This is a recorded session from the 2020 AAM Virtual Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo.
Museum development professionals are canceling in‐person fundraising events as impacts of COVID‐19 continue to have deep ripple effects across the globe. It’s an uneasy time from a nonprofit fundraising perspective, especially when so many organizations receive large portions of their annual revenues from annual events such as galas. If you’re thinking about creating a virtual fundraising opportunity, come hear practical tips and learnings from museum fundraising professionals on how they pivoted to successful virtual fundraising events that helped their organizations keep revenue flowing in an era of social distancing.
Presenter(s): Jared Scherer, California Academy of Sciences
Jared Scherer: Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining us, we’ll be starting in about 10 minutes. So, you’re in the right place. If you’re here for learning more about transitioning to a virtual fundraising event at your museum. Thanks for joining us. Hey everybody, thanks for logging in and joining our session, we’re going to start in about five minutes you’re in the right place. If you’re here to learn more about digital virtual fundraising events. For your museums.
So, thanks so much for joining us. We’re going to get started in just about five minutes, hopefully. You can hear me okay now’s a good time to test your microphones. And well, I guess your speakers, rather, to make sure you can hear us. So, we’ll be starting in just a few minutes.
Hey everyone, welcome to the great pivot transitioning your in-person events to fundraising events. Thank you so much for joining us. We’re going to start in just a few minutes so Thanks for being here. Nice to see so many of you joining us this morning on a Monday or this afternoon, rather We’re on the West Coast. So, for us it’s still a minute before noon here, but thanks again for being here. If you want to type in the chatbox, get used to the chatbox maybe where you’re from. Your name, and maybe where you’re from, what your role is with your organization. If you want to sort of while we’re waiting for some others to log in. You have a nice crowd here this morning. This afternoon, keep saying this morning.
This afternoon, and we’re going to get started in just a minute.
Hey, Megan. Hey, Tracy say Hey, Jay.
I see some familiar names and nice to see you here, joining us. Thank you so much.
Hey Alex and Paula David Catherine Kira sabre sabre. Did I say that name right?
Okay, we have lots of people joining us today. Lori and Teresa. I’m going to get started. So, thank you so many Wow, what a great crowd, we have today from all over I am going to share my screen right now. And then we’re going to get started. Okay. All right. Good afternoon, everyone. We’re so excited to see so many people joining us during what feels like a really intense time right now. I think I just want to recognize that the beginning of our session. There’s a lot happening in the world right now. With events that are going on you know in Minnesota. And there’s a pandemic and museums are closed, and the economy is kind of, who knows what.
So, we’re hopefully going to talk about some things that are that are in the positive side of things and how you know we sort of Have taken our events at our museums and we’ve had to rethink how things how we do things and how And how to move forward in a very uncertain time and so we’re so thankful to have you here. My name before we get started. My name is Jared share. I’m the director of donor events at the California Academy of Sciences I put my contact information up on the screen. If at any time you want to contact me, please feel free to do so. We also encourage you all to please use that Q &A box. To answer any questions, you have. We’ll try to answer as many as we can. And I know there’s a lot of folks here and we’ll try to get to as many questions as possible. So thank you again for joining us. And I’d like to turn the floor over to my co-presenter to introduce herself, and then we’ll dive into some of the content.
Lillian Vu: Yeah. Hi, everyone. I’m Lillian, and I’m a development operations coordinator at the Japanese American National Museum in LA. And I’m happy to be with you all today and kind of talk about what we also did for ritual.
Jared Scherer: Great. THANKS, LILLIAN, I think one of the things you’ll notice with both Liliana myself is, we’re very different organizations. And so our needs are different our audiences have different and I think you’ll see that we sort of approached how we pivoted our in-person events. To these virtual events and I think I think it really hopefully you enjoy seeing the contrast between these two events. So, let’s get started. A little bit first about the California Academy of Sciences. We were founded in 1853 were the oldest science institution west of the Mississippi. We are located in beautiful Golden Gate Park here in San Francisco.
The mission of our organization is to explore explain and sustain life. We are we have a planetarium we have a rain forest inside the building. There’s an aquarium and natural history museum all under a living roof. You can see that photo of our building the front of our building right there. The Living roof on top. It’s just a really beautiful space to work in We are home to over 46 million specimens, and we have over 40,000 live animals in our building. So, it’s just a really fun place to work and be and We’re happy to share that with over 1.4 million visitors per year. We’re both a museum and a research institution. So, we have a public-facing museum. And we also have A lot of research initiatives that we do behind the scenes as well. And we have over 500 staff and volunteers that help open the doors, every day, of course, we’re closed. But when we’re normally open, you know, and fully staffed for about 500 people helping out with that.
First, I want to tell you a little bit about what our in-person gala was going to look like this year. And what it typically looks like. I think that helps sort of set the stage for how we pivoted and what our needs are. I do recognize that every museum is different. Some of you have events going on or in the process of going on, some of you are thinking about what’s next. Some of you just aren’t sure and so I realized that everyone’s different. So, we’re here to try to kind of broaden that message and help you think differently about new ways to do certain things. So, our annual event is called Big Bang Bang gala It’s an annual event. It’s typically held on-site at our museum. It’s a two-part event. So, the first part, we welcome 500 guests to our sit-down gala dinner. On-site and then after dinner we open the doors up to an additional 2500 guests who come to what we call party after dark, which is just a really fun celebration and exploration of the museum.
We have tons of fun activations and activities and headliner music and it just, it’s a really great time. We have table sponsors ticket purchasers’ corporate sponsors. So, we sort of piece together our fundraising model in a lot of different ways from a few different sources. We also do an onsite crowdfunding. You might have heard funded need or raise the paddle. We do that in our, in our gala dinner tent and so We raise some additional funds on site, and overall, our fund-raising goal for the event is $2.5 million For our gala before we go any further. So, I’m going to, we’re going to talk a little bit about Big Bang live online. But before we go any further, I’d like to first. One of the things we’re going to do throughout the session is asking you some questions. And the best way we can do that is through some polls that we’ve created. So, this is your chance to interact with us.
So, the first poll that I’m going to put up on the screen right now is a question. What is the status of your annual impersonate gala? So, what is the status. So if you see that screen up on that pop up on your screen. If you just want to vote. It was it hasn’t been canceled, as I’ve been postponed, are you going virtual perhaps there’s a hybrid model at your museum where maybe you’re doing an in-person component with some virtual components as well.
Maybe you’re not even hosting a gala yet but maybe thinking of hosting one in the future. Or maybe you just don’t know. And that is also. Okay. I think there’s a lot of question marks out there about what it is we’re going to do next and that’s exactly where we were, as well. When we were sort of deciding which direction to go and I am going to end the polling. Are right and share the results with all of you. So here we go.
So, look at that unsure is our number one answer. Yeah, that’s I’m glad to know that because I that’s exactly where we were just a couple months ago when we were decided we just didn’t know what to do. It looks like. Some of you have canceled the next answer is canceled the event your event. And then going virtual is the next one down, and then it looks like postponed or maybe you just don’t have a gala right now, but you’re thinking of planning one in the future. Okay. So, it sounds like we’re all just sort of in some different places. For Dallas.
So, I want to talk to you a little bit about what we did at the Academy of Sciences, we created an event from our live event to a virtual bank public bank live online. We did. We close our doors on March 13 And had our live gala scheduled for April 23 so we had just about five weeks to pivot to an event. And we went through this. So, what sounds like many of you are going through. Do we cancel the event? Do we postpone the event? We decided initially to cancel the event. And then I decided that I i think we can maybe do some online programming for audience that they will still feel connected with our organization and be excited about supporting us Moving forward. So, and I have never in my life, produced a virtual event ever so I took this on as a way to sort of still connect with our audience, but it also took a lot of work to figure that out to read about five weeks to figure all this out. So let me look over here. Oh, there we go. Okay. So, Big Bang live online.
We decided to keep it on the same day that our original live in person gala was because we had that social commitment with our supporters And what I decided to do was create a list of goals for our online platform so that I could help articulate and think through why moving from an in-person event to an online event made sense. And also, it helped justify the reasoning to our Museum leadership, because I think this is such a new space for lots of folks that might not feel brand new now several months into our shelter in place around the country. But at the time, it felt very new to folks. And so, I created this sort of goals for why we wanted to go online. For a platform. So, we wanted to connect communicate and engage with Academy with our Academy community and supporters during our museums closure.
Conveying an optimistic and hopeful message that was really important because we knew that people were getting all this negative news and really We wanted to sort of shift the narrative there and give people an escape from what was going on in the country. We wanted to provide important Academy updates and high-quality scientific-based content that’s something that we do in person, every year. And so, we wanted to replicate that online as well. Here’s the tricky part. We had to condense a six-hour in-person event to a one-and-a-half-hour virtual experience. Using brand new technologies that not many of us were familiar with and we wanted to be creative and reaching out to our community.
But I also wanted us to be seen as being adaptable and innovative, which I thought was really good for our brand and image that we can show our supporters that you know we’re flexible and creative in a time of crisis. The other thing, the other critical decision that I made, which I think actually was really helpful. Was that instead of just offering this content just to the people who had already purchased tables. And people who had bought tickets to the event, I decided to turn this into a free event public event available to anyone who wanted to join us and login And I’m really glad I did that, and I’ll explain a little bit more about that in just a second. But part of the reason why we wanted to broaden our audience was in the at the end of the day, this is a fundraiser. And so, the more people that are tuning in and watching our event. My thought and theory was that the more people we contribute To our online fundraising efforts. And so that’s the very last point to this is a fundraiser where we’re raising much-needed resources from our audience during a crowdfunding campaign, which is what we did online. And I will talk about that in just a second.
So, some of the program content key elements that I thought were really important for us to sort of have throughout the event. We wanted to stay mission-focused and keep on message. I think that’s really important no matter what organization you’re with. To really keep that in mind that you know the reason why we connect with people during our gala is is to get some really important content across some new initiatives, perhaps Some first-time announcements that kind of thing we wanted to make it as accessible as as many people as possible of course it’s a fundraiser event. So we wanted to maintain and keep that component where science museum.
Of course, this will vary depending on your organization. But we wanted to keep the scientific content front and center as well. We wanted it to be interactive. So that pole. That I just popped up on the screen is exactly the types of things that we did throughout our online gala And to keep the to a audience, you know, to keep a two-way communication with our audience. We wanted to be engaging optimistic and hopeful, which I mentioned earlier, we also wanted to keep it very visually interesting by having various media so I’ve seen a lot of online galleries since we’ve done ours and some people are just doing you know prerecorded programs which is totally fine. We wanted to have some live components to keep it kind of exciting for people, you know, everyone wants to see a live show to see what’s going to happen next and That sort of thing. We had some photos. We had some interactive types of things. So, we really tried to keep it. Keep it Engaging for folks. And then we wanted to keep it cohesive right we wanted to have a sort of cohesive look and feel to the event, which I’ll go over in just a second. And also keep the programming and the theme throughout the event kind of connected Okay, so this is just some screenshots from our actual event. And I’ll go through this fairly quickly, just to give you a sense of what we were able to accomplish so Our executive director spoke and gave a little bit of a lecture. Our board chair also spoken.
Welcome, everyone. We had some getting to that scientific content piece, you’ll see the two fantastic women room app and Nicole arguments spoke about the joys of and the importance of connecting with nature in your environment. We also had Bart shepherd, who’s the head of our aquarium speak, and he gave a little behind-the-scenes tour of how we’re taking care of our animals during closure Scott Lori is also one of our scientists. He did a demo an online demo for one of our apps that we have that helps people connect with nature.And then we also had an MC that I, that was a lot of questions back and forth, whether or not we wanted to do that, but I’m so glad we did that because it really with all these moving parts and components. It was really, really important for us to have an MC and the end of the day, to really be that voice throughout the event. To keep it moving. Because, you know, with an online event. Anything could happen. And so we wanted to make sure that our speakers were on time and he was sort of keeping things flowing and he was just very charming, and it was really great as well to have on board.
I also want to mention we also design these graphic frames and these titles for our presenters also to create this cohesive look and feel, which sort of created a bit of a more polished look For the event than your typical zoom call which many of us are familiar with, which is have you know people’s faces, we wanted to create it, add a little more dynamic vibe and flow to the up adding those graphics Some of the other fun things that we did this is the sort of interactive piece we asked people in advance and during the live show as well. To dress up there either. These happens to be kids here.
What you’re seeing, but we asked them to dress up their family members. The roommates their household. There, their kids if they wanted in their favorite animal To be connected with you know who we are as an organization. And so, as you can see, of course, I picked my favorite slide. With lions and tigers and bears because we just got the most amazing submissions and what people did was, they posted it on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter and they use the hashtag Big Bang live online. We then pulled those photos off of social media.
So, that was a great way to amplify our message. And get the word out about the event as well as also get these adorable photos submitted. Some people also emailed us in advance, but some of them use the online social media formats to do that.
So, since we’re closed as I’m imagining many of your museums are, if not all of your museums are we also did some behind-the-scenes look and a peek. That’s Claude our albino alligator who’s sort of our unofficial mascot at the Academy of Sciences and so Claude We showed how we take care of our animals during museum closure. Another fun thing we did. And these are baby Penguin chicks and if you could see that it’s a little, a little fuzzy but We also asked our viewing audience to help us name. Our next born Penguin chick. The next one that’ll be born in a few months. Hopefully, and the winning name is Ozzie or Oswald, just FYI. And we had a lot of fun with that. So just thinking of creative ways to keep your audience engaged with your work and with your content. Let’s talk about audience like who tuned in. Right. So, as I mentioned, we open this up to anyone who wanted to register, we use the zoom platform, which is what we’re all on right now.
I chose Zoom because I felt that that was the best way to be the most interactive with our audience, I’m sure there’s other technologies out there. I mean, there are other technologies out there I found zoom to be the one that was the best for our crowd. We can also register people in advance, which we did it was free. But we captured all that registration data, which was very, very valuable for our organization. We had 3600 people register for the event and then night of the event. We had 2500 unique viewers login, which I was thrilled about it was beyond my wildest dreams to have that many people viewing the event that translates to about a 70% conversion rate. Which the industry average is about 50% conversion from registrants to your online actually tuning in the night of the event or today at the event.
So, I was really happy about that as well. People tuned in from all over the other thing about zoom you get a fantastic metrics report at the end so you know where people were logging in from etc. So, we have people from Australia, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, and yes, even from the White House and I can explain that another time. But we had people from all over, which is just shows that you know online has just such an enormous reach and we were able to reach people all around the world. Something we wouldn’t have been able to do with our in-person gala We used our in-house email, web and social media marketing to get the word out about the event.
We didn’t really spend a ton of money to do that. The only money that we really spent on was for Facebook ads, where we could geo-targeted and get the word out and we created a Facebook event where people could say that they’re coming to the event, and then click through to register for the event. That was enormously effective, I think we ended up having over 190,000 impressions for very little money spent, I think it was less than a few hundred it was maybe five or $600 total that we spent on our Facebook ad campaign. And that was really great. Let me talk briefly about our fundraising crowdfunding and fundraising. It was really important for us overall to retain our table and ticket purchasers. So immediately when we decided to cancel the event. And pivot to a virtual event we called every single one of our table sponsors who had already invested with us and asked them if they would convert their table sponsorships to a donation to the Academy Everyone said yes, except for, I think, one or two people and they pulled out for very specific and very personal reasons they just weren’t able to keep their funds with us, but almost everybody else said yes. And what is that’s great to me what that says is, people really believe in our mission. They believe in our work. Yes, we didn’t have the in-person event, which was a disappointment to many people, but they still really believed in what we’re doing. The. The other thing we did. So normally we would do an in-person.
Funny where we people would raise the paddle. And donate live at the event. So, we had to recreate that experience online during the event. So, we actually ended up using a third-party platform to help with that called classy. And set a very ambitious fundraising goal. The reason why that’s ambitious is because we’ve never done it before, quite like this.
And so, we had to sort of take a look at what we’ve raised in the past and what we thought the donor appetite would be the night of our event. So, we decided to make the topic. To raise money for to be connecting people with nature. And so, we highlighted all of the academies programs that connected people with nature. So, these things might not be familiar to you, but these are some of our nature connection programs citizen action at science action clubs. Bio graphic I naturalist we showed a six-minute video which I’ll provide the link to you at the end of the program that really stated what the need was Communicated why we needed it. And what we’re asking our donors for the video was very. We did that in-house as well. I think that video really connected with people, and we got people to click on our website. So just to This question has come up before, but I’ve talked about how we did this, people would have to click on a separate link to get to the donation landing page. So, it’s not native inside of zoom.
So, I haven’t figured out a way to do that. And if you have any ideas on how to do that. That’s great but we, there was not. It wasn’t a functionality for us to be able to do that inside of the Zoom environment. We set a goal of $400,000 We actually did make our goal, but we didn’t make the goal, the night of the event. And I’ll talk about that in just a second, some of the learnings that we had during the event, but overall, we had about 230 people donate.
Reaching you know just surpassing our goal to $403,000 or average only gift was $276 which also was a big learning for us. It was great. And overall, the event net was almost on par with what we did for our net for the event from And that’s because we had very little operating expenses in 2020, we had a little bit of technology investment that we had to make this classy platform. Some of the Facebook ads, which I mentioned, but overall, very, it’s a it was a fraction of the cost of what we would have done it with an in-person event with catering and lighting and entertainment and all the other things that come with an in-person event.
So, we were the timing for us was such that we were able to get out of all of those major contracts and save a lot of money for the organization. So real quick, I want to just talk to you about the decision-making that you might want to think about when you’re deciding whether or not to pivot to a virtual event. This is sort of similar to what we went through, we took a look at what our net versus our grosses, so we took an overall picture as far as what we were hoping to fundraise versus the cost of the event, as I said, very minimal expenses and so we realized we can pull this off without losing our shirts, so to speak.
The other thing you want to think about is what is your ROI. What are your goals of the event? It’s not always fundraising for some organizations, it is, but maybe it’s donor engagement. Maybe it’s how many people are logging in. Maybe it’s some initiative that you want people to learn more about. So, I think that’s individual each organization to determine what your return on investment will be for doing an online event program like this. The other thing that I think is really important is to determine Your decision-making timeline and really try to stick to that. So taking when your event. Maybe your in-person event was or when you think you might want your virtual event to be work backwards from there and decide, you know what are the benchmarks throughout that process to make a decision whether or not we should try this out, or do this or not. The other thing of course that we cannot forget Our local policies that might be guiding large gatherings.
I know in San Francisco, we have a pretty strict shelter in place, large gatherings. I know. Some states are do sending those guidelines. Every state and municipality is different, as you know, so that might also help dictate. Some of the decision-making around whether or not it’s a go. No, go for your virtual event.
The other thing I’m so glad so many of you are with us today. But you keep hearing. We keep hearing about virtual events fatigue zoom fatigue. That’s a real thing. I think a lot of us have experienced that. And so, what what what does that look like for your community. I think you’ll know that better than anybody else. And then the other thing that I think is really, really critical is, what do you think your supporters will Able, will they be able to support your virtual event in the same way that they supported your in-person event. There’s a lot of debate around that. I don’t think there’s enough longitudinal data yet to really understand how donor appetite is for virtual events versus in-person events, but I really do think that’s something that you need to consider because something that we, I think if we did an event from scratch, just as a virtual event. I’m not totally sure we’d be able to bring in our overall event fundraising goal in a virtual format. And that’s just very specific for the Academy. It might be different for your, your audience as well.
And then the last thing to think about is, what’s the tech-savvy Enos of your audience. You know, are they ready to handle an online event and can they can they participate in that way. Here’s some fun ideas and I want to be conscious of time. So, I’m going to run through this fairly quickly. Here’s some fun ideas for your online gala’s I and these are things that I’ve heard about some other organizations doing and I sort of compiled this into this slide.
