The New Normal: Virtual Event Recap

 

Thank you again to everyone who joined us on The New Normal to talk about what happens when a crisis interferes with your spring event schedule. Huge thank you to our panelists for sharing their wisdom and lessons learned. Unfortunately, we had some technical difficulties that kept us from recording this week’s session, so below you’ll find a full written recap. It includes all of the panelist’s lessons learned and best advice for organizations taking the virtual event plunge. 

Don’t forget to register for this week’s The New Normal: Your Mission Still Matters – Finding Your Narrative in a Crisis.

 

Shannon Greene, AVP of WalkMS

The WalkMS event season hosts 60+ events that run March-June each year, representing 95% of their WalkMS events. Just one weekend into their season, COVID-19 forced the team to bring their events online and find virtual ways to rally their top teams and fundraisers. “We were mindful of the language we used to our participants,” Shannon explained. “We aren’t ‘cancelling’ events, we are ‘flipping’ them to a new format that enables us to keep pushing forward.” Instead of live WalkMS events, the organization is using a combination of team captain meetups, fundraiser outreach and a Saturday livestream broadcast using Zoom and Facebook live. 

 

What is one thing that went well? 

“We quickly started team captain meetups, using GoToMeeting. This allowed us to connect with event leaders and keep them up to date and engaged with our mission, even when we couldn’t see them face to face. The heart of our event is relationships and finding ways to connect with people is critical, even when the events themselves look different.” 

What is one thing you would do differently? 

“We found really quickly that people wanted WAY more information than usual and a lack of clear information created more panic and individual problem-solving among our participants. We recently started daily updates, both internally and externally. Even when the answer is “I don’t know yet, but we’re thinking about that and figuring it out,” it creates a smoother process and makes everyone feel better and more engaged.” 

What is one piece of advice you would give to people making the switch? 

“Be OK with imperfections. It won’t go perfectly and that’s ok – this is about your community and doing the best you can.” 

You can view their Walk MS broadcast here, or tune in live on Saturdays at noon. 

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Dick Sesler, Founder of Camp Blue Skies

Camp Blue Skies offers week-long camps for adults with developmental disabilities. Their camp season starts in March and the organization made the difficult decision to cancel two weeks of camp, as well as their annual Hoops for Camp bracket fundraiser. “It was tough because many of our campers look forward to this week all year – some as much as Christmas,” said Dick Sesler. The staff responded by immediately creating camper packets that were mailed to each participant, including their camp t-shirt and gear they would normally receive and doing virtual meetups for campers. 

What is one thing that went well? 

“We started a private Facebook page that allowed our campers to stay connected. They are posting photos in their camp shirts, responding to questions and engaging with each other and our staff, even though we can’t be together in person. It’s providing a sense of community, despite the cancellations.” 

What is one thing that has been especially challenging? 

“We did a video campaign for campers and supporters to encourage connection. The videos were great to drive connection, but they were challenging to put together logistically. We had a lot of audio issues and I wish we could have invested in the right equipment ahead of time.” 

What is one piece of advice you would give to people making the switch? 

“Get full buy-in from your staff and stakeholders. The decisions are hard and making them without your full team would be even harder. It has also helped to push people out of their comfort zone – it has forced us to experiment with things that aren’t necessarily comfortable, but they are so important.” 

Find Camp Blue Skies here

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Kristin Beck, Social Venture Partners Charlotte

Social Venture Partners Charlotte works with their class of 20 nonprofits for ten months prior to their capstone live event called SEED20. The event is defined by networking, pitches, live voting and a celebration for the winner. Kristin and her team had only a couple of weeks to flip their event from the live version to online. The plan changed multiple times over those weeks, in response to the evolving COVID situation, but the team ended up producing a pre-recorded live broadcast that ticket buyers could watch on-demand. Each of the nine on-stage participants recorded their pitch in one take and the team pieced together a video hosted by the Creative Mornings team. They also extended live voting by 48 hours, allowing more people to watch and participate. 

What is one thing that went well? 

“I’m really proud of how our team pushed through and made quick decisions. We knew we couldn’t postpone because the Knight Theater is booked so far in advance, so we committed really early to producing an event that would stay true to the spirit and integrity of our mission, even if it looked different than what it was ‘supposed’ to look like.” 

What is one thing you would do differently? 

“We had to cut off ticket sales in the morning on event day. I would like to have continued selling tickets until the event started, opening it to more people. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make the logistics work – I didn’t feel confident in our ability to get the right messaging out in a timely way. If we’d had more time, I would have figured out how to make that work.” 

What is one piece of advice you would give to people making the switch? 

“Two things. Hire the best experts you can. Our video team literally saved our event and I’m so grateful we spent the money. I know so many of our budgets are tight, but sometimes its worth spending a little to make it go well. 

Second, it was critical for our team to have a strong decision cadence. The fast pace means that the whole team has to be on the same page, so we had strong communication protocols and really prioritized the decisions that needed to be made, then moved forward quickly.” 

Find the 2020 SEED20 winner here

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Sil Ganzo, OurBRIDGE for Kids

Just days before their first-ever dinner fundraiser, Sil learned that OurBRIDGE would need to make significant changes to their event. They quickly moved the event auction online and let it run for the week, but the team was unsure how to proceed with the dinner. Just four days before event day, someone suggested that Sil use Zoom to host a 20-minute version of the event at lunchtime and incorporate ideas that were originally intended to be part of the event agenda.. Counter to what they thought would happen, people continued to buy tickets, even after it was clear the was changing formats. The team will plan a fall celebration, but the event ended up being profitable, even though the format changed.

What is one thing that went well? 

“Our pre and post-event communication was very strong. I’m proud that we were able to  keep the flavor and culture of the event alive, in line with our mission. For example, a group of Nepali dancers were originally supposed to perform and we were able to show a video. The planned menu was Argentinian food, so we shared a recipe for chimichurri sauce. I’m also grateful that the technology all worked the way it was supposed to!”

What is one thing you would do differently? 

“I wish I had made a more direct ask over Zoom. The event was a lot of fun, but the format through me a little and I wish I had made a specific fundraising ask at the end.” 

What is one piece of advice you would give to people making the switch? 

“Just a few minutes before our online event started, someone told me to give myself grace for the things that didn’t go exactly right. We’ve never done these things before and we all need to embrace the challenge.”

Follow OurBRIDGE for Kids here.

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Don’t forget to register for this week’s The New Normal: Your Mission Still Matters – Finding Your Narrative in a Crisis

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