When an unpredictable, sudden change in planning sweeps you up and carries you away, it’s important to stay flexible and ready to act.
Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Houston, the largest, one-to-one mentoring agency in the country, found those same qualities served them well last year when they needed to quickly switch from hosting their yearly gala to hosting a virtual fundraiser during the pandemic. Their resiliency paid off with a boost in donations and valuable insight into how to take future fundraisers to the next level as a hybrid event.
Big Brothers Big Sisters Houston
For seven years, BBBS hosted BIG Taste of Houston, a popular annual fundraiser that celebrated the local restaurant and bar scene. The funds collected went toward the many worthy programs they offer the city’s children throughout the year. It is their largest fundraiser of the year, with as many as four hundred guests and a typical goal to raise $160k or more.
During the Taste of Houston, guests enjoy taste testing and socializing but, with the mandated restaurant closings, BBBS’s entire event was in jeopardy, along with the nonprofit’s activities that are funded by the donations collected throughout the evening. Organizers were suddenly faced with a mountain of questions and uncertainty. Could they carry on with this winning theme? How can they draw the same amount of interest during an online program? And of course, how do you engage virtual donors when the program is based around food and drink?
Moving a Gala Online
Taking a new approach to a tried and true formula presents a lot of unknowns, but the fundraising team at BBBS took on this challenge with a spirit of adaptability and a “failure is not an option” attitude. They began by examining the money streams they have come to rely on during a live event, ticket sales, appeals, sponsorships, raffles, etc. They used the data to guide them in their decisions about what to prioritize during a virtual event and how to keep their relationships with sponsors in place.
Next, they looked at the program and got creative. They put on their innovative thinking caps and transformed their regular theme into a new one that could be enjoyed at home. This resulted in the virtual BIG Taste at Home fundraiser. Organizers provided a variety of food and wine “tastes” from Houston’s local food scene in a swag bag that was delivered to attendees’ homes just before the evening’s activities began. The program’s activities took guests through each culinary experience together, which left open multiple opportunities to effectively promote their sponsors while eliciting a feeling of community, even when their guests were spread across the city.
Throughout the program, they continued to hold raffles and a silent auction was opened prior to the start of the program so guests could explore the offerings and tag items with alerts so bidders wouldn’t miss bidding on their favorite prizes. The whole program was live-streamed, which allowed their guests to vote for the best chef after they had finished the meal. Later, the CEO of BBBS took the stage to thank everyone who participated, present the organization’s work, and make one last appeal for donations. At the evening’s conclusion, a bottle of wine was raffled off to those who made it to the end of the program and a prize was awarded to the chef who won the most votes after the meal.
Organizers relied on help from their skilled audio-visual team to manage their online presence, handle technical issues, and monitor the fundraising activity and tools. The Virtual Professional Event Services team was tasked with managing the data entry for the silent auction and other transactions.
The virtual program mirrored BBBS Houston’s typical pre-pandemic program, with interactive moments, socializing, fun activities, and the same sophistication that is expected at their yearly gala. Their flexibility, creativity, and hard work paid off by garnering $17K—over $10K more than their goal! The virtual event was able to mimic their popular live gala in its program and essence while creating an interactive program that was adaptable enough to keep their online guests engaged and feeling a part of a larger group.
A New, Successful Approach to Fundraising
The BIG Taste at Home took over when hosting the regular BBBS fundraiser was made impossible. The flexibility and resilience of the planning team focused on the most important aspects of their regular program, condensed them into a program that would fit a virtual format, and relied on their ingenuity to address the challenges that came with converting a long-established, successful fundraiser into a virtual unknown. Their efforts continued their long-standing winning streak of achieving their yearly fundraising goal, even dramatically exceeding it! The BIG Taste at Home fundraiser brought together BBBS supporters for an enjoyable, sophisticated evening of culinary exploration and laid the groundwork for the next generation of fundraisers: the hybrid event.
While the sudden changes forced on event planners last year may have been anxiety-inducing, the lessons learned throughout 2020 can be applied to hybrid fundraising and bring in even more donors! Whether they choose to attend an in-person gala or join in online from the comfort of their own home, donors will be welcomed into the Big Brothers Big Sisters Houston’s family, while enjoying the delicious food and drink that makes their city a foodie haven!
Read more about the Big Brothers Big Sisters BIG Taste of Houston event Here: