Virtual Fundraisers: How We Helped UC Davis Get Millions of Dollars In Donations During a Pandemic

A Virtual Events Case Study

Today, we’re going to show you how Wired Production Group teamed up with Advancement Resources to help our client, UC Davis, raise millions of dollars through a virtual fundraising event during one of the world’s worst pandemics. 

We were able to accomplish this even though the event had already been planned and scheduled to be a live event that was to be held in October 2020. This meant the entire event needed to be re-planned and turned into a virtual event within a short period of time. Additionally, the entire UC Davis campus was locked down due to the COVID pandemic – making it incredibly challenging to coordinate, interview key participants, get video footage of students and parts of the campus and maintain proper safety protocols throughout the entire filming process.

In this case study we will show you the process of planning and executing a successful virtual fundraising event – during a pandemic.

UC Davis: The Fundraising Story & Challenges Faced

Angie Joens, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Development Outreach, oversees development outreach at UC Davis. She’s been in the fundraising profession for more than 30 years and her experience shows. 

Headshot and title of Angie Joens with UC Davis

Her team puts on approximately 50 events per year. For the Innovation Spectacular Event fundraiser, the University was committed to the October date and had already begun planning the event for approximately 700 attendees. Then the COVID pandemic hit in late March. 

The first challenge for Angie was when she received the call that the event couldn’t be held in person, “We were committed to the date. We had the show outline for the event and knew we had the support from the University to move forward – but it had to be virtual. It was like we were building the ship while we were sailing it.”

This particular event was the launch of the largest fundraising event in UC Davis’s history. While many other schools halted their fundraising drives and campaigns because of the COVID pandemic, UC Davis decided to push forward with their fundraising event. But there were many challenges. “How do we take our original plans and turn them into an engaging, virtual presentation for the donors who will be watching our live event on computers, tablets or phones?” Angie thought. 

Luckily, Angie had a team that had vision, creativity, ingenuity, and the willpower to work with her on planning this virtual event: Advancement Resources, with Lynnea Handley, Vice President, Creative Services, as the project lead, and Wired Production Group as part of the creative team, video production, lighting, pre-production/editing and live streaming and technical pros.

Another challenge Angie faced was a sudden budget cut — the event’s budget was cut in half. (Due to the pandemic, the University was worried about the perception of putting on a large, grand-scale event.) 

But perseverance is the name of the game with this team! So how did we pull off the virtual fundraising event? Now it’s time to show you how we helped UC Davis get millions of dollars in donations all from supporters watching on their computer screens.

The Virtual Fundraiser Results

The virtual fundraising event was a hit! For the original in-person event, US Davis planned to invite 1,000 people – but they expected 700 attendees. (And many of those people would have been from the local California area.) 

With the virtual event, they had: 

– 2,840 RSVPs for the event 

– 950 logins that watched the event live

– People from 16 different countries watched the event

But what was even more exciting was to see number of replays! They had 1,900 people view the replay over the weekend after the event. And as of now they are over 5,000 views of the virtual fundraiser. They also had the videos translated into Chinese and Spanish to help broaden their audience base.

Millions of dollars of donations came pouring in thanks to the virtual fundraiser event. One woman that attended the fundraiser virtually even made a $6.5 million donation to name a building at the school!

Plus, the feedback from the donors and viewers was overall incredibly positive:

“Just wanted to let you know how thrilled I was to see this event unfold…The only thing I truly missed was being there in person.” – UC Davis Donor

“We watched the virtual event twice. Top notch!!!” – UC Davis Donor

There was another unique outcome from this virtual event. Members from approximately 35 different colleges and universities watched the UC Davis fundraising event live. Schools like MIT, Harvard, Case, Yale University and Stanford, were watching this virtual event. Why? 

Many of these schools had put their fundraising efforts on hold due to COVID. They wanted to see how fundraising could successfully be done during a pandemic, so key players at these schools were watching this event live! UC Davis was leading the fundraising event live streaming efforts – and these schools were watching to see how it was done (and done right!)

Graphic of corporate and non-profit viewer logos

Additionally, the event garnered media attention which helped increase awareness of the UC Davis donor program.

Graphic of logos from media outlets who covered the campaign launch

Want to know how we accomplished this virtual event during the middle of a pandemic and despite a rare derecho in Iowa that destroyed Wired Production Group’s home office during the middle of the project?

Here are the things the team did to create a virtual fundraising event that raised millions and millions of dollars for UC Davis – despite the odds…

How We Got It Done

Despite the COVID pandemic, UC Davis leadership did not want to cancel the Virtual Innovation Spectacular fundraising event. Angie knew that she and her team needed to change directions and move forward — quickly. That meant that UC Davis, Wired Production Group and Advancement Resources all had to work closely together to plan, produce and execute.

The Wired Production Group team loaded up a motorhome and trailer and drove to Davis, CA. 

It was an 18-day trip — four days driving from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Davis, California, 10 days’ production on-site and four days driving back to Iowa. We brought along everything we needed to record the video for the live stream event: cameras, green screens, teleprompters, audio, lighting, production equipment, sliders, etc. (And we even remembered the hand sanitizers and face shields!)

