Looking Back on 2020 – A Year of Fundraising Innovation – Part 1
March 12th, 2020 was a day we at Marquam will NEVER forget – the day our events industry shut down. Here’s a look at some of the challenges, innovations, and ultimately: The pivot to virtual fundraising.
We’d been hearing murmurs of the “novel” coronavirus for weeks. They called it novel because it had never before been seen. In late February, it was discovered in our neck of the woods. But the shutdown was still weeks away, so we had hope for the many spring events we’d been planning for months. Until March 12th, 2020.
As the numbers started to climb, authorities began ordering closures; most notably a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people. Our clients were forced to postpone or cancel their in-person events. We desperately wanted to keep doing what we love – raising money for the indefatigable do-gooders who run nonprofits and provide support for vulnerable people, animals and places. But how?
We held emergency meetings with our core staff to discuss what we could do, what was feasible, legal and effective. All hands on deck! What were our options? We landed on leading our first in-person event to an online or virtual environment, where donors could watch some of the content intended for their live show. Maybe we could even encourage folks to donate virtually! We could STILL provide entertainment; we could STILL sell the items they had painstakingly procured. We weren’t totally sure what this would look like, in all honesty. But we were confident we could do SOMETHING to try and collect at least some of the money we intended to raise at their in-person event.
Catlin Gabel was that first client. Their event was scheduled for just a day and a half after the shutdown began. And thankfully, they were on the same page. They too wanted a solution to a huge problem. So we collaborated. The result? Our very first virtual gala (VG). The term virtual gala (VG) didn’t even yet exist. No one knew exactly what to call it. And to be completely transparent, we weren’t exactly sure how a live virtual fundraiser would turn out, as it had never been done successfully before. There were no models we could study, innovate or replicate. But we both wanted to give it a shot! So we decided to go ahead and attempt a VG. But the questions remained: Would we be successful? Would anyone tune in? More importantly, would anyone DONATE?
Catlin Gabel’s virtual event was not only a hoot, it was wildly successful! They raised even more money than they hoped their in-person event would. Their donors raved about how much fun it was. We even encouraged them to join us in the chat to replicate applause and engagement. And they did! The school was able to tell their stories and SHOW people what they were talking about. BOOM! We had our solution. Now we just had to communicate to the rest of our nonprofit partners what their options were. Do nothing and risk limiting services, laying off staff and possibly closing up shop. Or pivot to a virtual gala or event and do something to continue fundraising. Happily, many of them did agree to take the virtual plunge. We’re so grateful for their trust in us because as a result, we raised more than 14 million dollars through virtual events!
Our spring looked NOTHING like we expected. But instead of looking at a global pandemic as an unstoppable force decimating life as we knew it, we saw it as an opportunity to grow in new ways, try things that hadn’t been tried before and most (and best!) of all, CONTINUE RAISING MONEY, albeit in a different way.
We fervently pray 2021 is better for everyone on all fronts. We do know we won’t return to the kind of in-person events we enjoyed in 2019 – at least not right away. And even when we do, we believe the virtual fundraising is here to stay – in one way or another. We cannot wait until we can meet in person again. Until then, if you want to continue to raise money for your org reach out! You got this. We got you!