AdvoTalk: Behind the scenes – How a successful gala went digital

Sarah Durham (00:00:13):

Hey folks. A bunch of people are starting to join us right now. We are officially going to get started in a couple of minutes while we wait for more folks to log in. It looks like a bunch of people are coming in. Now I want to just call your attention to the chat feature. By now I’m sure you are all very comfortable in Zoom and very used to using these features. You’ll see in the chat panel I have already dropped in the biographies of our two guests today Michelle and Theresa. And I would encourage you to chat to us. You have the option in Zoom Webinar to chat to everybody or just to chat to the panelists. And we would welcome hearing from you. If there’s anything in particular you’d like to get out of today’s webinar, feel free to chat us who you are, maybe where you are.


Sarah Durham (00:01:07):

Today I’m in central Massachusetts. And if you have anything in particular you were hoping we are going to cover today don’t hesitate to chat it to us and we will try to tackle your questions as we go. I am just looking at the time and it’s about a minute after. So I think we will get started. I’m going to invite my colleagues to come on camera. We’ll do a little bit of housekeeping and then we will dig into the substance of our conversation. So for those of you who I’ve never met, my name is Sarah Durham. I’m the CEO of Advomatic and I will be your emcee or your host for our conversation today. And I’m joined today by Michelle and Theresa. Again, their bios are in the chat. If you want to learn more about them, they are both awesome.


Sarah Durham (00:02:08):

And this webinar was Theresa’s idea because Advomatic is an agency that helps nonprofits develop and support their websites. We work in Drupal and WordPress and in 2020, what we saw was so many of our clients had to pivot from things they would otherwise have done in-person to go virtual and to figure out how to do things digitally. And that meant a lot of new opportunities and challenges for staff, people like Michelle. And it also meant a lot of great new uses of technology and integration to the website and Theresa and Michelle worked really closely on the project we’re going to talk about a bit more today. But we’ve seen this as a pattern with many organizations and I suspect this is why you are all joining us here today is that we’ve got to get at doing things digitally and having events online.


Sarah Durham (00:03:03):

And Michelle came up with some really, really remarkable ways to do that, that we’re excited to share with you today. So before we dig into that, a little bit about the format: a lot of what we’re going to do today is kind of interview style, Theresa and Michelle are going to be having a conversation, and Michelle’s going to show you some of the things that will help bring it all to life and hopefully inspire you a bit with all of that. And then along the way, I’m going to be managing and monitoring the chat panel and the Q&A panel. So I’m going to be breaking into the conversation periodically to bring your questions to Michelle or Theresa. So don’t hesitate as they’re talking, if you’re wondering about something or you would like us to dig in a little deeper on something. Use the Q&A and put it in there or chat it to me as a panelist.


Sarah Durham (00:03:53):

And I will do my best to make sure your questions get addressed as we go. And we’ll be doing that throughout the conversation. And if time allows, we’ll leave a little bit of time at the end to do some additional conversation if need be. So we’ll talk a bit about the planning process of planning a virtual event. Michelle’s going to do a lot of showing and telling about what it looked like along the way and what it looked like in its final format, and then some of the lessons and takeaways post-event, how to get the most mileage out of, out of the whole thing. So that’s that. We’ve got some people chatting in. We’ve got Denise from Portland. Again the bios don’t seem to be visible, so I’m going to repost those in a minute. Welcome, Julie. Glad you’re here. Hi Beth. All right, let’s get going. I’m going to repost those bios in the chat and I’m going to hand it off to my colleague Theresa to kick us off.


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:04:52):

Great. So part of today’s conversation will be just that, a conversation, and part of it we’ll have some slides to show you as well. So Michelle, do you mind sharing your screen and we can just quickly introduce the Shriver Center.


Michelle Nicolet (00:05:15):

Great. So my name is Michelle Nicolet, I’m the Marketing Director at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law. And just a quick introduction about who we are. We are advocates for economic and racial justice. We’ve been around for a little over 50 years and have done a lot of work in Illinois, but also across the country. And we’re continuing that work through litigation, policy, advocacy and training advocates across the country to undertake the work for justice together. We’re building a future where all people have dignity and power under the law. So that’s a little bit about us.


Michelle Nicolet (00:05:58):

I’m on a three person communications team, and we worked very closely with our development team to pull off this virtual gala that we’ll be talking about today,


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:06:11):

Right. And to give a little bit of background, Shriver Center usually holds this big fundraising event, their gala, in-person each fall. And these are pretty impressive events. I mean, Trevor Noah was the host of the, I think it was the 2019 gala and Shriver Center brought in nearly a million dollars. So, you know, giving up an event like this, even with, you know, all the craziness of 2020, it felt like it would be a missed opportunity. So it kind of seemed inevitable that we’d have to take the event online and make it a virtual event and obviously work together to make sure that your website reflected this. And then not only that, but I understand too, that the Shriver Center brought on a new executive director in the summer last year as well. So this was potentially a great way to introduce your new executive director as well.


