Virtual Events - "The Right Decision is Moving Forward"
As many event planners will tell you, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down is a shock to the status quo. In mid-March, there was no way of predicting what the next day or the next few months would be. MM Event Group worried about the health of our team, our clients, our city, and of our business. We asked ourselves all the same questions that everyone asked. What happens now? How do we adjust? What is the “new normal?” With each passing day, there were new tips and tricks for how to successfully transition to virtual events as well as predictions on the future of hybrid events. The hard truth is that currently there is no single path forward. With each event, whether in person or online, an array of choices must always be considered. Fortunately, the skill set of a seasoned event planner includes the ability to quickly assess how to accommodate when things go wrong, be able to think on their feet and adjust quickly.
MM Event Group is a team of spirited and driven optimists who are proud to support organizations that are working toward creating positive change. As such, while we are excited to begin the phases of reopening in New York, we look toward the organizations we are aligned with who put human health and welfare first. The future is not a return to normal, but it is the integration of what we have learned in the past few months to enhance how things used to be.
Fortunately, we have seen first-hand that while people remain physically apart, there is a great sense of community that has developed through hardship. Donors remain active and engaged, attending virtual events and remaining connected. Our key tip in hosting a virtual event, is to know that you can do it. If you don’t know how, we are here to help.
Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, CEO of the Latino Community Foundation (LCF), a San Francisco based non-profit committed to unleashing the power of Latinos in California, successfully raised over one million dollars during their virtual gala. MM Event Group reached out to Garcel after she had time to reflect on this success, and she shared with us her thoughts on the experience of transforming their in-person event to a fully digital experience.
Your organization was ahead of the curve in the transition from an in-person to a virtual gala, what was the catalyst for that decision?
I can remember the exact moment when I knew we had to press forward with the virtual event. The public health crisis and its economic impact was quickly ravaging through communities we serve and support. Latino led organizations were on the front lines. Our initial response was setting up a fund—Love Not Fear Fund—for those families who would have to choose between paying their rent, feeding their families, or losing their homes.
During one of our weekly gala planning calls with Marilyn and Lisa from MM Event Group, we had to make the call: do we cancel the event or transition to a virtual one?
The emotional toll of what was already happening in Latino communities was bearing a heavy weight. The LCF team was spread thin and our hearts were aching. It was then that Marilyn and Lisa said, “If anyone is able to deliver a message of hope, it’s LCF.” The words still ring clearly through my mind.
How could we not move forward? How could we not use our voices and our platforms to remind our communities and families that they were not alone? It’s the reason we do the work we do. Because we know that when we unite with love and act with purpose, we can make a difference.
The easy decision was to cancel. The right decision was to move forward.
What were challenges in transitioning to a virtual event? What did you feel were your greatest successes?
The challenges were how big the problems were and appeared. The spread of the disease, the rate of death, the limitations of living under a new normal. Sheltered in place and businesses shutting down. Where did we even begin?
We made the decision to ground ourselves in the purpose of moving forward. The "why" of the event wasn’t first raising money; it was using our platform to bring hope and a message of unity to families.
The fundraising would have to be secondary. As we built the program, the "why" continued to make itself clearer.
The "how" was the next challenge. This is where MM Event Group came through for us. They identified the technology and production team that could livestream the event. When they came on board, the “how” of creating the individual pieces of the program became clear.
How did you keep your donors and sponsors engaged?
Once we made the decision to go virtual, we informed existing sponsors. Shared with them the purpose and the importance of LCF fulfilling our mission during these trying times. We brainstormed and identified ways to ensure we acknowledged and honored their support during the event. All but one sponsor made the decision to move forward with their support, while some sponsors even increased their commitments!
During the two months lead time, we found creative ways to thank our supporters. We shipped wine from a Latino-owned vineyard paired with chocolates from a Latina-owned small business. These gifts were an easy way to let our donors know we really valued and appreciated their love during these difficult times while creating a sense of togetherness. We were conscious about our gift choices, ensuring it connected with our mission to remind our sponsors that supporting Latino owned businesses was critical to keep our communities afloat as they navigated a growing economic crisis.
After the success of your virtual gala, what are your final thoughts on the process of transitioning to virtual?
Looking back now, the decision to move forward was one of the best things we did in the middle of the uncertainty, heartache, and loss.
Moving forward helped our team find our grounding. Moving forward led to a message of hope to over 12,000 viewers. Moving forward translated into lifting the voices of our community heroes who are helping families survive during these times. Moving forward gave us an opportunity to support Latino owned and small businesses that depended on an event like this for their own livelihood.
Moving forward led to over $1 million of funds raised—a new record in the history of our organization.
Our virtual gala gave us the gift of tending to our own heartache by helping others find a way forward.
Watch and support LCF's Coming of Age Virtual Gala by clicking here.