Ep 104 | Taking an In Person Event Online with United Way: Part 2

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Last year we had Staci West join us to talk about how the United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties was taking their Festival of Trees event online. Now she's back to tell us what they learned, how it went and what they'll do this year with the event.

In this episode you'll learn:

→ what the new version of the online event looked like.
→ how much time went into it compared to an in person event.
→ what day of the event looked like from a production standpoint.
→ how they managed the live auction.
→ what your website needs to be effective on Pinterest.


Online Fundraising Virtual Summit Waitlist
Episode 76 | Taking an In Person Event Online with United Way

Staci West

Staci West

Volunteer, United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties

Staci West is Communications Manager Bechtel in Tri-Cities, Washington. She has 20-plus years' experience developing, implementing and leading national media outreach and public relations campaigns for science, technology and environmental organizations. She was a board member with the United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties for six years, and has served as the planning committee chair for its nascent Festival of Trees gala, which raises money to fight hunger and homelessness. Staci grew up in Seattle and transplanted to the beautiful and warm east side of Washington state 25 years ago and since then has discovered the joys of the rivers and wineries in the area. Learn more at https://www.unitedway-bfco.com.

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Full Transcript

[INTRO] Hey, everybody, welcome to another episode of the digital marketing therapy podcast. SAMI here, your host, and I am so glad you're here to join me for part two of an episode that we recorded way back in September.

So Staci West, who is a volunteer with the United Way of Benton and Franklin counties, she came on to talk with us about how they were taking their festival of trees that was going to be held in November online and kind of what they were struggling with and how they were going to try to put a put all that together and process that.

So go back and listen to Episode 76. And you could kind of hear how they were prepping for it, how they were planning, brainstorming, yada, yada, yada. And then today she's back to talk about how it went, What did they learn? What kinds of costs? Did they have to reassess and readjust? How did that change, kind of what they're going to be doing for the festival of trees for November of this year, and what all that looks like, I love and appreciate Staci, her honesty and really just giving you guys the back background and the insight into what they did. So that you can hopefully learn and continue to grow your online events with some of the feedback that they experienced.

One of the things that I love that she's going to talk about is how she really reached out and networked with other nonprofits to find out what they were doing, what was working and how she could learn from them, as opposed to having to come up with everything on her own. And by her I mean the organization as a whole. So I think it's a great conversation, I'm excited to finally have this follow up here for you. So head on over to the show notes at https://thefirstclick.net/podcast to check out all the links for the previous episodes and all that good jazz.

Yeah, if you've been running events online, and you want to see how an organization has kind of come full circle with theirs, then this is definitely the episode for you. But before we get into that, we are gearing up and getting ready to launch our next free online fundraising virtual summit. I'm so excited for this because we are going to be talking about all of the things online fundraising events. So it's going to be really fun. We've got you know, 20 speakers, live panels, q&a is all taking place may 17 through the 21st registrations not officially open yet, but you can get on the waitlist. So I hope you'll head on over to https://onlinefundraisingsummit.com. snag your spot so that you can get all the information when Registration is open. Like I said, it's a free event. We've got some amazing speakers that are going to really help you create your online fundraising event with less stress and make it more profitable. But for now, let's get into the episode.

[CANNED INTRODUCTION] You're listening to the Digital Marketing Therapy Podcast. I'm your host, Sami Bedell-Mulhern. And each week, I bring you tips from myself and other experts, as well as hot seats with small business owners and entrepreneurs to demystify digital marketing and get you on your way to generating more leads and growing your business.You're listening to the digital marketing therapy podcast. I'm your host, Sami Bedell-Mulhern. And each week, I bring you tips from myself and other experts, as well as hot seats with small business owners and entrepreneurs to demystify digital marketing, and get you on your way to generating more leads and growing your business.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN]  Hey, everybody, please join me in welcoming Staci West, back to the podcast. Thanks for coming back.