Michelle Nicolet (00:07:17):

Yeah, that’s right. I have a little slide recapping, sort of the transition from 2019 to 2020. 2019 was our 50th anniversary. So it was a gala and then some, a little bit extra. And we did, we had, I think 800 to 900 guests. Trevor was s our keynote. Maria Shriver was there. David Axelrod was there. It was really exciting. And then, the prospect of moving all of that to a digital platform this year in light of the circumstances we all find ourselves in was pretty daunting at first. We started to wrap our heads around it, I think in a real serious way, early on in the spring. Understanding we weren’t going to be able to do a big in-person event but excited about the opportunity that putting something in a digital format would offer us among other things.


Michelle Nicolet (00:08:20):

It created opportunities for us to reach a national audience, which we typically hadn’t done with these types of galas. And it’s because we’re located in Chicago and we’re mostly drawing an audience from folks in our area. So we began planning early on in 2020, but really began planning in earnest around May of last year. One of the first steps we took was just to take a look around the room and see what other people were doing. And I know I reached out to you pretty early on, Theresa and asked for other clients that you’re working with, that you were seeing doing these kinds of genital events. And we took a look at some of those. Vera Institute was one that I think put on a really successful event. The Ms. Foundation feminist block party was another one that we looked at here in Chicago.


Michelle Nicolet (00:09:13):

We have friends of the Chicago Foundation for Women and their virtual impact awards happened virtually that spring. So those were all places where we were taking a look and learning from what other people were doing. Another thing that we found helpful as sort of a planning tool, as we started to ideate around how we could take our in-person event into a virtual digital space, was to really just sort of sit down and think, now what are the traditional elements of an in-person gala? What is the real goal behind those kinds of elements and how could we drag that kicking and screaming into more of a digital platform?


Michelle Nicolet (00:10:00):

So, you know, even simple things like having a signature cocktail, which we would typically have at an in-person gala, is there something that we could do in a digital space to invite people to participate in that kind of an experience? Or how do we create networking opportunities for people? Or how do we acknowledge our sponsors? What are the opportunities there? So not all of the things that we put in paper or on this sort of whiteboard of ideas came to fruition in the end, but I found it was a useful exercise in helping us to start to think outside the box and think about what kinds of experiences we could offer our guests and how we could iterate off of what we had been doing traditionally. Another, I think a key sort of planning tool for us was our virtual gala concept paper.


Michelle Nicolet (00:11:02):

And this was really led and developed by our VP of Development, Keenya Lambert. She brought it to the table early on to us that spring. It articulated the overall concept for what we were looking for and the theme. We developed a theme that was around racial justice, which is consistent with our mission, but also timely in light of everything that was happening this spring and early summer. And Keenya was interested in developing a three-day program which is what we ended up having. The first day was about activism and the arts. And that was hosted by our Professionals’ Council which is sort of like our young professionals. The second day was about movement building and we had a couple of high profile keynote speakers who were interviewed by our incoming president and CEO, Audra Wilson. And the third day was a day that was more about the future of activists, and children and families in particular, which was a really fun opportunity for us because we had wanted to do more of a family-oriented event for a long time now and this was an opportunity for us to do that. So those are some of the planning things that got us going.


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:12:43):

Well, I know that whenever you have a virtual event it can be a little time-consuming to consider, you know, all of the different platforms that are out there. So Shriver Center ended up using MobileCause for the gala. And how did you actually go about choosing that platform?


Michelle Nicolet (00:13:06):

Once we really sat with this concept paper for a bit and collaborated across both the communications and development teams around fleshing these concepts out and building on them. On the comms side, we were really focusing immediately on messaging and the kinds of outreach materials that we were going to have to put together to make the event successful. On the development side, they really put their pencils and papers together to start soliciting speakers and bringing other stakeholders into the event. We recognized early that we were gonna have to have some kind of special sort of platform to deliver the event to our supporters and guests. And we formed a small subcommittee across the team. It was myself, our events manager who’s on our development team, and our database manager who’s on our development team and is really close to our Blackbaud and everything that we knew we were going to want to integrate with the platform. And we started looking around everywhere for what we could use for a tool. Let me see if I can share my screen again here.


Michelle Nicolet (00:14:39):

This is a snippet from a document that we collaborated on. A spreadsheet where we were looking at a whole bunch of different tools, some of which were meeting platforms, some of which were fundraising platforms, some of which were like, just streaming video platforms, and what capabilities they had. And we didn’t start with all of these questions. This is just a sampling of some of the questions that we were asking about these platforms. But we knew that we wanted something that was going to stream video. We knew that we wanted to have something that had integrated fundraising tools that you weren’t going to have to take the user off of the gala presentation or the video itself in order to make a gift. We were interested in tools that were going to integrate with our existing platforms like Blackbaud, which is what we use for donor management.


