The Spring Benefit: a Fundraiser and a Celebration.
The Spring Benefit is an annual tradition for Shirley Heinze Land Trust.
It’s the year’s largest fundraising event. So the land preservation organization depends on its proceeds to defray a significant portion of annual operating costs. What’s more, the benefit is a feel-good way to welcome spring, engage with supporters, and celebrate the organization’s accomplishments.
In March 2020, just weeks before the benefit, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a complete halt to live events. The eager anticipation of reconnecting with friends and supporters was replaced by anxiety and uncertainty. Would the shutdown last for days? Weeks? Months?
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
Once it became obvious COVID-19 would be more than a fleeting inconvenience, it was clear an in-person event would be impossible.
Deciding how to replicate the spirit of celebration and deliver the essential fundraising results was the ultimate challenge for our team.
The Spring Benefit: A Signature Celebration, Reimagined.
It was disappointing to cancel the much-anticipated, in-person event. Saving the day demanded out-of-the-box thinking.
In early March, the decision was made to pivot from the in-person event. Printed invitations were mailed for the land trust's first-ever Virtual Spring Benefit! I led the team in creating an online experience that replicated, as nearly as possible, the live one.
Fortuitously, the organization had spent months working on a complete redesign of its website. The refreshed site, would host the virtual Spring Benefit. Another bit of good fortune: with my video production partners, I had been working on video testimonials for the live event. We would deploy these as part of the virtual content line-up. To emulate the live experience, additional videos would be produced to support the event and deliver the event “program.”
Virtual Spring Benefit Invite
$50K Challenge Opportunity
Virtual Spring Benefit – Thank You!
In lieu of event tickets, and in addition to our customary sponsorship packages, I sold “individual sponsorships.” Both packages included promotion on our website, via event emails, social media posts, and press releases. To encourage participation in our spring appeal, I introduced a challenge opportunity and promoted it through social media channels. $50k in major gifts was secured that would be available with $50k additional in individual donations.
I planned to release eight videos via email and social media over a two-week period from May 15 through May 30. Each email linked viewers to the Virtual Spring Benefit landing page on the organization's new website, which featured the latest video, a "donate" button, and donor and sponsor recognition. Of the eight video-grams, there were two “invitation” videos, four donor testimonials, the executive director’s “program” presentation, and a special video to promote the challenge gift. A vitally-important priority of the virtual programming was to develop positive messaging to reassure supporters of the land trust's strength and viability in the face of the potentially adverse consequences of the pandemic.
Reimagining the spring celebration was truly a team effort. Board and committee members helped staff reach out to “attendees” with written letters, Zoom parties, and socially-distanced dinners. These interactions helped build enthusiasm for the virtual event. For a personal touch, candy and event posters were mailed as thank-you gifts to everyone who participated.
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
— Charles Darwin
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