Some organizations have been sending a bottle of wine or bouquet of flowers to their top supporters. The night or the day of your events. I think there’s a lot of just logistics involved with that. But I think that could be really fun. You can ask your supporters to hold up an eye care sign about your why they care about your organization. And then snap a photo and email it in that you can showcase it on your online gala. I’ve seen some really great examples of that happen.
Specialty cocktail demos, we sent out a cocktail recipe and advanced our supporters, ask them to make it at home and enjoy the cocktail while they’re watching our event. I’ve also seen live cocktail demos as well. Again, it’s a great opportunity to show behind-the-scenes performances and tours. Perhaps you include some well-known drop-ins to your event either local politicians, perhaps, and local celebrities. If you have connections in that way there’s you know a lot more flexibility than flying people in perhaps you can pre-record some segments there. And then another thing. People are considering now is a hybrid bottle. Maybe they have an in-person component along with a virtual component as well. And again, I think that’s just people getting really creative with these formats. What did we learn? Well, lots of things, lots and lots and lots of things so rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. So, I can’t stress that enough. We had so many moving parts to our online gala, and we did to sort of dress rehearsals prior to the event. And that, I think if we did into that might have We would have had a disaster. To be honest, I mean, there were so many things that happened there were audio issues there were slides issues that were connectivity issues. He was so important to rehearse.
Here’s another thing that we learned I absolutely would have started fundraising before the event. I would have built our fundraising base well in advance. And the important thing is to make fundraising. Easy. As I mentioned earlier, we did not raise our, our fundraising or crowdfunding goal at the event. We did a lot of follow-up post-event. communicating to our audience, asking them to contribute telling them it’s not too late, help us meet our goal, which helped us get there but I probably would have started well in advance.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to keep your audience engaged and interact with them. I showed several examples, we have this online polling that we’re doing now, but we did the photo contest. We did some behind-the-scenes things we asked some trivia we’ve kind of kept it fun and interesting Use various media which I mentioned in advance so important for post-event stewardship as fundraisers. We know the importance of stewardship. We know it’s important to communicate.
People want to know how we did they want to hear from us. They want to be thanked, and we also use that as a way to do a final fundraising pitch as well. And then record it. So, in all of our post-event stewardship communications. We also included a link to the recording. We know that not everyone was able to login. The night of our event. And so, we were able to share that post-event with folks as well. And then it takes a village. Let me tell you, I learned a lot by doing this type of event. We involved a lot of our team members from the Academy to help monitor Q AMP. A which I know literally in a student now. So, I know that I see a lot of questions in the Q&A in a lot of comments in the chatbox as well. So, we’ll, we’ll try to get to them in just a second, but There’s a really important to keep people involved. To help with if there’s any technical difficulties you as a presenter. It’s hard to kind of manage people trying to login so it’s important to have a lot of resources and help if you can to help with that. And then the last piece which might not apply to all of you, but it certainly applies to us more animals. And we had so many people commenting in our Q&A.
And on our chat boxes. When are we going to see more animals? When are we going to see more animals? So, we learned that that’s what people were really excited about. And this could be different for your organization. It could be more art or more flowers or more, you know, whatever, whatever it is. We just we paid attention to that and heard that and we’re able for the next time around, you know, we would certainly include more content related to what people are asking for. So, this is some links which I will make available in the chatbox as well when I’m finished with my portion of the presentation, but this is a link to the online event recording I also have a link to that crowdfunding video which I mentioned that six-minute video where we use as our crowdfunding pitch to get people to donate That’s also our crowdfunding website. If you want to kind of take a further look on how that was set up. And by the way, we were able to use a vanity URL so that it looks like you’re in the academy environment, which was really important. So those are the three sort of video links, which I’ll post in the chatbox. So, you can have that as well. And then with that. I think that’s the end of my presentation Lillian, I know you’ve been monitoring Q AMP. A, is there anything that maybe we can chat about real quick before turning it over to you.
Lillian Vu: Yeah, I guess there were some specific to your gala about the platforms. And I know you already talked about using zoom registration and using classy. I see a couple people wanted to know how you create the frames. Nice.
Jared Scherer: Yeah, so that’s a good question. The tool we actually, we, we actually outsource that to create the frame. So that’s just a graphic design that’s just a JPEG image. That we were able to, it’s a little complicated. Technically, but we had all of our panelists in a zoom meeting, and we broadcast to our public audience through zoom webinar and I think I forgot to mention if you’re going to be did use zoom, but we use the product of zoom called zoom webinar, which is what we’re on right now. Versus a zoom meeting, which is which is probably what you’re used to being in your day-to-day office meetings where you can see everyone’s faces and everything like that. That was the way we’re able to kind of broadcast the attendees out into the world.
Lillian Vu: And then just another specific question. And I think we’ll address some of the more general questions maybe at the end, did you hire a production company.
Jared Scherer: Oh, that’s a really good question. Yes. So, we found a local production company, but they do events all over the country. That they’re called spark street digital. They’re fantastic they helped with some of the live video feeds and sort of mixing everything because we were switching from We had a couple of people in the museum doing live broadcast. We had a couple people at home doing live broadcasts and then we had some prerecorded video that I had mentioned so, we, we had a that was way beyond our level of expertise in-house and way beyond my level of expertise.
And so, we ended upbringing in a third-party vendor, which was very, very affordable compared to what our overall event would have cost. To produce in person. So, we were really thrilled. We were really thrilled I see another question about refunds, I think I mentioned that a little bit during the session, but We, we, we asked people if they would make convert their donation. Their, their ticket sponsorship or their ticket support to a donation to the Academy and all, but like two or three people pulled out. So, we were able to really retain a lot of the folks A lot of the folks who were supporting the event. Okay.
Lillian Vu: Lillian, take it away. I’m gonna share my screen now.
Thank you all for being on with us. Just wanted to make sure everyone can see, I just want to make sure that I frame this that we’re talking about our specific event and whatever insight you can glean from that that works for your organization, hopefully, you can let me know what works. I’m curious.
So just to provide some more background so you know about us in our type of audience. We are a national museum that’s based in downtown LA and where our mission is to promote the understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.
So, we’re the largest museum dedicated to history of Americans of Japanese ancestry we have a pretty large active member base of over 6000 members throughout the country. But our staff size is pretty modestly size of about 50 individuals. We do have a lot of volunteers and we’re so thankful that so many of us have been with us for decades.
A lot of them did experience life in camp during World War Two. So, we have very firsthand experiences of people who are just with us and supporting us every day. And we’re kind of in a unique situation and that we’re both a cultural museum and we’re a community organization for a lot of families intergenerational members and just people who just come back to us time and time again for our events. So, a little bit about our ritual are our annual gala, it’s usually held in the spring off-site not at the museum. We have over 1000 guests attending from throughout the country. And our biggest components are our son auction, which we took online for the first-time last year the dinner program. We have a raffle drawing for a Lexus prize vehicle which we solicit ticket sales and the bid for education, which is sort of our live paddle racing portion of the event where we raise money for bus transportation and educational resources.
So, our fundraising goal each year is a million dollars or more, and that makes this our largest fundraising event. And it happens only once a year. So, a little bit about our timeline. We like I’m sure many of you take about a whole year to plan an actual gala dinner. So, we are already on track to have A gala dinner, starting from spring of last year and we had started to solicit sponsorships and auction donations in the fall, so everything was going on track until maybe at least February or March, we were already keeping an eye on you know the progressing developments coven 19 And it wasn’t until then, where we started to come up with contingency plans of, you know, what would happen if people had requested refunds or sponsors withdraw withdrew. And it wasn’t until I’d say march that a number of our sponsors had posed restrictions for a gatherings of their employees. That we decided to completely move to a virtual event and move.
Not only that, but move forward with pre-recording everything just taking into account our budget and resources so once we came up with that plan we just knew we had to move forward with about five or six weeks to work with. We started to set our deadlines and to reach out to our sponsors. And we started to develop the video for our prerecorded program and had a few run through with staff before it was set to premiere on YouTube. On April 18 which was our original date. The hotel had offered to postpone the event for us until fall but we just knew we couldn’t do that for two reasons.
For us, our fiscal year ends. And at the end of June, and we just knew some revenue is better than having no revenue to and out the year And other is that since we take about a whole year to plan one event. We just didn’t want the risk of planning to events concurrently. If we were to have a normal gala next year. So immediately. There were just so many urgent items to work through. And the first one was, of course, Our major gift officers and our executive team reaching out to our committed sponsors. And letting them know about the change and to just reconfirm their commitments. So similarly, we had just a few withdrawals for Very specific reasons, but the majority stayed on do to support the mission, and another incentive that we kind of shared with them was that their contributions would now be 100% tax-deductible, which makes all the difference for a lot of the organizations that usually support us.
Our programs team, which was already working through a script things scripting the live event. We just had to restructure everything and rework it Into a video format. And that means more transitions just ways to make everything more cohesive and we did this using an in-house team of three individuals to our media arts team. So, as we were soliciting video content from our speakers that were set to be at the event and our sponsors. We were just piecing it all together, little by little, and kind of scripting it out with our president and CEO to serve actors to MC
And I know a lot of you had mentioned that your constituents maybe have an older demographic who, you know, might not feel as comfortable with technology and we were exactly in the same boat. A lot of our constituents are, you know, 60 years and over and a lot of them already have some issues with our membership registration and doing all that so we knew that in order to make this as seamless as we could.
We just had to create as many guidelines as possible with screenshots of, you know, what’s the step from going to the URL to how to log in and how to add in your profile information and we just made a lot of screenshots and created red arrows pointing everywhere. And we put all that online on our website and shared it through emails and just did as much as we could to alleviate some of the questions that we were expecting. And a lot of it ended up in a very extensive FAQ on our website. And last, our marketing and communications team. They just had to do an overhaul of our all of our collateral and come up with a media strategy that allowed them to sort of buildup excitement among a lot of our members, many of whom Probably have never attended the event and they might not have known about it in the first place.
So, it was a lot of us reaching out to our existing audiences and trying to get them to invite their friends and their circles. So just to run through a bit of our program. We had scripted everything and piece things together and the finalized program was about An hour-long a little bit under an hour. And we got a lot of positive feedback on that and that it was concise and that it was just easy to follow and keep attention, the whole time. So, I think that was just a good call on our part. We had scripted some transitions and some introductions for president and CEO who kind of acted as MC and we had a few videos that were already slated to be shown at our in-person event that we just had to rework, a little bit to add it to our virtual program.
We had a number of speakers and performers who were also planning to join us. Secretary Bunch was going to be our keynote speaker. And so, we had reached out to everyone just to ask if they can submit about a two-to-three-minute video to us. And the general talking points that we provided or, you know, why is, why do you think our museum is important, and why do you personally support I museum and that alone. I think just kind of acted as the call to action in our prerecorded event. And for some of our performers. Also, we gave them some pieces from our artifacts, so that they can do a reading of some of the letters and Information from camp. And so, it kind of acted as the performance aspect of our program. And just some pieces that were unique to us and to our situation about a week prior to our virtual gala, and we had learned that our founding president CEO had passed. And so, we wanted to make sure that we set aside a significant amount of time to pay tribute to her in our program, knowing that she was just so important to so many people in our community. And some other components that we knew would be kind of difficult to translate to a pre-recorded event was our Lexus drawing, which is always live and it’s a big incentive for people to attend the dinner. We had to move up our deadline for submissions and in order to process everything. And in order to just make sure we could pre-record the trying to add it to our pre-recorded video. And the last thing that we kind of did on a whim, one of our staff members took initiative to plan out a musical number Just to add some levity to the program.
So, that was just a really fun way to end the program and we heard that people really love seeing our staff, a lot of them just have never known the people behind the scenes, especially, and that’s really hard to convey through a black-tie event. So, while all this is going on in our YouTube video that was premiering on that night we had our platform for fundraising, which was give smart, we had used them. Last year as well for our auction component that was open to the public.
A couple weeks prior to the virtual gala so that we can start receiving Some early donations and also for people to start previewing our auction. So, in that span of time, it allowed us to not only get as much registry information as we can so that we can send out Texts and emails through the platform, but it just allowed us to troubleshoot any technical problems that people were running into like we had a few people. Email us that we couldn’t register or that they couldn’t see the items. And so, we were able to help them out before our actual virtual gala And a challenge that we had since we knew that we were pre-recording the whole event was how to make the live but fundraising portion or bid for education feel like it’s live so, Give Smart has a donations display that is usually only accessible through a web link. What we did was we ended up share screening it through zoom and streaming it on Facebook so that Even if people aren’t exactly, you know, paying attention to the amounts, it’s there and it’s being recognized on our platforms and that we can show the donor names and also show our donations progress. And we also send out texts to give smart just letting people know where we are in real-time and asking if they can get us to the next threshold. And for auction.
This was also kind of challenges, knowing that it was going to turn into a virtual event. And we had to still fulfill all these auction items. We had over 200 packages, most of which were received prior to the change. So, we just had to figure out what to do with all the certificates and knowing that You know some of the restrictions and expectations may change with their donors giving given the circumstances. So, for auction. We made sure to add a disclaimer to all the certificates just letting the winners know that If they do when it that they should get in contact with the donors, just to make sure that the expiration and the restrictions that are listed are still valid or if be changed. And similarly for our physical items since people aren’t able to just pick it up immediately following the event. We had to put a disclaimer again.
Letting the winners know that they would be responsible for all the shipping and handling charges which we can charge through give smart. And that they can mark their preference on a form which we had sent later denoting whether they wanted to have the items shipped or for them to pick up from the museum. So, this is again an ongoing process and where it’s about a little over a month out and we’re still kind of fulfilling. Some of these, but a lot of our donors have been really understanding so, I before. So, moving on to the next piece. I know there’s A lot of different components for our Genomes auction.
So, I just wanted to shoot out a question to everyone. How are you planning to brand funds to your virtual gala? So, I’m just going to launch the poll There’s the silent auction or the live auction their Raffles there’s funding need or raise the paddle sort of like our bid for education ticket sales sponsorships or other types because I know for a virtual gala, it’s kind of difficult to sort of balance all that together. And I know for us. We just had so many moving parts. And just so little resources to deal with everything. I’m going to end the poll now and I see that sponsorships are by far the biggest way that the event or fundraisers for your museum and For us, that’s also the case, it was important for us that we had our sponsors commit to staying with us and the mission was a large part of that and It’s also great to see so many people working with auctions knowing what a handful that can be with the events. And yeah, again, I think auctions are probably maybe the easiest way that people sort of understand the virtual component because everyone you know it’s to eBay or they’re kind of more familiar with online auctions in general.
So, I think that’s maybe a more easier transition than sort of a dinner program or something through zoom So just to share some of our results. We usually have 1000 people attending. So, for us, getting 788 registrants on the site was felt like a big win for us knowing that a lot of people You know, maybe sharing the same account with their spouse or their family member, it just showed to us that there was still a significant amount of engagement.
