem, and here’s the result, they will want to be part of that.

And if you’re familiar with this organization called StoryBrand, this is pretty much where this idea comes from, a character with a problem. In this case, the donor has a problem they want to solve. They want to be part of something. They want to help somebody, but they don’t know how. They meet a guide. Well, that would be you. And the guide gives them a plan. The plan calls them to action. They can either choose to make that a successful or not. And as long as we’ve laid it out in an easy way, they will be successful. So that’s kind of how we frame all of our events.

Lisa: Yeah, great. So, Paul, I see we have about five more minutes. So I think we should talk through these principles, and then hit on some of those things that we learned at the end, just so we make sure we have enough time for everybody for questions. So our third principle we keep in mind, you know, communicate clearly and simply tell your story. Foster community. Again, we shared that . . . We wanted our event to be able to do that even while people are separate. They’re in their own homes. Like, how could we foster community? Could you go back to one slide, Paul?

Paul: Yep.

Lisa: I mentioned this red envelope idea. This became a much bigger thing than I ever thought. It started with, we had these gifts that we had made for our donors. They were magnets with student artwork. That was going to be our gift to our guests that night. And we were like, how are we going to get these two people? And so it started with that. And so we realized, “Oh, we could send them to people.” But that meant we also had a vehicle for the pledge card, which is a fundraising event. It’s good to have a pledge card. But we also hit upon this idea of encouraging people to RSVP ahead of time so they can get their gift and then to hold the envelope.

So you see a little sticker on there that encourages people, “Hey, don’t open it yet.” So it kind of builds this suspense. At one point in our program, our Head of School, Aaron said, “Okay, those red envelopes you’ve been holding on to, now’s the time to open them up.” So that was an experience of people doing something altogether.

We mentioned the chat as something that was important in that regard, too. We had a number of volunteers who were watching the chat. And as people were signing on, you can say, “Hey, so good to hear from you. Great to see you.” You can even see a donor testimonial right on there from Laura, “So grateful for our grandchildren who go to LSA.” So people are getting connected through that chat.

You’ll see what was in the package, the magnets as well as a sticker of the pledge card. We also used polls. That was part of what was available through the WebinarJam. So we had two different polls that we could push out to our guests. You know, where are you watching from? How are you connected to LSA? And so viewers could answer the poll and then see the results there. I think that’s . . .

Paul: I’d like to go ahead and show the video next, that gives you a little flavor for how this went.

Lisa: I’ll say one more thing about the chat, as you’re loading that up. Go ahead. I think that also helped people feel like they were seen as they entered into this anonymous space. And a lot of people mentioned them like, “Oh, you noticed I was there.” So again, I think that was a really powerful way to help people feel connected. All right, we have just a short clip to show you how that worked.

Paul: Okay.

Aaron: So thank you to Mrs. Grasmeyer to Farmer Matt for continuing the learning of our first graders and all of us tonight. So if you’re just joining us, thank you for coming out for the pre-show here for Living Stones Academy Stones of Hope event. We’re so glad that you’re here. I can look and see we have already 166 people who’ve signed on. Truly incredible. Thank you for taking the time. As you settle in, if you’ve received a red package in advance of this event and you didn’t open it, now you can go ahead and open it. There’s a couple of gifts in there for you and we’ll be referencing some of those things later on in the night. If you did not receive one of these red packages, we have one here waiting for you. So please go ahead and click the button on your screen, and we will get your information, and send one out to you right away so that you can fully participate and kind of follow along with things that are happening here at Living Stones.

Lisa: Yeah, great. So you get a sense of . . . That was obviously the live portion of our event and it feels like you’re there with our head of school and you’re part of it. And that kind of leads to this is our fourth principle that create a great experience. You probably want to say a little bit more there.

Paul: Yeah, can you hear me okay?

Lisa: Yeah.

Paul: All right. So creating a great experience. Some of the things that we’ve already talked about involves just a couple things that we always make sure that we do, and that is, think through all the details, right? I think a lot of times it’s easy to just assume certain aspects of the event are going to go a certain way. In this case, obviously, it was a brand new thing for us. So sitting down and thinking through all the details. This is not actually the event planning here, but it is an example of how we would plan an event. And what this does is this is just allowing us to think about, again, that rubric and what are we going to do to make it easy for people to come along for the ride? How do we give them the context that they need in order to understand the problem? How do we help them understand what we’ve done specifically to address the problems that we see, in this case, you know, creating belonging for our students? And then how do we bring them to the undeniable conclusion?

And then the other thing I just want to talk about a little bit is some of the principles that we use in planning events. You know, it’s our job as facilitators, and as planners, and event holders, if you will, to gently lead our guests. And what I mean by that is, you know, helping them understand every little step. Even if you think it’s a small step, you know, help them understand it. Help them understand how to do the thing that you’re asking them to do, what it’s for, why it’s important, how to get from here to there. You know, invite them to participate in this journey. And by taking this sort of leadership role, I think people are looking for that. They’re looking to be invited in. And it’s easy to gloss over some of those details.

So if you think back to that map that I showed you a minute ago, you know, if you force yourself to write down all of the things that need to happen in order to pull this event off, you’re going to be able to see them and look at them with new eyes by writing them down and think through. Did we think through all the detail of this? How are people going to know this? You know, how are they going to get this information? That type of thing. And our job is ultimately to remove the barriers for them, and then by doing that, reducing anxiety. So, ultimately, these are the goals of the planning process, the experience process.

Lisa: Yeah, great. I think we’ve got 13 minutes left. So if you just go to the next slide, I’ll just . . . This is in part of your handout that you received as well. I’ll just highlight a few here. But be ready for early arrivers. You seem to kind of did that a little bit earlier today before the sign-on. We actually created a mini show for people. You know, it’s always awkward when you sign on and there’s just dead space. So create something fun for your guests to enjoy before your actual event. Practice. We probably ran through this three or four times to make sure that the technology did not get in the way. So build some time in for that.

Be prepared for people that don’t stay tuned in the whole time. You don’t want to save your ask only for the end, in case people don’t stick with you the whole time. Although I have to say that our guests really did. They really stayed the whole time. So we had Aaron Winkle when he mentioned the red envelope. You mentioned at that time, “Hey, there’s a pledge card in there. We invite you to consider a gift to Living Stones.” And then at the end of the program, after people had that emotional experience, the heart experience of why Living Stones’ so important, then we had another time for an ask. Keep it short and have fun.

Paul, do you want to say just one word about live and then canned? And then let’s . . . Because we did that quite a bit. But the next slide is like let it breathe, allow for transition. And then Steven, maybe you can . . . Do you think you have some questions to shout out to us? This will be the last thing we touch on.

Paul: Yep. So we talked a little bit about this. But it’s very important in an online event to make sure that people have time to register what’s going on in the event, which means actually work in some downtime, give a little breathing room. So, if you just switch from video to video, and you don’t really give people time to process what’s going on, you’ll lose them. So make sure you work in a little, you know, a few seconds of wiggle room here and there. It’s okay if the live presenter sits on-screen for two or three seconds without saying anything. It actually gives people time to adjust.

Lisa: That was one of those things I think we didn’t really realize until we got into it. All right, maybe you could just flip through those slides and then Steven, you can . . . What are the questions out there? We’re ready.

Steven: Well, that was awesome. First, I just want to thank you both for sharing your secret sauce. This is going to be invaluable, not just to the people that are watching live, but I think people who will be accessing this recording well into next year to hear what you’re doing. So thank you for sharing and taking time.

There were so many things that you did that I have heard other organizations doing, who I’ve talked to, just kind of anecdotally who did this, and you kind of zoomed over them. But I just wanted to reiterate. One thing was, you were pretty forthcoming about making the decision, right? You made the decision, and you kept the date, which keeping the date that they had already kind of known about, again, is something I heard from a lot, just not just Bloomerang customers, but other people.

My question, I’m going to kind of start with my own question, if folks don’t mind and then I’ll get to the chat. But I wonder, you know, events tend to be kind of sacred, right? You do the same event every single year. You’ve done it for 30 years. Can you talk a little bit just to the fear and anxiety? I wonder if some people are listening and they kind of want to do this, but maybe they got that pit in their stomach or maybe there’s a board member who is like, “We’ve done this for 30 years and by golly, we’re going to keep on doing it.” What was that actual decision like? Was there kind of a heated, maybe a nervous discussion about kind of changing this? Because I know you’ve been doing it a while.