The event was meant to raise awareness of the direction UC Davis is going — and to intrigue donors as to why they (the donors) should be a part of it. Bringing awareness to the school’s innovation and prospecting donors to raise funds were the ultimate goals of this project. But how do you make donors feel engaged enough to want to donate large sums of money while watching an event on a computer screen?

The team had originally planned to create “Innovation Stations” that live attendees could visit. These “stations” would showcase exciting work that was happening on the UC Davis campus. Audience members could interact with these Innovation Stations prior to the start of the live, in-person show.

When the decision was made to go virtual, UC Davis still wanted to give time to the colleges, schools and units to show off their exciting offerings. So we produced “Innovation Spotlights”— short video vignettes for every unit. That made all the various schools feel included and touched each participant that may have an affinity to a particular part of the University.

 These videos were time consuming and more complex to produce. The UC Davis campus was essentially “locked down” due to COVID. So instead of being able to interview a lot of people on campus, we had to rely on stock footage of students from previous years’ events, virtual interviews and coordinated on-site interviews – so finding resources was more challenging. However, we were still able to meet with people from the various schools to create videos. We even visited a llama farm where one llama received a prosthetic leg from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine!

Another idea for the live event was to showcase speakers and guests. Instead, Wired Production Group created a music video of UC Davis students featured at various locations on the campus. Through the use of music and storytelling – the team used green screens, drone video and other audio and video technology to create a stunning display for the audience. 

We like to always surprise our attendees and take audience members on a journey. What new surprises can we come up with to amaze our audience for this virtual event? We decided to use greenscreen technology for the intro of the event. All of the video for the event was pre-produced but was made to look live. 

During the opening of the event, we used greenscreen technology to show Shawn Keister, Vice Chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations, in the UC Davis auditorium. But then something magical happened. You can watch what transpired here:

One of the most important decisions was what live streaming platform to use. That was a very important decision the team needed to make for this project. There are robust live streaming event platforms that can do virtually anything when it comes to managing virtual events, but it all comes down to cost. That’s why we spend time talking with our clients about what their real needs are. We help guide our clients to find the best fit for their virtual or hybrid conference needs. 

For this virtual event we used YouTube Premiere. One of the great things about YouTube Premiere is that it allows for captioning, which is important for ADA compliance – especially for the education industry. We could either do live captioning or caption the videos we shot ahead of time. Some live streaming platforms are not able to do live captioning — yet. 

Our team is constantly researching the various platforms so we can determine what platforms are best for which virtual events. 

Whenever we work with a client, it’s important that we talk to the client about the various options available. We also discuss the “must-haves” vs. the “nice-to-haves.” For instance:

– How much interactivity do you want?

– Do you need captioning?

– Do you want to poll attendees?

– Is this a private event?

– Will the client be monetizing the event?

– Will there be breakout rooms?

For this project, YouTube Premiere was the perfect choice because it allowed us to easily live stream the videos we already produced, we could caption the videos, chat with attendees, offer Q&A and other features.

One of the great things about live events is the chat and Q&A features. These features allowed UC Davis employees to interact directly with donors who were watching the live event. These features allowed them to have more meaningful discussions with high-dollar donors. 

But just like anything related to virtual events, we had to practice ahead of time with the team and determine protocols. What do we do if someone makes inappropriate comments? How do we block them? Who will be monitoring the Q&A and how will the questions be given to the presenters to answer? Which people will be sent the technical issues? 

All of these roles needed to be determined and assigned ahead of time, and each person in those roles needed to understand the expectations of them. When planning a virtual event, the system needs to be tested before the event.  

We helped set up a technical issue “hotline” – just in case people had tech issues during the live stream. 

“The Wired team is flexible and adaptable to challenges. They never worried about getting it done. They knew they could get it done. That is so important to have in a partner.” – Angie Joens, Assistance Vice Chancellor Development Outreach UC Davis

Virtual Events Work!

With the success of this fundraising event, UC Davis plans to always have a virtual component to their future fundraising events. Instead of just having in-person events only, they will do hybrid events where there will be in-person attendees and virtual ones. That way virtual attendees can either watch the event live or later when it’s most convenient for them.

This will also allow them to have a bigger and broader audience. As an example, for in-person fundraising events, UC Davis is often limited to only inviting their “VIP donors,” but with virtual events they can invite any donor they want to – from anywhere in the world!

“Working with Wired Production Group is amazing. They are never stale. They bring in a corporate vision. WPG brings in big corporate events and big concert technical expertise to take things visually to the next level.” – Angie Joens, Assistance Vice Chancellor Development Outreach UC Davis

Want to see the results for yourself? Check out UC Davis’s Virtual Innovation Spectacular Virtual Event

The best part? You can get the same results that UC Davis did with your next event – with help from our team at Wired Production Group. Just contact us today and we can help you with your live, virtual or hybrid event.

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