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Fundraising Immunity: Nonprofits Must Pivot During COVID19June - 2020

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Fundraising is the lifeblood of nonprofits.  And, with the economic collapse from the coronavirus, coupled with in-person group restrictions, has fundraising become the virus’s latest victim? 

In a research study from the Charities Aid Foundation of America a survey of 550 nonprofits, 97% reported negative effects related to the virus, including a 68% drop in donations.

Additionally, 88% of nonprofit organizations canceled major events in response to the virus and half of those organizations did not have any alternative fundraising plans.

For UCAN, a 151-year-old nonprofit from Chicago, becoming a victim to COVID19 was not an option.  

UCAN advocates for, and provides opportunities that change the lives of youths and families through compassionate healing, education, and empowerment. Originally founded as an orphanage during the Civil War, UCAN has certainly withstood the test of time – including the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. However, UCAN was still not immune to the negative effects of coronavirus. 

As UCAN geared up for their largest fundraising event of the year, the 2020 Youth Leadership Awards (YLA), the organization faced a difficult decision. With the fiscal year wrapping up at the end of June, the event needed to go on as scheduled on June 4, but hosting it in-person was no longer an option. 

For the first time in 150 years, all of UCAN’s fundraising would need to be done virtually.

AE Marketing Group began working with UCAN in 2013 to bring clarity and consensus to its brand and improve the organization’s positioning for future fundraising. In 2019, AE produced all video assets for YLA and we were set to lead video production for the 2020 event as well. As Chicago’s shelter-in-place order continued to extend, UCAN made the decision to hold the event virtually. To do so, they sought AE’s strategic and creative advice to rethink fundraising, storytelling, and event planning in a virtual environment.

“This was unprecedented,” said UCAN’s Associate Vice President of Development, Tamara Reed Tran. “Nobody has had to deal with a pandemic in this lifetime, and to do so and still fundraise was a monumental undertaking.” 

Our team was able to adapt quickly to help our client create relevant and timely content for the virtual event. We started by establishing blueprints for the branded look, style, and feel of each asset. We then prepared a video conferencing best practices guide to share with all participants and began conducting hours of Zoom-recorded interviews with UCAN’s youths, employees, and supporters. 

Instead of congregating everyone on set for one all-day shoot, we remotely connected 1-1 with each individual over the course of several weeks. The unique nature of this year’s video production allowed us to show aspects of these people’s lives that had never been captured before. 

This strategy gave donors a behind-the-scenes look at the lives they were supporting.  

Instead of a perfectly manicured set, interview backgrounds included childhood bedrooms, the inside of parked cars, and makeshift home offices.“Quiet on set” was not possible as we heard youths’ siblings playing in the background or the children of UCAN’s leadership team watching cartoons.

While unconventional, all of these elements added layers to the stories that never would have been possible to capture otherwise. For the first time in 21 years, Youth Leadership Award “attendees” saw the reactions of youths as they were notified that they had been chosen to receive a college scholarship and they saw UCAN employees working hard from their homes to prepare for the event.

AE Marketing Group embodies what it truly means to be part of the UCAN family,” said UCAN’s VP of Development, Fred Long. “They really made it happen when we needed them.”

From the hours of interview footage, we crafted 14 video assets, including an Introduction video about UCAN’s mission and work, videos highlighting the stories of each youth winner, and social media teaser videos that highlighted YLA alumni, winner reactions, UCAN’s work in the community during COVID, and more. We collaborated with UCAN’s employees, board members, and supporters to establish a content marketing plan to drip out teaser assets across multiple distribution channels leading up to the event. This strategy encouraged attendance and giving.

On June 4, 2020, UCAN held their first-ever, virtual Youth Leadership Awards. The video assets brought the youth’s stories to life, forged connections, and carried UCAN’s brand and mission throughout the entire program.

“AE Marketing Group rocked the assets,” said UCAN CEO, Zack Schrantz. “I am very pleased at how it all came together.”

The event and subsequent fundraising were a complete success. UCAN received national recognition on how to engage donors and raise funds through virtual events.

“Our ability to pull off this virtual event would not have been possible without our partners like AE Marketing Group,” said Tamara Reed Tran. “Their expertise, dedication, and foresight really helped us steer the ship. If others out there are considering hosting a virtual event, I would encourage them to bring good people alongside them.” 

While the Youth Leadership Awards certainly looked different this year, the feelings it provided were the same. Viewers felt drawn to UCAN’s mission. They felt inspired by the stories of the five resilient youths. They felt encouraged by UCAN’s commitment to helping the community during such dark times. Most importantly, they felt called to act, support, and to give.

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