Michelle Nicolet (00:15:38):

And then beyond that, it was sort of like, well, what do these things do? So all in all, we ended up looking at, I think almost a dozen platforms. We discovered along the way, really that the market for these things was still kind of emerging. And I think that may have changed now because this was more mid-spring to summer last year, that we were in the throes of looking at platforms. But we were mostly finding that there were some really great online meeting platforms. One of which we had already used in a previous event called Attendify. There were some pretty good fundraising platforms, but there wasn’t necessarily an integrated thing that we were looking for. But at the end of the day, MobileCause ticked off most of our boxes. And it also had the nice function of enabling us to send text messages to our guests and attendees and actually to our whole database, which is, was helpful as well. So we could ping people before the event. We pinged them after the event to remind them to complete donations. And we’ve got that capability now for the rest of the year. So we’ve been using that in other fundraising efforts, post-gala as well.


Sarah Durham (00:17:13):

Michelle, I just want to ask you a quick follow-up question, which comes in from my pal, Katie, who works at the National Brain Tumor Society. Katie asks: in this new digital landscape, how have you drawn the line between a digital event and a video in terms of roles, quality control, etcetera? I’m sure, I mean, I relate to that question a lot because as we’ve seen, I’ve been to a lot of virtual galas this year that were live streams where there isn’t, you know, there isn’t interactivity. So how did you think about that?


Michelle Nicolet (00:17:46):

As we were doing our research and looking around and seeing what other people were doing, we came to a conclusion fairly early on that we wanted our event to be pre-recorded because we wanted to have that level of control over the presentation. So that was also part of the complication for us in looking for gala platforms because many of them were more geared towards live streams. Although you could present recorded video through them, but it wasn’t necessarily like everybody was going to be viewing the recording at exactly the same moment and having the same experience on the timeline. So that was a little bit of an interesting problem to try and solve. I’ll jump ahead to my next slide, which is really also about sort of the video production process. We pretty quickly reached out to the video production company, who we had been working with for the last several years on our gala videos, which were usually in the neighborhood of five to seven minutes and said, “Hey, now we have three hours of gala programming that we need video for. Can you help us?”


Michelle Nicolet (00:19:04):

And they were fantastic in helping us to flesh out our ideas, coming up with a production plan document. There’s some snippets of some of the production plan. It was all color-coded based on who was involved in what and importantly, we discovered that we could actually crowdsource a lot of this stuff. We went to our Professionals’ Council and other stakeholders, and we asked them to participate in interviews that we were doing with various folks for various elements of the program. We asked people to shoot testimonials for us for the kids piece. We asked people who had kids to send us short clips of their kids, talking about how they want to be activists for justice. So that was all great, too. It was a lot of organizing and a lot of bits and pieces, but we brought all of that together, facilitated with documents like this master plan and our production company then was able to weave all of those pieces together and use our great branding elements from our branding guide and make us look really tight.


Michelle Nicolet (00:20:35):

I hope that’s responsive to that question.


Sarah Durham (00:20:39):

Yeah. We have one other kind of related question and you might, you might get to this, but this question is: did you have any auction components to your events and what that? Did that factor in as a consideration for your platform choice?


Michelle Nicolet (00:20:52):

That certainly is a consideration. Some of them do offer auction capability or raffle capability. We had decided relatively early on that we did not want to offer an auction or a raffle as part of our gala events. We were simply asking for straight up donations from our attendees, and of course we were soliciting sponsorships from our corporate sponsors ahead of time. So that’s where most of the revenue came in for our gala. But if that’s something that you want to offer as part of your event, there are certainly lots of platforms that do do that. And I think they have some pretty neat tools to leverage the digital space.


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:21:47):

Can you talk a little bit more about just the overall process? So you went through this pre-production document. It sounds like you coordinated a lot of different people, different roles. How did it, how did it end up kind of coming together?


Michelle Nicolet (00:22:10):

I actually don’t want to neglect talking about the website, which was another key piece of the pre-production, you know. You and I talked early on, I think it may probably be about, “Hey, we’ve got this gala coming up and here’s what we’re thinking.” And I think it was really important for us to start initiating those conversations early, even though we didn’t necessarily have all of the details cast in stone; most notably who the speakers were for the various nights or even fanatically where we were going with some of that stuff. So we did identify pretty early on, I think, what the elements were that we were going to want to show on the website. Things like obviously the event details, how to register, who our sponsors were and whatnot. So I gave that stuff to you. You guys started working with kind of a layout and a way to present it along the way.


Michelle Nicolet (00:23:16):

One of the other fun things that we did, I think again, an opportunity because we were in more of a digital space this year, was we engaged an illustrator named Trap Bob to do this bespoke illustration for our event which you see here on the gala page. And we use it throughout in the invitations and the email promotion on media and various spaces. And it was fun too, because when we went to our video guys and said, you know, how are we going to weave these threads throughout the event? One of the first ideas she came up with was to get a bullhorn and have people who are featured in some of these video snippets, talking through a Shriver branded bullhorn, which we did, which was fun. So we were able to sort of carry that bullhorn idea throughout.


Michelle Nicolet (00:24:19):

But we worked with you (Advomatic) over the course of the whole summer scaffolding this page together. We also worked with you once we selected MobileCause to integrate the MobileCause online registration and the donation stuff onto the website. So people could donate all through that platform, but they were staying on our website. And even when some things changed, like initially we weren’t going to have a host committee for the event, but we later decided to have a host committee for the event, you guys were super nimble in helping us bring that information onto the page. And I think that’s reflected in this last slide here. So here’s some of the other information that we were presenting on the site: the speakers, who our gala sponsors were, etcetera. And the page itself is actually still up on our website at If you want to see what the whole page looks like still.


Sarah Durham (00:25:30):

I’ll chat that out: Michelle, I have a couple of questions for you from folks who are chatting in. Could you speak a little bit, you know, you organize this as a three-day event. So there’s a question about why was it a three-day event? If you could talk a little bit about your thinking behind that? I think this is one of the interesting things when you start to explode the assumptions about what your event can be doing. Something like multiple nights as you did is one of the opportunities. So we’d love to hear more about that. We also have a few other questions around donations and around the site structure, too. So, let’s start with the format.


Michelle Nicolet (00:26:26):

I think it was just that once we opened up our minds to the possibilities, we had so many good ideas that it was hard to narrow it down into one day. We knew that we wanted to engage our Professionals’ Council, which again is sort of our young professionals board. They’ve been itching to participate in event planning of some sort for a while. So that was an objective. We knew that we wanted to position our new president and CEO, Audrey Wilson in her new position as a leader of the organization. We wanted to showcase her. So that was an important objective. And we knew that we wanted to raise a lot of money. So we also had this desire in the back of our heads to do something that was kid focused. And this gave us that opportunity.


Michelle Nicolet (00:27:26):

So the more that we started to ideate around speakers and who we could bring to the table, the possibilities that were now opened up to us because we were completely virtual and we could use these tools like Zoom and people’s iPhones and whatnot. I think we, at the end of the day, probably just had a hard time containing ourselves. The fun thing is we did end up having a lot of people come probably to, you know, to more than one night and bought the ticket. We sold tickets for a hundred dollars. And that got you admission to each of the three nights of the event. I don’t think there’s too many people who came to all three of the nights, but there were quite a few people who came to at least two because they were very different experiences. And if you had any interest in one of the speakers or part of what was going on that night, you know, people came, I will say two, three events. Three nights in a row is a lot. I’m not sure that we would necessarily do that again, just because it ends up being a lot. At the end of the day, we pulled it off.


Sarah Durham (00:28:49):

Yeah, it’s great. I mean, I bought a ticket and participated in some of it. And one of the things I appreciated about the multiple night format was also the way you were able to bring in so many different voices. You know, there were so many people inside and outside of the Shriver Center, who could, who could contribute to the content in this way. Some questions about donations, one of them from Brian who asks: what have you seen in terms of best practices for asking for donations during an event? So, you know, can you speak a little bit about how, you know, you said one of your primary objectives here was to get people to donate. So how did you, how was the call to action to make a donation embedded in these events?


Michelle Nicolet (00:29:33):

Let me just share my last couple of slides, because I have a couple of slides of what the actual platform ended up looking like which I think will help answer that question. This is the MobileCause platform. And as you can see this window here was where we were streaming our video each night. It was different. It had an integrated donate button right here and also donate buttons down at the bottom under these impact cards as well. So donate, donate, donate was kind of all over the platform. And again, one of the nice things about the MobileCause platform was when somebody clicked on the donate button, a little window would pop out here from the left hand side and they could fill out the donation form right there. It didn’t take them off into a different browser window or anything.


Michelle Nicolet (00:30:28):

They could still see what was going on in the, in the event itself. But I will say that the other thing that we did do is we put donate calls to action throughout in the videos themselves at various points when we were sort of in between speakers or there was like interstitials. There was a lot of sort of pop-up donation thing that our video producers integrated into the videos themselves. It’s a hard thing because you’re trying to give people a program and present them with information and speakers. Some of what we were presenting, especially on the second night which was a conversation with Ibram X. Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones about the history of racism were pretty heavy. And it was hard to kind of make a lot of calls for giving in that section of the program. But you just have to look for those opportunities and squeeze it in where you can and not forget to keep asking and keep asking and ask after, and ask before, you know, just keep asking.


Sarah Durham (00:31:55):

Thank you. So I’m going to pop off camera again so that Theresa and Michelle can continue to do their thing. I just want to note a couple things. We do have a bunch of questions. I’m going to let Theresa and Michelle talk a little bit more before we come to some of your additional questions, but I do have them so keep them coming. And I also want to flag for those of you who missed the chat, we are recording this. We’ll be posting the recording on the Advomatic website. Typically we do send some sort of follow up around that. So there will be an opportunity to share this when we post it. We will also transcribe it. So you won’t have to watch the whole thing to get everything Michelle has talked about here. You’ll be able to also pop through the transcription if you prefer.


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:32:32):

Well, there’s one thing that I wanted to bring up and it’s how some of these different platforms could potentially tie into your website. For Shriver Center, knowing that we were working with MobileCause, because Michelle, as you had said, we first started working on the landing page in the summer. I think you were sending a save the date, I think the first week of August. And so we just put together a landing page for the event itself for that timeline, without even knowing all of the details and because we knew we needed to iterate. This was an iterative process through and through. And we knew that we’d have to just continue to build out that page. And I just wanted to point out something for, for other people to consider when they are, you know, looking at other platforms.


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:33:22):

Obviously each platform has its pros and cons and it depends on what your organization needs. I remember that for MobileCause, because we had talked briefly about potentially taking that landing page that we had created on your website and actually transitioning it over to MobileCause because, you know, they had the ability to do that. So basically your team would have like one, one place to have everything all in one spot. And I remember that we talked about it and Advomatic actually recommended that we keep the landing page on your site and that’s really for a number of reasons. So the first is just because of the fact that you’d be driving people to your website. And as you mentioned before, any kind of virtual events, this is a great opportunity to expand your audiences and you know, what an amazing opportunity to also have other people who don’t necessarily know about Shriver Center learn more while they’re on your site. Another value though to that is that you, you can kind of retain some of that SEO value as well. And then finally, and I know we’ll kind of talk about this a bit more, but as you had mentioned, the gala page is still up on your site. So you could take some of those elements, the post-gala materials that you had created and keep that living if need be.


Michelle Nicolet (00:34:52):

Yeah. And it was great to have that guidance from you on that. I remember we had that conversation at one point about what’s the best way to handle this because a lot of people would put the entire gala experience, including the registration and everything up on the virtual platform. Many of them are constructed to allow you to do that. But we found that for the reasons that you articulated, it was much smarter for us to keep all of that content on our website. And in fact, it’s still living there and it’s an archive of the recordings from two of the three nights that we had of the event. And for a while, we were still getting donations through that page. So it’s been a good resource for us to have.


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:35:45):

That’s great. So I mean, I’m sure that a lot of people on this call and a lot of people just overall that will watch this later are probably planning their own virtual galas or big virtual events. So what kind of advice would you, would you give to people going through this experience?


Michelle Nicolet (00:36:05):

Well, the first is sort of obvious, but to start planning as early as you can, because it’s going to take longer and there’s going to be twists and turns along the way. I think that starting with your big ideas, like this concept paper that we had from our development leadership is super helpful because everybody can then come to that with their own perspective and from their own rules and add value to that and help you build the event out. I think we’ve already alluded to it a little bit, but don’t wait until you have all of the elements buttoned up before you start to develop your web page or think about your platform that you’re going to use. You don’t have to have all the questions answered. You have to know enough about what kind of event you want to throw and some of the elements that you want to offer your guests.


Michelle Nicolet (00:37:04):

And you’re going to discover things along the way, because you’re going to see that there are some possibilities, like sending text messages to our audience. We hadn’t really considered that until we looked at the MobileCause platform and they were woven in. We were like, “Hey, yeah, that could be kind of neat. We could use that.” And then maybe we could use it again in our year end campaign, which we did. So those are all opportunities. Another one is really to use your community of people as storytellers. As I said earlier, we crowdsourced a lot of the video among our staff and our donors. We recorded almost all of the rest of it in Zoom meetings. We really had a very limited amount of video that we had our video company come in and directly record. And mostly that was stuff that was featuring our new president and CEO.


Michelle Nicolet (00:38:02):

So you know, bring all of those elements together and invite those people to the party because they want to support you. They want to be part of the process. And they’re your best ambassadors too. And then finally reach out to your trusted partners like Advomatic for help early on and frequently throughout the process because you know, they’re the people who know you well, and if you give them a picture of what it is you’re trying to accomplish, they will help you meet those goals. I really appreciated all the help that you offered to me throughout the process, Theresa. And I think that we got to a really good place at the end and, and relatively smoothly in the scheme of things, given that we were kind of doing a brand new thing together. So I thank you for that.


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:38:57):

Yeah, of course. I mean, I definitely think that flexibility is key because you are taking so many different, I don’t know, teams and so many different elements and even so many different platforms, you know. Your donation platform, your event platform, your website, and you’re kind of tying it all together. So I, I think, you know, it’s kind of putting all of those puzzle pieces together and just knowing that in the very end, it will all fit together.


Sarah Durham (00:39:26):

A couple of questions that have come in that I think are a nice jumping off point in terms of some of the tips or recommendations you have Michelle and Theresa. Michelle, you talked earlier on about rethinking the things that go into a typical event. You even had the Spotify playlist of like what the vibe should be through the events. You really, you really embraced this kind of theme and what’s, you know, what’s the energy going to be like. So two questions that have come in that relate a bit to that. One question is, did you have swag for this event? And if so, how did you distribute it? And the other question is did you change your approach to inviting sponsors to support the event? Was that also rethought? And if so, how?


Michelle Nicolet (00:40:14):

No, we didn’t have swag, but that’s an interesting idea. And some of the things that I was looking at that other people were doing as virtual events were more experiential, and I think those are interesting ideas and worth exploring. You know, I saw some, a lot of people who are doing things like they would deliver a meal kit to you and you would cook the meal with the chef, live on the video and whatnot. And I personally think that would be a lot of fun to do that kind of thing. I’ve seen another one where people were doing homemade, a craft, like a soap making workshop together on behalf of a charity that brings fresh water to underserved communities. So you know, I think that there’s a, if, once you open up the creative juices, there’s a lot of ideas that you could get going. And I think I’ve forgotten your second question.


Sarah Durham (00:41:13):

Well, it was just about sponsorship. And if you also, how the virtual gala differed from how you had perhaps, or did it differ from how you would engage sponsors in the event previously?


Michelle Nicolet (00:41:24):

I think we had a relatively traditional sort of outreach to our sponsors. Most of them were people who we had worked with before as sponsors and were familiar with us. Especially after our 50th anniversary, which was a big blowout gala. Although we did have some new sponsors as well. I think that what was exciting about it was we were now offering them an opportunity to participate in a three day event and an event that probably, that definitely had a broader audience and that as you suggested, where it was bringing in a lot of new voices to the conversations. So there were a lot of people who were excited about that opportunity. It was also super timely because we were so focused on racial justice in this event and with everything that was going on in the country this summer, there were a lot of people who I think wanted to be part of that conversation as well.


Sarah Durham (00:42:25):

So, the last question I want to ask you before we wrap up this module, so that you can talk about sort of the post-event piece piece of this and how these things have lived on, goes back to your point about interactivity. We had a couple of questions from people, you know, one was, did you ever consider a hybrid event with some digital and some in-person? And the other was about the difference in experience and how you felt about it between a live streaming event versus an interactive event where maybe there is a live host or live emcee. So yeah, if you could speak to how you thought about that, that would be great.


Michelle Nicolet (00:43:05):

We didn’t really consider doing any live elements in this event. I think moving forward, we probably would consider doing that or having some kind of an emcee either doing that or creating some kind of space post-event where people could gather in small groups virtually and have conversations with one another. We felt like afterwards, especially with some of the heavy conversation we had, in particular on the second night of the gala, that we missed an opportunity maybe to create a space for our supporters to gather with one another and talk about what they had just heard from our speakers and maybe facilitate some of those conversations. And again, use it as an opportunity to, you know, bring them in and solidify their support for the organization. So I think that that is definitely something that would be on the table moving forward as we continue to explore how to do successful virtual events for the Shriver Center.


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:44:21):

Great. Well, I know you put in obviously a lot of time and effort and we kind of spoke just generally about the post gala, but how have you used a lot of the assets in the materials that you created for the gala? How have you used them since then?


Michelle Nicolet (00:44:43):

Well as I mentioned, we still have the gala page up. After the event, we had recordings of two of the three nights we have control over and we have put those recordings up on our YouTube channel and embedded them on the page. We sent out a follow up email, obviously to everybody who had registered for any one of the events. All told, I believe we had, I had those numbers here somewhere. We sold 200 tickets, but combined with the people who were entitled to tickets because they came in through a sponsorship. We estimate we had over a thousand guests across the three nights. And we got 3,600 unique views to that gala webpage in the lead up to the event from September 1st through October 10th. So the page had a lot of utility for us leading up into it. 


Michelle Nicolet (00:45:50):

I should have looked at the metrics actually for post-event, but we have been hosting the archive of the event there and we’ve been driving traffic there. We also took the video, which we had refreshed. And I think Sarah is going to chat out the link to our video. We posted that not only on no, we didn’t put it on other pages. The new About Us video is on our website because again, it’s featuring our new president and CEO and we use that refresh brand video in our year-end appeal as well, which was great. So we’ve managed to get a lot of mileage out of that. And we also went back to our video production company and we asked them to cut some snippets out of various videos that we produced for the event. And we used those shorter snippets in our year-end appeal on social media. I think mostly on Instagram.


Michelle Nicolet (00:46:54):

So, you know, there was some cute footage of people’s kids talking about how they were going to be the next generation of activists. And we were able to leverage 60 seconds of that on our social media channels, in connection with our year-end appeal. We did do that Spotify playlist, which initially was just an internal exercise for us to try and align around what kind of vibe we wanted our guests to feel at the event. And we ended up sharing that out with everybody after the event, you know, relive the magic. You know, enjoy the gala, enjoy our playlist kind of thing, which was fun. And I have one more thing and it’s escaping me now, but we have used all of these bits and pieces throughout on social media and in various spaces up to and including now. So, yeah.


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:47:57):

Yeah. And what I love about that, the collaboration that you had with, you know, your supporters and just key stakeholders is just crowdfunding those videos. I mean, that’s content that you could use, you know, later down the line too.


Michelle Nicolet (00:48:14):

Yeah. Yeah. One of the, on the first night, which was about the arts and activism, one piece of the program was one of our Professionals’ Council members interviewing two of our staff members, our legislative affairs person and the person who is the associate director of our Racial Justice Institute. And we’re, you know, lifting that video out and planning to use that in future outreach as well because it’s just such a nice showcase of some of the work and the people who are actually doing the work. And it was great to have a member of our Professionals’ Council, one of our supporters and a stakeholder in the organization interview the staff like that. I thought it was a, it was a terrific kind of way to present the work. 


Sarah Durham (00:49:08):

Michelle, I have a couple of questions that stream out of something you were just talking about I want to ask you, and I also just want to add to your last point. One of the events I went to last year that I thought was a really successful virtual gala was the Vera Institute of Justice gala. And one of the reasons I really liked that event was that there were people with all kinds of relationships to the Vera Institute interviewing each other in short segments throughout that. So you might have a board member interviewing somebody who worked in the organization. You might have a formerly incarcerated person who’d been involved in some of the programs that Vera does interviewing a donor. And the sort of bringing these couples together to talk, these pairings together to talk and interview each other was very compelling. And they also did it in these very short segments. So you only had about three minutes of each of these interviews, but by having a lot of them, it was, it was a great way to bring in a lot of different perspectives on the organization and the content.


Michelle Nicolet (00:50:14):

I loved that about the Vera Institute. And what was interesting was some of the people who you thought were going to be, keynoters like…oh, who was the comedian? Who was their sort of star person? I’m blanking on his name right now. But he ended up interviewing their executive director. You thought it was going to be about their star performer, but in fact, he was pulling the story out of the executive director, which I thought was fantastic.


Sarah Durham (00:50:43):

Yup, yup. The follow-up questions. I don’t know how much you are comfortable sharing, but there are some questions about revenue. One of the questions was about what was the cost of the ticket to attend. Another question was about how your event revenue for the virtual event compared to previous years when you did it in person, what was it? Did you meet your goals and also were your expenses lower or higher than the in-person event?


Michelle Nicolet (00:51:06):

Certainly our expenses were lower because we weren’t paying for a hotel and a rubber chicken dinner and all of the accoutrement of an in-person event. We did have some expenses related to speakers and video production and, and those kinds of things, but they were relatively small compared to what we would expense again on an in-person event. Our tickets were a hundred dollars a piece. But again, most of our guests came in through sponsorships. And we exceeded our revenue goal, which we had slightly reduced at the beginning of the year, given that we were in a pandemic and we knew we were not going to be doing a live in-person event. But all told we raised over $610,000.


Sarah Durham (00:51:58):

Very impressive. That’s awesome. So I just want to give us all a heads up. We’ve got about 10 minutes to go, and I do have a couple of other questions, but before we go to those questions, Theresa and Michelle, if there’s anything else you wanna, you wanna dig into, let’s do that first.


Michelle Nicolet (00:52:16):

The one thing that I just remembered I’d forgotten earlier when you were talking about the life after the event and whatnot too, it’s a little bit before the event, but after the event as well. One of the other cool things that I thought we did that was actually a brilliant idea from my boss, Ambar Mentor-Truppa was as I mentioned earlier, we hired an illustrator to do a bespoke illustration for the event. We actually got on Zoom or Ambar got on Zoom with her and interviewed her. No, it wasn’t Zoom. It was Instagram Live. It was our first experiments with Instagram Live and she did an interview with the artist and talked to her about her process and about her work and why she’s working in this kind of space and what attracted her to, you know, working with us, etcetera.


