Doughnut Days Down Under

Doughnut Days Down Under

A message from our Australian Consultants
Alan Watkinson, Ann Badger, Clare Pullar and Mack Jones
Learn more about our work in Australia.

We are approaching the end of 2020 with a renewed sense of optimism. Across Australia numbers are low and two recent ‘doughnut days’ in Victoria have confirmed that indeed we have cautiously turned a corner. As we know from spikes and waves across our states and around the world, however, there will be no immediate return to all our previous practices. Certain restrictions will stay in place until there is confirmation that the virus is truly contained or suppressed, or until there is a vaccine. Until then, certain aspects of our Advancement lives will continue to operate in somewhat different ways.

As we contemplate travel restrictions and concerns about gatherings, one key area that is undergoing considerable innovation is events. Events to inform, engage, cultivate, raise funds, reconnect…How do we successfully adapt and reinvent that cultivation dinner, new parent cocktail, quiz night, reunion or gala? Colleagues around Australia and the world are trialling many innovative approaches that you can adapt. This link provides some very interesting ideas to consider:

As Debbie Geller, a Los Angeles-based event planner has noted: Zoom events and fundraisers are cool right now. They’re going to have to continue elevating because they’re going to become normal. At the point in which they become normal, we have to take them to the next level.

There are many useful examples and tips in this article, and don’t forget to click on the embedded links to find further details.

Marts & Lundy has been working with clients around the world to find examples of the kind of re-imagining of events which we believe will be necessary over the immediate future. In a recent webinar, two of our consultants joined a panel with representatives from the Washington Ballet and The Henry Ford Foundation to talk about the ways in which these two organisations are facing this challenge.

Such gala events tend to seem a little overwhelming, but the ideas can be adapted to suit all kinds of different situations for schools and higher education institutions, including fundraising and campaigns. For example, University of California, Davis (a public university) recently completed a virtual launch of their $2 billion campaign, despite being in the throes of the pandemic.The launch is around 45 minutes long and more than 900 alumni and others participated.  It is well worth watching this very high-quality production and picking up some more ideas to adapt to your own fundraising activities.

Of course, all institutions face different challenges, and when so much of our past practice has relied on personal, face-to-face contact, we may find the technical challenges of adapting to some new approaches a little off-putting. It may be useful to remember a few very salient points, however, which have been confirmed by many institutions around the globe.

Big gatherings and dinners, and even smaller carefully curated events take time and resources; they often require significant time commitments from the ‘guest star’ (often the Head of Institution or other key leader); they can be constrained by space and availability of function areas; they can involve significant travel costs both domestically and more importantly internationally; and they can impose considerable strain on those attending – especially those big night-time dinners if there are younger children at home, or if travel or transport is a factor.

Virtual events are proving to be very well received, even if they have a different flavour. We have found that institutions talk, amongst other things, about:

  • greater efficiency and effectiveness (including having e-brochures or other material to hand for sharing)
  • the ease of scheduling appointments and meetings
  • cost effectiveness
  • increased attendance by couples
  • a greater sense of immediacy and intimacy in small, curated gatherings or meetings
  • quiet and comfortable situations for guests – no more meetings in cafes or lobbies
  • better use of Heads of Institution time
  • greater inclusiveness
  • greater outreach (more people can be brought together from all over the world, time zones permitting) at the one time
  • ability for those in quarantine or under other restrictions to attend
  • accessibility to all age levels and age groups (despite original concerns)
  • facility to record and share (with permission)

Here are a couple of ideas, adapted from The Francis Parker School in the USA, which has embraced the current reality of remote working, virtual gatherings but continued engagement and fundraising.

A virtual New Parent Dinner (or series of dinners, depending on numbers and entry points). This is a very powerful way to engage with new parents at different levels as they become members of your community, and this approach may well be more effective than traditional cocktail parties or ‘briefing sessions’ in the school hall, or wherever.

Consider, in the Junior School, for example,  having a virtual dinner – timed to last no more than 90 minutes, perhaps, for parents whose children are entering at Prep – Year 3, and from Year 4 – Year 6.
With the usual advance notice of dates and times, you can set up a live Zoom call dinner. Francis Parker School made this very special by providing a catered meal, delivered to each parent attending – depending on numbers and locations this could be tricky, but manageable with enough time to prepare. It could also turn out to be much more cost effective than setting up a dinner evening or even a cocktail party with all the waiters.

Key staff can speak live from wherever they happen to be: the Head of Junior School, a significant Board/Council Member and perhaps the President of the Parents’ Association. Recorded speeches from a more senior student in the Junior School and from possibly one or two teachers could provide important background and context to what a year at the School will look like. A live Q&A session could be chaired by one of the key staff, allowing the Head of School to respond … all easy enough to do with good management of Zoom calls. Setting up a breakout room for smaller group chats with either year level teachers or PA representatives can also be managed.

The evening could conclude with a live address by possibly the Head of School or PA President with information about how to get and keep involved, and what events – virtual or other – will be coming up in the immediate future.

The follow-up should also be easy since the details of all participants should be registered in the database (along with recording their presence at the event), so a thank you and quick chat about their experience will provide strong communication.

Another adaptation from a tried and trusted way of meeting small groups of new parents, or a curated group of potential donors, or even potential bequestors is the conversion of a breakfast/coffee/lunch meeting to a short, 30-45 minute online meeting. This can be hosted by the Director of Advancement/ Development or even the Director of Alumni/Community Engagement – depending on purpose. Keeping numbers to no more than 12 people will allow for a good exchange of ideas, and a Q & A session. The key speaker (Head of Institution / Chair of FR Committee etc) can connect from their office or home and not have to travel. There is still opportunity to share presentations by sharing your screen, include short videos and addresses by key influencers (who then don’t have to be there in person), and make sure that everyone is able to participate in the discussion. The set-up is the same as for any other ‘live’ meeting, but the side benefits of effectiveness and efficiency – as well as making the invitee feel very special to be invited to this particular meeting – become considerable.

Beyond the immediate event horizon, though, there may remain issues around offices continuing to operate remotely – at least for part of the time – and for staff working from home. In the following recording, Senior Consultant Jim Zimmerman hosts a conversation with three very experienced Advancement directors about the challenges of managing teams effectively in these kinds of conditions:

At Marts & Lundy, we have about 40 separate postings of webinars, blogs and opinion pieces dealing with the impact of COVID-19 and the ways in which we, as professionals and donors, are dealing with it, including events, fundraising and communications.

We would be very happy to talk further with you about any of the postings or just to talk with you about challenges you are facing as we move towards a new year and new opportunities.