And our final results for that we had a lot of active auction bidders who are also donors over 250 and we opened the option for them to pay their own transaction fees, which to alleviated some of our expenses. And we were tracking some of the metrics coming in from our YouTube videos. Our original video had over 1000 unique viewers and we had re-uploaded as a slightly edited version without a 30-minute sponsor real After the event and that has over 2000 years so far. And for, I guess, our biggest surprises we grossed over 920,000 of our goal on which was over a million. So, we didn’t exactly reach it. But again, knowing that we could have canceled the event or postpone it so we wouldn’t have gotten that coming in.
Before fiscal year just having this was, I felt like a huge win for us. Our auction revenue was also pretty great. In our Lexus raffle was doing pretty good. They’re still lower than last year. But just having it or contribute to the overall revenue was great for us, we saw a lot more enthusiasm from people who had never participated in the gala before or attended or maybe even knew about us. And we saw people just coming in from throughout the country. People who got the video sent to them or something. Another way that they got in touch with us so through all that it sort of allowed us to build up our engagement with some of our members who we sort of lost touch with over the years. And the great thing about a virtual gala is that you don’t have to pay for catering, and you don’t have to pay for AV so that dramatically cut down our expenses. It was left less than half of that of Which made our net revenue, pretty much on par with past years. And that was just That’s what matters to us. Just in order for us to get our cash flow going on before the fiscal year. So just some final takeaways.
This was the first time we did in the virtual event of this scale and looking back, there were a lot of things that we could have done differently and a lot of improvements we could have made. But it was important to us that we came up with clear definitive decisions very early on, which allowed us to come up with the action plan, almost immediately. So again, our biggest One of the biggest considerations we had was their audience, especially our donors, knowing that they’re of an older demographic, they might not feel as comfortable with technology so that Made us that gave us in consideration for the shorter runtime and also the types of platform we use It took a little bit of finessing for a lot of people to get on to give smart, but eventually, you know, knowing how competitive people can be especially using eBay before it proved to be a pretty good indicator that our membership basis, ready to move on to more complex technology.
Our recognition of sponsors was also an important part, knowing that we couldn’t provide the same benefits that you usually would, for an in-person gala we made sure to integrate recognition of them in our Virtual program video and also on our fundraising platform. So, if you guys saw earlier within our auction items you can see the ads for some of our top sponsors. And that was our selling point to make sure that they knew that they were going to be more visible to a wider audience than they would have been Added in-person event. For us, we also leveraged our collections and program assets through types of performances and the videos that we had shown. So, these are things that people may not be as familiar with and that might not be as appropriate for an in-person dinner. We’re kind of More focused on networking.
So, taking just some time to let your assets. Breathe a bit in your program and to highlight them just I think made us convey our mission, all the better. Knowing that it’s a virtual gala and that we were soliciting videos we knew that the videos would come in two different Qualities and just different shapes and sizes. So, we kind of had to embrace that informality and that sort of lack of Polish And just make it seem like a more community-oriented event which we didn’t have the opportunity before in our annual black-tie events, but it was always something that we had wanted to integrate moving forward. And sort of the last couple pieces and that’s it’s something that we’re still learning is that the virtual gala has a lot more legs than an in-person event in that you have Evidence that you put on such a great show.
And it’s something that you can share with the donors in your major giving conversations You can initiate a conversation about the work of your museum, and it can continue to allow for additional contributions for more matching gifts. And for us it’s allowed us to get some pretty significant contributions even post gala And of course, I’m sure. For everyone teamwork and just making sure that you’re communicating with your staff is The biggest thing to do when you have such a short run time and that everyone’s kind of working towards the same goal so Just recognizing your staff and your board and leadership in pain. The event. I think that goes a long way.
Jared Scherer: THANKS, LILLIAN, we’re just at one o’clock and I’m getting the, let’s wrap it up things so Lillian has a bunch of links from her site which he has there, which maybe you can put in the chatbox. William Yes. Um, I want to kind of wrap it up real quick and say thank you for everyone for attending. We did have one question. People want to know if the car was donated, I think I know the answer to that for your auction.
Lillian Vu: Yes, we work with Toyota Motor North America and have a contract with them to get it donated car.
Jared Scherer: Okay, great. And then another quick question is how did we, how do we thank our sponsors who were already on board with the event that stayed with the event that was the last one. And then maybe we’ll wrap it up with that.
Lillian Vu: Yeah, for us it’s definitely a lot of personal phone calls from our president and CEO and Letters thanking them and they’re just happy to know the results. So just sharing the results with them. That’s great.
Jared Scherer: Okay, so that’s it for us. Thank you so much. I know there were so many of you on The session and we, unfortunately, couldn’t get to everyone’s questions and comments. I am so sorry about that. But hopefully, the content was there for you. Our contact information is available, so please follow up with us if you have any questions, please reach out to either myself or Lillian plus we had several questions of when the presentation will be available, it will be. This has been recorded and it will be available after June 12 for everyone who was registered for a and to be able to view it and share it out so Thank you so much for attending. Good luck with your events this fall and beyond and you know you guys are going to do great things out there. So, thanks again and we’ll see you soon.
Lillian Vu: Thank you.