Michelle Nicolet (00:53:06):

And it was a terrific little promotional piece for the event, but it also lives on, on our Instagram channel, along with all of these other bits and pieces that we’ve been able to put out there. And I thought it was super fun. We also were able to get a snippet of her talking about her approach and her process and incorporated that into the arts and advocacy night of the gala itself. So I think the lesson there is just to look for some of those unexpected things or opportunities where you can put pieces together in new and interesting ways, because again, you’re just in this digital space and there’s so many more possibilities.


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:53:51):

The only other question that I had, I think Michelle, when we had talked about different platforms that you were considering, I think that you had mentioned a challenge was accessibility. And I was wondering if, if there were any of the platforms that you saw out there that had, that were more accessible than others.


Michelle Nicolet (00:54:14):

It really revolved around closed captioning. And you know, YouTube does do that a little bit. If you put a video up in advance, you can get it captioned or you can hire a service to do that for you. I think we were, we were thinking that through later in the game and we were also, our video production calendar didn’t necessarily give us enough time to do captioning the way that we would have liked to have done it. So it was a lesson learned for us that you need to put accessibility more on the front burner in the planning process and think that through, about how you want to make your event accessible to audiences who, you know, are going to be there and to everyone, truthfully.


Sarah Durham (00:55:12):

So you know, before we wrap up, I want to just underscore, you know, I think so many of the things you thought about in the planning and in the execution of this event really hinge on your internal teams’ creativity and the fact that you began this process by taking this kind of 30,000 foot look at what your gala is and what does it have to be? What are the rules that perhaps could be broken or the sacred cows and the fact that you challenged those assumptions and you looked at ways to bring in more voices and more participation, I think is really the key to the success of this event. Because you didn’t just try to take the old thing and move it to a digital platform. You really used it as an opportunity to reinvent with a lot of creativity.


Sarah Durham (00:56:05):

Which was one of the reasons it was really fun. I think for our team to work with you on this and to observe that is to see all that creativity in action. I even have the Shriver Center holiday card right here on my desk, which I love, which again, plays with illustration and the brand in such a compelling way. We do have some followup questions from people. A lot of them are very specific about different tools, and so what we’re going to try to do is address those one-on-one. We also have some requests from people who are asking if the Shriver Center is comfortable, if any of those theme papers or other things you’ve worked on might be shared. And what I’m going to ask, those of you who are listening, who are interested in that is please email me directly and I will forward your request on to Michelle.


Sarah Durham (00:56:54):

And if Michelle is comfortable sharing what you’ve asked with you, she will do so directly. But I think a lot of that is probably proprietary information that may not be shareable. So we’ll, we can take that on a case-by-case basis. And I also want to flag that we are going to post this recording on the website, I think I mentioned this earlier, with the transcription. We’ll send those of you who registered a link to that once it’s live so you can look through it. Michelle or Theresa, any parting words of advice, or you know, I wish I had known then what I know now, tips before we wrap up.


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:57:41):

I mean, for me, I just feel like, you know, again, have the flexibility, but also have fun with it. I think you brought up a good point, Sarah, and that you know, this is a great opportunity to rethink what a virtual event can and should be specifically for your organization. And I think, you know, Shriver does a lot of great things on brand, and I feel like bringing your brand into that conversation, too, so that it really looks and feels and everything about your organization is translated to that event, I think is very key.


Michelle Nicolet (00:58:15):

Yeah, I would reiterate what you’re saying and what Sarah said too. It’s, it’s really, it’s not an impediment. You have to look at it like it’s an opportunity and go with the creativity. We were fortunate in that we had relatively recently rebranded, but we’d had about a year to kind of breathe and live with our brand. And Sarah and I were talking earlier, I think that this event was a really fun opportunity for us to really kind of stretch that brand in ways that we hadn’t imagined before because we’d never done anything like this before. So looking back, I really appreciate that we were able to do that and look forward to continuing to do that kind of work.


Sarah Durham (00:58:59):

Yeah. And I think we also should give a special shout out to Ambar. You mentioned her earlier, and I think she might be dialed into this call. Ambar, who leads the team that Michelle works on, is such a great communicator and such an example of what excellence in nonprofit communications is about. It’s really, I imagine it’s also really an advantage to have somebody like that central to the work, too. So shout out to you, Ambar! Yep. Okay. We are at the top of the hour, we will email you all with follow-up materials. We really appreciate everybody who took the time to log in today and ask so many questions and join us. And Michelle, a huge, huge, thank you to you. Not just from me and Theresa and the team at Advomatic, but from everybody here today, who’s had the great benefit of learning through your hard work. Some things that will hopefully make 2021 a little bit smoother and maybe more inspiring for them in their organizations. So thank you. And Theresa, thank you for being a great leader and facilitator on this project with the Shriver Center and also today. Really appreciate you and your leadership, too, of course. All right, everybody. Thanks for joining. See you next time.