As Ramonna mentioned in her recent “WFH” blog post, one silver lining from this global pandemic is that innovation and creativity are emerging at a rapid pace as organizations pivot and begin to see their future through an entirely different lens. This certainly holds true in the child welfare space. The COVID-19 crisis has created a perfect storm of factors within child welfare leading to a dramatic increase in unreported cases of child abuse and neglect as children are cut off from interactions with medical professionals and teachers, and sheltering in place at home with families that are increasingly stressed about their economic future. At the same time, the organizations that support our most vulnerable children are facing uncertainty regarding future fundraising and awareness efforts.
I have volunteered in the Colorado child welfare space for decades and during these past few months I have seen how social distancing and stay-at-home orders wreaked havoc on numerous child welfare organizations that rely on events to build connections and raise vital fundraising dollars.
However, I have also witnessed how these organizations have quickly pivoted and utilized creativity and ingenuity to connect with their donors and supporters using virtual events and livestreams in a way that our industry has never before experienced.
Let me paint the picture. Before March 2020, a typical Facebook Live broadcast tended to garner less than 1% of its potential audience. That same month, Colorado issued its first shelter-in-place order and the country essentially started shutting down. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and every year there is an enormous statewide awareness effort that is designed to support Colorado’s child abuse and neglect hotline, beginning with a launch event at the state capitol. When the state began shutting down, we were faced with a dilemma.
How could we possibly raise awareness about such a critical issue when social distancing and stay-at-home orders were in effect? The event simply had to go virtual – and quickly. So our CenterTable and GroundFloor Media teams, working closely with our clients at CDHS, pivoted and executed our first livestream for the Colorado Department of Human Services’ CO4Kids campaign.
The results were pretty incredible. In fact, we were able to almost double the average viewership number of Facebook Live, as we attained 2.1% of a potential audience of 61,224 in attaining 1,283 live viewers. Additionally, we averaged more than 200 live viewers through the broadcast for an event that typically only brought 100 people to the state capitol each year.
Child Abuse Prevention Month also is an extremely important month for the Tennyson Center for Children (TCC), a Colorado nonprofit that works to support children who have experienced abuse and neglect, and an organization that I have served as a member of the Board of Directors for more than a decade.
Their annual event, the Mile High Q & Brew concert and fundraiser, is one of their biggest fundraisers of the year. TCC always works with an emerging country artist, a large group of sponsors and several media outlets to produce the event. This year was their 10thanniversary and they had secured country artist Lindsay Ell, media sponsors KYGO-FM and 5280 Magazine, as well as numerous corporate sponsors. When COVID-19 shut down everything in March, we had to make a quick decision and either move the concert to the fall, knowing we would be competing with numerous other postponed nonprofit events, or potentially face a second wave of this pandemic during that time. In late March, we made the decision turn the event into a live, virtual concert and fundraiser and produce something that had never been done before.
It was nerve wracking, intense and exciting. We had two weeks to move on this and recreate a critical fundraising and awareness experience. I sit on both sides of this coin. I am a TCC board member who is watching these shifts with a critical – and fiscally responsible – eye and I am also viewing these as a creative who understands that the way we have always done things will not work for us in the future. With a deep sigh of relief, when the event wrapped and we all decided it was ok to get a full night’s sleep again, we were able to report an even higher percentage of our potential audience (see note about 1% above) and were able to claim 4.9% of a potential audience of 325,493 as 16,019 live viewers tuned in.
But let’s not forget that while raising awareness was a primary goal, development and fundraising is critical to the future of Tennyson Center. The best part is that we were able to raise more than $165,000 during the 75-minute broadcast. That continues to indicate to us that we are able to attain larger, more engaged audiences with virtual events and livestreams in this current era of social distancing.