Lisa: I think we’re at the point where we didn’t have any other choice. Like, we could not have met in person, due to our governor’s orders at that point. But to you question, like, why did we decide to keep the date? I mean, we could have said, “We’ll wait, you know, until August or September when it might be better,” and just kind of push it off. I think, for me, we had put so much time and energy into it. We were so excited to share what we had planned that it just really would have taken the wind out of our sails to say, “Oh, you know what? We’re just going to wait.” You know, and back to my original quote about, you know, “creative things are going to happen because we have to do things in a new way.” This was actually a really invigorating experience.

Paul: I agree.

Lisa: I see Paul’s shaking his head too. Like, it was hard, but it was one of the best things that I worked on this spring. It was so much fun. And then to see people respond was amazing. Do you have anything to add, Paul?

Paul: Yeah, I would just say that, I mean, that kind of goes back to the point we were making about experience. I think one of the things that we talked about, Lisa, even though we might not have talked a lot about it, we just agreed, was keeping the date meant one less variable for our participants. You know, we didn’t have to . . . We weren’t jerking them around with, “Oh, well, we’re going to postpone this or . . . ” You know, they were already planning on it. Again, going back to those guiding principles, you know, thinking about it from their point of view is really important.

Steven: You anticipated my next question, Paul. A lot of folks in here are asking about some events they have coming up. So we’re recording this in late July. And I know to you all, this was kind of a spring thing. But for folks listening now, a lot of them are saying, “We’ve got September, October events.” And, you know, that’s maybe a couple of months, maybe 90 days away. And I know, you’re not doctors, you’re not, you know, experts in public health or anything.

Lisa: What’s going to happen with COVID?

Steven: Yeah. But my feeling is, you know, hearing what Paul just said and listening to Lisa over the last hour, I wonder if they should just be decisive and say, “Let’s just go [virtual 00:52:50].” It’s not worth it. Paul, you said kind of jerking people around. And I feel like, what do you think they should do? My sense is change it to virtual now, keep the date. And maybe there’ll be some exceptions. But what would you say to those folks who’ve got fall events coming up and not sure what to do?

Paul: Well, you can always . . . It’s an interesting question. I’m just going to go off the top of my head here. I think that online is the safest choice right now. Safe meaning, again, you don’t want to . . . You can plan on it. You can count on it, right? And so I think that if you did plan in a live event, the content itself doesn’t change that much. You know, so what if . . . ? One of the things that Lisa and I came away from this whole experience thinking is that we will probably incorporate some level of live in all of our events going forward no matter what. Meaning . . .

Lisa: I’ll say that differently. I’m actually going to plan two separate events. I’m going to do an online event and I will do an in-person event. But you can’t have an in-person the event that also is online because then the people are watching something happening, but they’re not a part of it. At least they have to be two separate things. But it was such a fantastic experience for our donors that I think we’re going to do an online event in February, where normally we have to get squeezed into this little space of, you got to have the snowbirds back. But you can’t do it, you know, around Easter, but by May, it’s too late and all the nonprofits are scrambling for that two-week window.

Steven: Well, you know, you mentioned something there also that struck me is the interactivity really stood out to me, and also the multi-channel, right, because you’ve got the print piece, which I thought was just fabulous. You know, multi-channel was great. There’s a mountain of evidence on. A lot of people also are asking about corporate sponsor. What was the engagement there? Were there any? Did that change at all? What advice around corporate?

Lisa: Yeah, it did change quite a bit. Okay. Yeah, I had started contacting our corporate sponsors in February and following up in March, and most of them were like, “You know, we love you, but we don’t know what’s happening with our business.” And so, you know, that was significant for us. That was about $12,000 there where we were short. I mentioned we were already a little bit behind our goals or like . . . So by the end of, you know, four weeks later after the event to have raised all of our revenue, I’m just looking at my numbers here a minute was amazing.

So we increased our giving by 48% for that event. The sponsorship gifts were down. And despite that, we had 39% for gifts and the average gift size increased by 7%, which, again, was [inaudible 00:55:47] because normally the big gifts are from those sponsors. And we didn’t have just one or two people making a big check and just finish it off for us. We just had a lot of people who wanted to ensure that we were going to do well during this time of uncertainty and they just stretched a little bit more to do what they could. So yeah, sponsors were definitely affected.

Steven: I think there’s a lot of generosity out there. I love it.

Paul: Yeah, I think my explanation for some of the increases that people wanted something to belong to at that time. There was a huge . . . I mean, we were literally right in the thick of it. And people just wanted something to belong to. And I think that they were longing to donate their resources. They were longing to participate in some way and by doing that they could give, right? They could give a little bit extra maybe.

Steven: I love it. What would you do differently? A couple of people asking we were there any snafus behind the scenes? Anything that was . . . ? I know you all . . . You two strike me as planners. I would be surprised, but . . .

Paul: What would we do differently?

Lisa: I think the only thing we didn’t get to do that I might have done that Paul mentioned is, you know, reach out to some of our folks that I know didn’t have a computer at home and maybe [bringing 00:57:02] them a Chromebook or something like that. You know, what a great touch to have three of your oldest donors to like, “Oh, you’re making a special trip for me to, like, be online,” right? Maybe that would have been really difficult. But that would be one thing that I would love to do.

Paul: Yeah, I can’t think of anything real specific. I’m thinking about that slide we had where we had some tips. There might be something in there that we can go back to. But I think there was no real snafus other than we didn’t mention the fact that we rehearsed how many times, Lisa?

Lisa: I think four.

Paul: Four times that was running through the entire event and technically testing everything. Even though we did that, right before the event, I remember having a small technological snafu that we were scrambling for. So it’s something you just really got to make sure you have everything buttoned up.

Steven: Yeah, the other thing I was going to mention, the pre-recorded because it just seems a little risky going live with everything. But that was another thing that I’ve heard a lot of people say. You got to do a pre-record. It’s just not worth having something weird go on live. Wow, this was awesome. I feel like I could ask you guys questions all day but you’ve already been super generous with your time. I know we didn’t get to all of them. I’m so sorry about that. I wasn’t trying to play favorites. But how can folks get in touch with you. I know you’re both kind of active on LinkedIn. But do you mind maybe if folks reach you?

Lisa: Sure. Yep. You can find us on LinkedIn. Yeah, this . . .

Paul: We’d love to answer questions.

Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, we’ll get to you as we can. This is our side job. So I’m sure even earlier, like, as a school, we just released our reopening plan. And, you know, we have a lot of families wondering and having questions. So just give us a little grace if we don’t answer you right back but we’re happy to share what we know.

Steven: Yeah. Be patient. It’s late summer for a school. I think some folks can understand. Lisa, Paul, this is so awesome of you to do this. What a great service to the fundraising community. Thank you for being here and sharing your secret sauce.

Lisa: Thank you, Steven. Yeah.

Steven: And thanks to all of you for hanging out. I think we had almost 600 people listen live. That’s awesome. I can’t remember seeing numbers that high. But I’m not surprised considering the topic. Thank you all for hanging out. Like I said, I’ll send the recording, slides, handouts, everything. We’ll get everything to you. Just give me a couple hours, I’ll get that sent out. And hopefully, we’ll see you again on another Bloomerang webinar.

We got a couple coming up this week. Good stuff. We’re going to be talking about board governance. We’re going to be talking about grant seeking on Thursday. Just check out our webinar page. Totally free. Totally educational. Tomorrow, Thursday. We got a couple of next week. So we’d love to see you again in another session. But we’ll call it a day there. So look for an email for me with all the goodies. And hopefully, we’ll talk to you again soon. So have a good rest of your Tuesday. If you’re watching the recording, I just hope you’re having a good day, in general. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Please, we need you all out in the world and stay cool. I know it’s kind of hot out there in some places, but have a good rest of your day. We’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. She also serves as the Director of Communications for PRSA’s Hoosier chapter.
Kristen Hay