[STACI WEST] Thanks for having me. It's kind of fun to come and talk about how things went and looking forward to a new year.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Yeah, so yeah, absolutely. So this is part two, I will link up part one in the show notes, Stacey joined us to talk through kind of how they were reframing and kind of readjusting your holiday themed fundraiser that was very much in person. And we'll and we'll get to that let you explain that in a second. And so today we're going to talk about kind of what happened and what you learned and how people might be able to learn from your good, bad and ugly because that's just how online events or events in general work, right?


[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] So why don't we start by sharing a little bit about what the event was before you couldn't do it in person and kind of what you plan for it to be.

[STACI WEST] So yes, we started the United Way festival of trees in 2018 in the tri cities, here in southeastern Washington State and the first two years it was in person at the Three Rivers Convention Center. And the Festival of trees is focused on the live auction of 10,  beautifully decorated trees that our local businesses would sponsor and design and decorate. And just a beautiful way to kick off the holiday is right before Thanksgiving. And in January and February of 2020. We of course, like everyone else thought we knew what 2020 would hold. And we're eagerly getting started early in our planning and we're excited to have our third year you know, really to You up our numbers the first year, we had maybe 250 attendees the second year 325. And so we were going for gold with 400 as our goal. And then, you know, we met COVID. And things changed by but the first two years, we beat our goals for fundraising. It really started building some awareness for the event, but it was a very new event When COVID hit.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Well, and so going into the third year of your event, you're kind of like hitting your stride. Right? Like you've worked out some of the kinks, you have the sweet spot. People are excited to decorate their trees and trees are hard thing to take virtual.

[STACI WEST] Yes. And we ended up with COVID hit, we ended up just pausing any planning for a few months, because we really didn't know what to expect. And then when we started planning again, it was perhaps late June. And by then, you know, we realized we were almost too far behind and we're scrambling to, you know, figure out how might we make things virtual? How could we showcase the trees, and then trying to guess where we might be and what we could do. And I would say one of the new when you say good, bad or ugly, I think of beautiful, beautiful and one of the beautiful things that was just happenstance was that we decided early in 2020 to hire a gentleman named Fred Northrup, Jr, from Seattle, who's a professional auctioneer, and emcee and by the time, we started talking in earnest again, about planning in June, he had already been doing virtual events for other clients across the country, actually. And so we really relied upon him for recommendations on how we would take it virtual. And in the end, we did have a virtual fundraiser that Saturday evening with a live auction of trees. But we did have to get creative and in how we showcased the trees and then with you know, a lot of the planning ahead of time.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Yeah, so let's talk about that. Because last we chatted, you were hoping that your county would be open enough to where you could maybe have scheduled in person walkthrough. So even though the auction might take place, virtually people could still physically come and look at the trees. What happened with that?

[STACI WEST] We had conversations with different businesses and industries, including the wine industry here. And in the end, we worked with a high end Hotel in Richland, called the lodge. They're right on the Columbia River Marina. And they were on they had with with indoor dining at the time at the 25% capacity, they had begun using other parts of the facility for their restaurant. And so there was quite a bit of space that we could put the trees and so it just so happens their general manager Wendy Higgins had been involved for years with a festival of trees, when she lived in seaside Oregon. And so she was thrilled to to host us if you will. And so for about 10 days before our virtual event, we had the 10 trees set up in the lodge in their lobby, and upstairs in some spaces. And because hotels are open, people could come in and look at the look at the trees. And so it was great. We had raffle tickets for sale for our golden ticket tree. And people could come purchase a raffle ticket, our volunteers were there kind of selling the tickets. But then our sponsor still got some recognition and visibility in that way. And so it was very popular. And in fact, the tree sponsors loved it. And other people who had attended, enjoyed it. And so that is something we're going to bring back this year.