For each of these types of virtual events and livestreams, we believe there are five critical factors that help ensure success:
Using an HD broadcasting solution driven by the Wirecast virtual studio and a series of dedicated wireless connections, we were able to stream a 1080p live signal for our Q&Brew broadcast from Lindsay Ell’s home recording studio in Tennessee, the CenterTable video studio (where Tennyson CEO Ned Breslin was provided ample physical distance from our production team) and the homes of KYGO radio hosts Tracy Dixon & Guy David in Denver as well as auctioneer Gary Corbett in Arizona. Those high-quality signals helped our broadcast stand out. These options can also be tailored to fit customized needs. The CO4Kids livestream incorporated a lower-tech, live-to-tape solution, which meant we didn’t have the increased planning needs for a truly live show. That format delivered exactly what CDHS needed, as well.
Organic & Paid Promotional Campaign
Prior to Q&Brew, the GFM and CenterTable teams conducted a variety of pre-event promotional campaigns to drive new and existing viewers and donors to the event including drafting several donor emails, developing sponsor toolkits to help promote the event, and digital, organic social media and media relations campaigns. The digital and email campaigns reached an audience of more than 200,000, with an excess of 1,800 actively indicating they would watch the show. The media relations campaign earned 14 Denver and national media hits including Denver Thrillist, Variety, Billboard, and Westword resulting in a total reach of more than 37 million. Leveraging existing networks is crucial as well. For the CO4Kids livestream, we were able to utilize a network of more than 100 child welfare service providers statewide that were part of database previously built by CDHS to significantly expand our potential reach.
The Q&Brew livestream was hosted on Lindsay Ell’s Facebook page, where she has nearly 140,000 followers, and simulcast using Facebook Crossposting to the platforms of Tennyson Center, KYGO, 5280 Magazine and sponsors like Encore Electric, which expanded our potential reach by 190,000. Simulcasting helped the show reached more than 53,000 fans in 75 minutes, and it generated engagement that was 18 times higher than an average post on Lindsay’s Facebook page. Meanwhile, for the CO4Kids livestream, dozens of nonprofits in that aforementioned database agreed to Crosspost our livestream on their Facebook platforms, which expanded our potential reach for that show to more than 60,000.
Q&Brew was supported by 23 sponsors, all of whom had their branding displayed prominently throughout the broadcast. Each sponsor was also given a 20- to 120-second video advertisement in the show that featured personal messages captured virtually and ahead of time with the help of our production team. These videos featured messages about each sponsor’s employees, brand and mission to support Colorado’s most vulnerable children. The video assets where then given to each sponsor for their own use following the show.
Real-Time Giving Platforms with Multiple Donation Options
Our team incorporated a live and silent auction into the Q&Brew broadcast using the GiveSmart digital platform, and the presence of a live auctioneer in the broadcast helped drive donor participation. While there are a wide variety of digital donation and auction platforms available, GiveSmart gave us the ability to visually track progress towards a donation goal and recognize donors in real-time with a readymade, automated broadcast solution. We also took advantage of Facebook’s on-platform donation button, where we raised nearly $8,000 from smaller donors, who averaged $80 per gift.
In-Show Promotions to Sustain Viewership
Lindsay answered 2-3 questions from the comment section of the Facebook post during each of her seven Q&Brew sets, and fans had a chance to make a $5 donation to vote for which classic country cover song she played to close the show. That helped us achieve a peak live viewership of 640 individuals, and ensured our viewership never dipped below 325 at any point during the show. For context, the in-person event was expected to drive 325 attendees. For the CO4Kids livestream, we began the show with the main attraction, Colorado’s governor, but closed with the two most entertaining presenters — a dynamic, high-energy duo who created a parent support group for veteran dads. And we inserted promotions throughout the show that suggested our audience would be rewarded if they remained with the broadcast for those final presenters.
We all know we’re navigating unchartered waters as marketers in the midst of a pandemic. But I’m proud of how our team worked to find virtual solutions to meet our client’s fast-changing needs, and we’re excited to help other non-profit and event-driven clients find similar solutions in the months ahead.