A Virtual Gala During COVID Times

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Case Study: Ceres

Ceres is a sustainability nonprofit organization working with the most influential investors and companies to build leadership and drive solutions throughout the economy. Through powerful networks and advocacy, Ceres tackles the world’s biggest sustainability challenges, including climate change, water scarcity and pollution, and inequitable workplaces.

The Challenge

COVID-19 has had implications and caused challenges for many organizations. As mandates were put in place and the safety of our team and attendees were vital, Ceres was forced to rethink their annual gala. 

Ceres’ annual benefit was  transformed into “An Evening With Ceres (at home)”. In collaboration with Ceres, we needed to find a way to successfully bring their annual Gala online and raise $300,000 through event sponsorships, major donor contributions, registration gifts and night-of donations.

The task was to translate the excitement of the Ceres annual in-person Evening with Ceres event to a digital benefit and celebration of Ceres’ accomplishments. Media Cause was charged with promoting the event with a celebratory, out-of-the-box tone to send a message: This is a digital celebration, not a webinar. The overall concept needed to permeate from promotion of the event, through the night-of, and to the subsequent follow-up.

The Strategy

This year, their goal was to create an immersive event featuring live music, insights from business and sustainability leaders, and opportunities for attendees to share what inspires them. All with unexpected touchpoints, including games of trivia, a celebrity appearance, and slideshow with photos from the attendees. 

An integrated marketing and fundraising strategy was leveraged to drive RSVPs and donations to the event. With this year being exclusively online, there was an opportunity to open the once-exclusive event to everyone engaged with Ceres. 

Our strategy included an extensive email communication strategy across (3) key audiences: previous gala attendees, online event attendees, and the rest of their file. Occasionally, we also extended a special touch to their Ceres 1000 community of mid-level and major donors.

As registrations came in, we augmented the segmentation strategy with three emails designed to cultivate registrants, sustain excitement, and stem the threat of attrition as we moved closer to the event.

Following the event, we again adjusted our segmentation strategy to consider ‘attendees who donated,’ attendees who did not donate,’ and the remainder of the file, who received select event highlights to their inboxes.

An Evening with Ceres exceeded all expectations!

572

Attendees (34.4% attendance rate)

698

New-to-Ceres by way of registration

38%

Donation Rate (Total Gift Count/Registered unless guest, then Total Gift Count/Attended)

Thank you all. We couldn't have done it without you!

Barbara Seymour, Director of Development

Implementation

  • Strike A Tone

    The Ceres team had a compelling vision for their digital Gala: Not your typical webinar. In the Covid era, individuals are engaging with video conferencing and webinars more frequently. Anticipating “zoom-fatigue,” the positioning, aesthetic and tone of the event permeated all of the outbound promotion.

    This was developed to be a seemingly ‘standard’ RSVP coupled with a curious, yet inviting aesthetic that also represented Ceres’ work and struck a celebratory tone.

    The copy linked the parentheses in the event name to the tongue-and-cheek positioning of the event:

    • (not) a webinar
    • (attire) smart home-professional, shoes optional

    At the same time, the aesthetic paid appropriate respect to Ceres’ featured guests and serious professionals, focused on sustainability. This emphasized that the event would have thoughtful conversation about Ceres’ work.

    This attention to visual detail did not end with the promotion.  The webcast carried the same aesthetic through the production; creating an immersive experience from promotion through to follow up:

  • Technology First Strategy

    Careful attention was paid to the experience: from the invitation, to the lead-up, event, and subsequent follow up. The event’s visual branding played a distinct role in achieving the effect.

    In developing a campaign aesthetic, a given “look and feel” had to work for emails promoting the event, for associated registration and donation pages, and for An Evening with Ceres (at home) itself, providing framing for speakers, intro and outro videos, and transitions. 

    Ceres used Give Lively, a free technology platform that allows users to register for free, or register with a donation.

    The event itself featured multiple ways to give. Participants had the option to:

    • Add a gift on top of free registration
    • Sign up as an event sponsor
    • Give online during the event
    • Give by text during the event
    • Give through an email follow up after the event

    Ceres also utilized new platforms to make the event fun and interactive. 

    Slido provides Q&A and polling platforms for virtual events. Ceres used this tool to excellent effect, integrating it with the live webcast and top of the event aesthetic.

  • Multi-Touchpoint Communication

    We implemented a cohesive strategy across all online media: web, email, social media, and paid advertising—driving registrations and encouraging donations with multiple touchpoints. 

    We supplemented organic communications by focusing media spend on targeting pre-engaged Ceres audiences deemed most likely to convert with social feed ads on LinkedIn & Facebook directing to the event microsite. 

    By reaching supporters on the right platform with the right message at the right time, we were able to reach all of Ceres’ audience, inviting everyone to attend our annual event. 

  • Hyper-targeted Email Strategy

    An Evening with Ceres moved online, and everyone was invited! More than a webinar, An Evening with Ceres (at home) was an interactive event, featuring provocative conversation, live music, and opportunities to make one’s voice heard while attending virtually from home. All while learning more about the Ceres vision for a more inclusive, sustainable future and world.

    Leveraging an integrated communication calendar, we were able to engage and reach supporters over a month and a half. 

    This began with a simple, one-size fits all “Save the Date” send in early June amid their Spring Appeal fundraiser. Starting in late June, and ramping up as we approached the event, we sent a total of 8 direct RSVP messages with carefully calibrated calls to action, based on one’s membership in a particular cohort of the audience. What’s more, we were sure to cast a wide net with the content. Some sends spotlighted the “bells and whistles” of the event, with special attention paid to trivia, live music, and opportunities to make one’s voice heard from while attendees virtually from home. All while learning more about the Ceres vision for a more inclusive, sustainable future and world.  

    Just as we would for a fundraising deadline, we pivoted on July 28 — the day of the event — to a spare “last chance” line of email messaging. This decision paid off handsomely, recruiting an additional 12% of last-minute registrants: The most successful of any send in the eight-message arc.

Results

The speakers and entertainment were engaging and captivating. Through a combined effort, multiple channels and very generous donors; Ceres exceeded their goals to not only raise $300,000, but also to bring more people into Ceres’ network of supporters.

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