By Karen Sallerson, Executive Director, ImpactIsrael
As a U.S. nonprofit fundraising organization with an Israel-based mission, ImpactIsrael’s professional staff of seven works in separate offices on the East and West coasts. In pre-pandemic times, we relied on a telephone for conference calls – no video, screen-shares, beachy background scenes or special lighting needed.
We watched with skepticism – and a little fear - as complex virtual fundraising events “zoomed” onto the scene.
Would our donor community be as moved and inspired to support Israel’s marginalized youth through the lens of a computer screen? Could we raise the money we needed virtually?
The short answer is a resounding yes. The long answer is, we learned, that it is a far more complicated, layered and highly-technical endeavor than we ever imagined. Basically: it is not as easy as everyone makes it look.
Our team was tasked with watching a variety of virtual events to determine what we liked and which viewing and registration platforms were user friendly. We quickly realized that technical glitches could make or break an event and how easy it is to tune out when too many talking heads are telling a story.
With the blessing of our board of directors, ImpactIsrael jumped into the virtual fundraising fray and produced a technically-complex, star-studded virtual event. We budgeted to hire a savvy team of technical, video and communications experts in Israel and the U.S.
It ended up being one of our most successful fundraising events to-date and provided us with a new and exciting pathway to share our Village Way story across the U.S.
Our topnotch team included: an entertainment producer/director, a video production company, a sound producer to mix our songs, a technical support/strategic communications firm, and an Israel-based filmmaker. Everyone played a critical role in the creation of our celebration, from booking talent and a sound engineer, to filming our youth in Israel and launching our event onto a virtual platform.
Our vision for the event was to share the hopeful stories of our at-risk youth, the achievements of our graduates and our Village Way educational model through music, storytelling, testimonials and pre-recorded cameos of celebrities Tiffany Haddish, Joel Grey, Shoshana Bean and David Broza. This talented group of entertainers represented the diverse ages and demographic cross-section of our donors who we hoped would tune in for our event. Not only were these celebrities Jewish and Jewishly-engaged, but we hoped they would give shine and star-power to our event.
Additionally, we filmed U.S. Rep. Nita M. Lowey accepting our Tikkun Ha’Lev Award for her humanitarian efforts on behalf of underserved children and families. (photo, right)
Actor Joshua Malina agreed to co-host our program, live, along with his friend and ImpactIsrael board member, Jeremy Barnett.
We were on our way!
Elements of the event included ten versions of the Run-of-Show, scripts for the talent, talking points for the testimonials, photos for background, filming in Israel (days before the country’s second lockdown), transfer of files, judicious and intricate editing of film, subtitles and translations inserted into videos, more video editing, award presentation video, thank you gift ordered and mailed to registrants across the country.
It all seemed so daunting but, with a leap of faith, and our team of experts, our first foray into the virtual fundraising world proved to be successful both in raising important funds for Israel’s at-risk youth and sharing our Village Way story with so many new friends and supporters.
We connected with 92 new donors and presented our audience of more than 400 households with a creative and inspiring program that raised $100,000 in just one hour. We raised a total of $680,000 and our costs were seven percent of total revenue.
Here’s some of what we learned from our technical tango lessons:
- Collaborative creative partnerships in a virtual world is important. Your plan of action should include a variety of platforms - business, artistic, technical and marketing.
- Social media ads are a must.
- Three weeks is the earliest to send out invitations.
- Visibility for sponsorships remains important.
- Make it easy for donors to make a gift during a virtual event. Our magenta-colored donate button sparkled!
- Secure a match for gifts made during the night to add to the excitement and motivate giving.
Of course, a virtual world will not replace the importance and warmth of personal relationships and face-to-face conversations in our world of philanthropy.
In the short term, however, ImpactIsrael’s technical know-how has vastly improved. Daily chats and staff meetings are now on Teams and we use Zoom instead of conference calls.
We have shared our Village Way story in a creative and memorable way with many new and longtime friends. We all know about the need to pivot, but learning the technology tango provided valuable lessons in community-building in our new world.
Karen Sallerson has served as Executive Director of ImpactIsrael (formerly known as Friends of Yemin Orde) for 13 years. ImpactIsrael, based in Bethesda, MD, provides support to Yemin Orde Youth Village and Village Way Educational Initiatives impacting 25,000 at risk youth and 2,750 educators in 60 villages, high schools and gap year leadership programs