And so this year, we'll probably we're we're planning on setting up the trees a weekend even earlier, and having, you know, kind of that tour of trees, if you will within the lodge in Richland. And so, that worked great because it didn't cost us anything. It was a single location people could go to and we didn't run into any large crowds. You know, people really just trickled in, you know, one family at a time.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN]  It seems like, so it seems like a great win win. So you what was that like? Cuz you mentioned volunteers, were there kind of with the raffle tickets and whatnot. So what was that like coordinating that piece of it?

[STACI WEST] The you know, the, the coordination was pretty straightforward. We had a hand have really dedicated volunteers. But I'll be honest, it was busy. And we were asking a lot of our small, but mighty team. And so, um, but it was great we and what I loved was the woman who won the Golden Ticket tree so that we set that up where we sell 100 golden tickets for $100 each. And that is guaranteed to raise $10,000 that's so good. We offer a sponsorship of the golden ticket for $10,000 and, and quite a few other extras, if you will. But that means that the golden ticket itself can can bring in $20,000. And an elderly woman came in and one evening and bought a ticket. And she told the volunteer that she tried to convince her girlfriends to come with her. They didn't bother. And so when we pulled the winning ticket, it was hers was so thrilled. And she said she, you know, wanted to put it in her front window and have all the neighbor kids, you know, walk by and look in the window and she'd hand them each cocoa. And so it was it was just wonderful to hear, um, you know, a woman who was getting so much joy out of it and going to share it with her her neighbors.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] That's so great that the you were you're creating this fun experience for people to come through. And then she was, you know, expanding that experience into her neighborhood and and raising more awareness for what you guys do. That's awesome.

[STACI WEST] Yeah, yeah.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Okay, so one other question about that is, you know, in comparison to a fully live event, would you say that the coordination of the volunteers and having the tree set up, like, what was that level of workload, like, compared to, you know, having the full event day of all of the things and getting everything coordinated, like you had done in the past?

[STACI WEST] So I would say, looking back, and I certainly felt it at the time, but it was just as much work to do a virtual tour. But I think it was harder, because it was things we did not know and not are. And so, you know, the first couple of years, we we had to worry about decor, and then how much is decor going to cost? What's the color scheme? You know, what are the the centerpieces look like, you know, things like that, that I mean, there can be hard decisions. But you know, we all know intrinsically something about what we like and how things look. But last year, it was working with thee, we worked with a production company out of Seattle called pmta. And, and they needed certain materials beforehand, and we needed to do dress rehearsals with them. And pulling together the information coordinating, making sure technology would work, that, that our greater giving auction site was working, that was the first time we did a silent auction. And the first time we'd used any kind of software for an auction. And so that was a whole new level of work and gathering baskets and donations for for us to auction off. You know, we did all of that to try to supplement what we anticipated would be lower night of dollars raised. And so we really took on new scope, in addition to a whole different evening experience. And so it felt like a lot more work. It was also over a shorter period of time, we had to do it. So we were coming up to speed on all the aspects of what we needed to be considering a new software, asking people for different kinds of donations, and, and then just having to prepare different materials. We, you know, had to create the script for Fred, and he weighed in and provided a lot of counsel on it. But at the end of the day, you know, we were responsible for that. And for the slides and visuals and testimonial video from recipients of the dollars raised. So it was a whole different kind of work that and much of it new for us. The end. Oh graduates. I'm thrilled with what we did, because we'll get to use a lot of that going forward. But it was it was quite the quite

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] well, and you mentioned that you were working you had already hired an auctioneer that you were up leveling in that regard. But the software that you were going to do for the auction that was not part of your initial plan. When you started 2020 right, that was something you added on because you knew you were going to do the virtual?

[STACI WEST] Yes, so the United Way had used the greater giving software for, I believe it was like the registration and the close out for the in person events. But we hadn't used it for an auction in terms in terms of having people get on login degrader giving an actually bid on items online,

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] and how to once you got through that learning process, because there is a learning curve there. But I'm a strong proponent that having that option is for an in person and a live event is a way to really increase your donation. So did you see an uptick in that? Or do you feel like that you maybe still have some tweaks and things to make as you go?

[STACI WEST] So I did see an uptick, I think there's, you know, some refining of how we use it that could be done, I will say, we hired another expert, Alan Akila from Seattle, to help us set up everything with greater giving. And, and we did that, because we knew that even if we could figure it out ourselves, it would take a lot more time, right, than hiring someone who knows it front and back. And he was incredibly gracious and helpful. And so you know, looking ahead to this year, we will do the online auction piece, again, it seemed that any event right before the holidays, the baskets that either you could you know, if it's a cocktail basket, you know, alcohol is very popular, and an auction items, you know, the cocktail basket, someone could purchase that. And then they don't have to buy anything for the the family, you know, dinner for Christmas, perhaps, or a basket of children's toys, and suddenly you have Christmas gifts covered. And so I think that we'll come back with baskets and some other things that we've been thinking of doing new this year, and really trying to make it auction items that people will want to just grab and use over the holidays, or grab and give as a gift over the holidays.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] So I love it, you're saying so the software and the experience itself was great, it's now just refining the types of things that you offer during that experience so that you can maximize on those product donations.

[STACI WEST] Exactly. And one of the other local fundraisers here in town organizations, you know, there we happen to have the a couple of the same women helping with our event and, and they had done some real, real smart analysis of their auction items and looked at, you know, what seemed to bring in the most money, what had the most bidding action on it. And so I think, you know, we didn't do that this year. But that's something I want to look at for next year of, you know, using the data to determine, you know, what kinds of themes or baskets and offerings need to have to really appeal to our local audience?

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Well, I feel like that's some of the beauty when you use software and do things on a digital space is you don't have to manually go in and populate that because the the software itself will populate it for you. So it makes it really easy to review and kind of process that information.

[STACI WEST] Yes. Yeah. And, and it's just information that we wouldn't have otherwise. Because a lot of what I've said as a volunteer is I'm just making my best guess. And I have, that's what we did a lot last year, you know, we're just gonna hope that we're intelligent enough people that our best guests is good. But that's, that's why, you know, we really thought about, we're how we bring in experts like Fred and Alan, who, you know, at the front end may seem like, you know, and neither were that expensive. But being willing to pay a little more than maybe we would normally in order for it to go smoothly for our attendees and sponsors to have a positive experience. Because at the end of the day, if the experience is positive, then we're going to maintain our events, reputation, and people will be interested the following years.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Well, and I'm curious, because you might have been spending money in different places. But did you spend more overall on the event than you would have if it was in person and you were really renting the ballroom and the decor, like all that stuff?

[STACI WEST] Yeah, we did, because we'd had some of that donated the first.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Got it. Got it. Nope, that makes sense. So from a production standpoint, I'm curious, was your whole event live? Or did you have some pre recorded elements that came in like, how did you manage that whole that whole experience on the actual Night of the event,

[STACI WEST] so it was, um, it was both we did have our sponsor videos. And I believe there were two of those, and then our United Way CEO a video from her welcoming people. And we had a video testimonial of an example of an organization and people who had benefited from donations raised in the past. And so the rest of it was live. So we went live from the pmta studios in downtown Seattle, with Fred there in all of his holiday attire, the rest of us off screen. And it was wonderful to watch how this production worked. It was incredibly impressive for someone like myself, we've never seen it, but I so we, they broadcast live to YouTube. And then, you know, the script we provided with, you know, it literally walked through step by step, you know, when they would go to the video and when they go back live to Fred. And, and then when, when they were going to different slides in the slide deck. And what was wonderful, that was a total surprise that I hadn't expected was that on the YouTube on the chat, you know, you can you can have a chat going on the side of a live YouTube and, and our attendees were just having so much fun. There were we had a WSU couple. And so one of the Husky met and one of the the U W grads who's a board member was ribbing, one of the board members, WSU Kook and you know, saying that trees not going to go for any money because it's Coug tree and he's like, go for more than a husky tree and, and so it was so fun to watch them, watch it but being engaged and, and still laugh and joke with each other. And, and it was great, because the feedback we got when people would come pick up their auction items, one of the women had said that she really enjoyed the live tree auction piece of it virtually. Because when you're in the you know, the convention center, and you're all sitting there at your tables watching the live auction, you see who's bidding, but it happens so fast, you don't really have a conversation as much with your spouse, you know, it might be with a small, the spouse might give you that look like I think you're going too high. But there's there's not a whole conversation and, and because we did it with batches of trees so that there was like four or five minutes for people to be bidding. She said she and her husband were laughing a lot and talking about well, you know, who's bidding? Do you think he's as serious as you and and they were looking Oh, he's bidding, you know, he's already bid on a different tree. So they were trying to strategize in the moment. And so it was she said, they really enjoyed it. And so it was, it was really delightful to hear of the experience people had and how much they enjoyed it being virtual.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Well, I think that's such a good testament to, to maybe sort of also the informality of being able to kind of make your own experience and not feel so just like we're sitting at this table and we can't really engage right so they could she can get their spouse but also watching some of the other conversation between some people in more of a light hearted, silly way all while still raising amazing funds for a great organization.

[STACI WEST] Yeah. And we, you know, one of the one of the surprises for us was we opened the bidding on those 10 trees for the live auction a couple of days beforehand, thinking we would generate demand and interest and then the night of in the live event, there'd be even more bidding. And I think what happened was some people went as high as they were going to go, Okay, before Saturday. And so when they got to the live event, there wasn't as much bidding back and forth. And I think that, you know, looking back, I probably would say, just wait until that night to do it. But, um, but we opened the baskets up, I think 10 days before we had several travel experiences we opened a week before and then and then we might have opened with alcohol at the time. You can only open it the day of the event. So we opened it that morning. And so we did stage and Alan was helpful with that with greater giving staging, what opened when and that kept people interested, but it also gave you more excuses to shoot out an email or to make a Facebook post and, and generate some urgency around bidding.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN]  Oh my gosh, I think what you just said is brilliant. And such a like, if you get nothing from what we've talked about thus far like that is gold. Because I agree with everything you just said yes, creating urgency creating several ways and reasons for people to come back. And, and see more about what you're doing. Like, that's, that's brilliant. Um, and I also love the simplicity with the fact that you just streamed live to YouTube. Like, yes, that's definitely smart.

[STACI WEST] Um, so did you. I saw other local nonprofits do it, live to Facebook. And, and I was amazed at how well that went. And I think that was also a great way to have that chat going. And so you know, whether it's going for free for Facebook or doing what we did with a production company to YouTube, I think what we had there was, it was a failsafe we paid, we paid to ensure nothing would go wrong. And if it did go wrong, we had experts who could fix it on the fly. But just having a way for people to interact in comments and chat was great.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN]  Okay, so I have two questions about how you manage that. So did you have so you mentioned that some of your team was in the background off camera? And so how did you make it clear where people needed to go to register and bid if they were there last minute, and also did were you guys that in the background, commenting and moderating the comments that were coming through.

[STACI WEST] So we posted on Facebook, and then included information in the emails we were sending to people who registered. And then through greater giving, you can send out those text messages and emails. And so we just tried to keep repeating, you know, here's where you go to register. Once you've registered, here's the link to YouTube. And, and to that event, and then we we tried to communicate in those in those different messages that you needed to go into YouTube. And I think you had to actually sign in with like a Gmail account for the chat to show up. And then for the staffing, it was interesting, because in an in person event, you need the entire United United Way team and all of the volunteers there in person to do everything. Yeah. And and this time, the United Way's he was so excited. They're like, Well, how do we support it? virtually. And so, um, you know, they had their resource development team, and I am on YouTube and jumping in with the chat. And I jumped in chatting, so I was sitting, you know, 20 feet away from Fred on the other side of the camera. And I would comment something in the chat as well. And so it was, it was kind of fun. It really was it was a whole different way of interacting with folks. But so 21st century to Yeah, yeah.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] So let's get down to it. Like, what were the end results? Like? How did and you don't have to share specific numbers, but like, how did that go for you guys, as far as trying to reach your overall goals that you had set for this event, because this is an annual event? Before, you know, you had to kind of pivot and, and make make an adjustment.

[STACI WEST] So our expenses were a bit higher. And then our sponsorships were down. And we didn't find that surprising just with what was happening with businesses in the economy. We had so many people wanting to support it The following year, which is great. And so we still raised a significant amount of money. It just was after the increased expenses less than what we had hoped for. It was more in line with, you know, what we raise the first and second year, but we had been, you know, if it had been an in person year, we were, you know, we were really aiming high. And so we'll do that this year instead. But it really was more expenses, but we knew that going into it because you know, things would just be different. And then just some of the sponsorships were lower, but you know, the people who stepped up. It was amazing. The volunteers stepping up our board members, the United Way board members were incredible. They were donating their time they were attending. They were they donated gift cards that we auctioned off, they donated the baskets, you know, we pretty much said help us. Yeah, we we need baskets and you know, just whatever you think of and they were so creative. There was a baskets of you know, Portland Chilton cheese or something and Craig making out, you know, for for a special brunch on the weekend and and we had a lot of one one thing that everyone wanted to do was support local businesses. And so board members stepped up and got a lot of gift cards from local businesses and all of the restaurant gift cards, we we had more than 12. But we took 12. And we made a date night for a year. And it went for, I think 40% above what it was valued at. And so that was really important to everyone involved, as you know, especially last year with the pandemic, not asking businesses to help, but instead, what can we do to to highlight those businesses through different auction items? Oh, that's so good. Um,

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] And then what kinds of things do you think you'll take forward? Because it sounds like you guys are going to do it in person next year, or this year? So this November, but like, What kinds of things do you think maybe you'll integrate? Do you think you'll still stream it virtually so that people can attend? Like, did you notice that people were attending from outside the area? Like what? What kind of lessons Do you think you'll take with you?

[STACI WEST] We didn't notice anyone from outside the area. But I know from other local nonprofits, especially educational organizations, they did see that. And for what will take forward, I definitely know that our committee and the organization is interested in doing a virtual piece, we need to do some more research to see how we would do that and what would work best. But there were definitely people we believe, would participate. If it's virtual, rather than in person, not everyone wants to get dressed up, not everyone wants to be up till nine or 10. And you know, and in cold weather with, you know, and then we are going to do that tour of trees at the lodge. We're going to continue the online auction. And so that is different, and an additional scope than what we did the first two years. The second year of the event, we did a silent auction of Rhys. Um, but they the reason to do so well online, because I think it was harder for people to just see how attractive they were. They were. And so this year, we don't plan on having race, we'll just stick with baskets and wine, you know, and that sort of thing.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Yeah, well, I love that you It sounds like so you'll what this will be your fifth year or your fourth year. This will be our fourth year. Yeah, I love that you're even I mean, in an event that's so new like that, I love that you're still tweaking, I mean, even in light of COVID or outside of COVID. I mean, you would still be kind of tweaking and refining. And I think that's something that's so important to do with online events, and, and paying attention to what your attendees want. I also love the idea of still having a virtual piece to it.

I don't know if we shared this when we talked last but when I worked and ran an event for a previous employer of mine, we literally had somebody that had broken their leg right before our event and couldn't come but because we have the online option and like they can still engage virtually even during like the live auction and the paddle raise and all that they were still able to give the same amount which was pretty significant for us, they were still able to participate and give and we didn't lose out on that. That income. So I think just having that flexibility is wonderful.

[STACI WEST] Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I, I will say I watched and participated in probably a half a dozen online fundraisers to do research for our event last summer. And I got sucked into buying something at one of them. And, and so, you know, it was yes, these are all good causes. But sometimes a trip to Mazatlan is going to get your attention no matter who bids for it. And so one thing that we are going to do different this year that we had wanted to add last year but didn't because it wasn't in person was a family day component. And so the trees get set up, you know, there'll be moved from the lodge to the convention center the night before. And we had wanted to do a family day but knew in the first two years of planning that that was just too much to take on. You know we needed to get certain things in the Most important things, right. And so by adding a family day component, we're looking at how we can broaden the event to benefit and delight the community. And so we're hoping we can, you know, COVID restrictions, allowing, you know, number one have an impersonal event on a Saturday evening. But number two earlier that Saturday have pictures with Santa and hot cocoa. And people can come look at the trees, they're all at once as a family. And so we're, we're hoping it works out this year, we would love to do that for for more people to get to benefit to, to see the beautiful trees, but that also gives our sponsors more visibility for their investment and their time and support.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] And would you charge for those tickets? Or would you have that as a free event?

[STACI WEST] Our committee talked about it, because, you know, it would be wonderful to make it free for anyone to see, the challenge with that is, then what if you get 800 people showing up, and you only plan for 200. So I think we'll, we'll end up having tickets, you know, perhaps $20, a family something like that. And then work with a local photographer, to try to make pictures with Santa affordable. And, you know, not make it at the cost that it's prohibitive for a lot of people We'd love for a lot of people to be able to come through. But But we've also talked in the past, when you charge then people show up versus saying they'll show up and and and and then not showing up because they didn't actually have to put dollars forward.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] I think that's so smart. And at the end of the day, it is a fundraiser in order to support the community at large. And so I think charging is so smart for all the things that you just mentioned, I think that makes so much sense. And I think it's a really creative way to figure out, I mean, for any nonprofit, right when you're when you're spending and obviously it sounds like you have space that's donated to you, or maybe you're not paying much for your physical location. But for those of you that are having to pay for a ballroom or whatever it's like how can you really maximise on every single dollar and make that experience as broad and big as possible. I think that's that's a really good way to think outside the box to make the most out of that time and effort that you're putting into your event.

[STACI WEST] Yeah, yeah, you know, the, the Wenatchee festival of trees, I look all over the country at festival trees in the Wenatchee one here in Washington. It looks like from what I've seen, they have even a women's night, you know, the night before the big Gala. And it's tailored just to women. And so they're using that space in a creative way. Everything's already set up. And so and then they have family activities. And so it's I love stealing other people's wonderful ideas.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Absolutely, I mean, as long as you don't make sense for your audience and the culture around your organization, I'm all for not reinventing the wheel.

[STACI WEST] I agree with you there. Yeah.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Well, is there any I mean, it sounds like you guys learned a lot from this event, there's pieces that you'll take with you as you move forward. I mean, it for a crazy reason, you know, you're not able to hold it in person. Are you guys kind of creating both versions of your plan now for November? Or kind of how are you moving through the process of of what the event looks like this year.

[STACI WEST] So that is one reason where we're wanting to have a hybrid is because by virtue of having a virtual option, we've given ourselves a plan B. And so that is what we're going to be researching. That's our focus the next, you know, four to six weeks is to understand if we have in person and do virtual, how do we actually do that? You know, do you have someone going live from that convention center ballroom? And if suddenly we can't be in person? Are those the same people who can help you go fully virtual? Or do we have to have, you know, Plan B, C, and D. And so that's kind of what we're mapping out. Now. The good news is if, you know if for some reason, there are still restrictions to some degree, but events allowed. So right now we're in phase three, and I believe events up to 400 people are allowed in the phase we're in right now in Washington State. If that's where we were at in November, then that would work because the convention center we could spread people out more and just lay the facility out in the trees and the tables differently, that you have distance but you still could have 400 people there.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Well, and I mean, I guess maybe that's why You would have A, B, C and D plan is that like, let's say your capacity is half of that, you could still do a combination, because you're prepped with the, with the virtual experience.

[STACI WEST] Yeah. And I think our sponsor saw last year that, you know, our goal is just still raise those dollars, but keep it in a classy smooth manner. So, you know, we'll make sure we, we have all those plans in place. But I will say our sponsors have come back and are eager to participate again this year. And we're just grateful for them that, you know, they they gave us grace last year that it was not perfect. And understood that maybe they wouldn't get as much visibility in the same way with people in person, but are coming back and being supportive this year. So it's, it's great to see that we didn't lose necessarily a lot of momentum for for the following years.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Oh, that's so good. And I think what you're highlighting there is it's all about communication, like expectations might be different. But there's things outside your control, and we're all human beings. And at the end of the day, we're here to support a certain mission and a cause. And so being honest and communicating with your sponsors and bigger donors is not a negative thing.

[STACI WEST] Yeah, yeah. And I think it goes with the United Way brand, you know, they, they expect United Way as a longtime organization, and it's been in our community over 60 years. And, and so I think, you know, what, what they expect from United Way they got with this event, yeah. And it, you know, resonated with them, the good being done in the community. So yeah, I'm excited. I'm thrilled with how it went last year, but excited to see what we do this year. And I personally think by November, people will be so eager to kick off the holidays, that I am hoping we're in person. And I'm hoping we beat 400 people. More than that.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] I agree. Because we're you know, hopefully you can have your family and everybody all back in your home again. So why not have a splashy treat to show off to your family that you can finally have all over your extended family, you can find? Well, is there anything else that you you know, any lessons that you learned, or anything else that you might want to share? As people are really just trying to navigate through what these events look like for them?

[STACI WEST] I would say don't hesitate to make a cold call to another nonprofit. I was so grateful last year to the organizations that when I googled festival of trees or googled virtual fundraiser, I reached out to nonprofits in Georgia and asked for input and ideas and how did they do something and and so don't hesitate to reach out because I think people understand how, how weird The world is right now, especially last year and are willing to help. And so that that was wonderful. I was so glad people were so helpful. And we'll be definitely watching between now and November, how others are doing it and asking again, what were their lessons learned?

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] That's incredible. And the nonprofit community, I feel so amazing, and how they're willing to support each other and give their tips and tricks. And, you know, here's what we learned. And here's how you can do better. So that's a great, I think that's a great way to end this episode. And I'm just so thankful that you shared your time, not once but twice with us to kind of give your thoughts and feedback on on what you guys have experienced.

[STACI WEST] Like I appreciate appreciate you asking it's it's a wonderful opportunity to, to share lessons learned and really do some justice to all the people who helped make it happen last year, so. So we are we're excited about this year for sure.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] That's awesome. Well, we will have all of the things in the show notes. As far as the last episode, if you want to talk about kind of where Stacy's head was that when they were in just prep mode, compared to now. And if you have any questions for her, we'll make sure to link up all that contact information in there as well. Stacey, thank you so much for being here. And if people want to find out more about your particular United Way chapter is I don't know if that's even the right term. But anyway, how did they find out more about you guys and what you're doing?

[STACI WEST] The best way is to Google United Way of Benton and Franklin counties.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN]  Awesome. Well, there you go. Well, thank you so much for joining me.

[STACI WEST] All right. Well, thank you, Sami, I appreciate it.

[CLOSING] Huge thank you again to Staci for joining us today. Such a great conversation and such a great way to kind of bring it all home. I love the lessons that they learned. I love the way that they're going to be tweaking the event and keeping some of the pieces even though they're going to be going into an old person and you know It's just fun to kind of brainstorm and talk through what some of these events look like and how we pull them together. So I hope you were as inspired as I was to kind of brainstorm ways to get out there and raise more money for your organization and find a new and unique ways. Thank you so much for listening. And I hope that you'll subscribe wherever you listen and leave us a little review over on Apple podcasts so that we can reach more folks that are trying to do better in their community, raise more money and do all the things to support their mission. I look forward to seeing you in the next one.


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