Non-profits depend on their community, partners and customers for support, and in-person events remain one of the most effective ways to grow this support. Yes, even in spite of a pandemic. According to one report, the majority of marketers in 2020—61%—believe in-person events are the most critical marketing channel, an increase of 20% from the year before.
Businesses know of this value and act on it, from factory tours at the BMW plant in Greer to universities hosting high school students for the weekend. Physically being in a space and talking face-to-face connects us in a deeper way than any other medium. A notion we’ve become familiar with in the current pandemic.
So, what happens when in-person contact gets cut? Or at least put on hold without safety precautions. Girl Scouts of South Carolina—Mountains to Midlands already slated several in-person events at the start of 2020 with venues booked, tickets sent, caterers called. Then COVID-19 showed up uninvited, and starting in March, most every in-person event got delayed, cancelled or repackaged as a virtual event.
Working with the Girl Scouts team, we started planning something bigger than a virtual event for the October Boots and Pearls fundraising gala, a time to honor local business women for their corporate and community leadership, educate the public about the Girl Scouts and raise funds.
Virtual events have merit, especially in a pandemic-riddled year. (Just read our post about boosting the value of virtual events here) But the gala’s attendees had been stuck in a pandemic for most of the year. Getting outside and being in-person would give our customers a richer experience.
“While a well-produced virtual event has by no means lost its merit, we're seeing virtual fatigue in event-goers,” Michelle Taylor, owner of Taylor Brand Consulting, said. “Between working remotely and virtual school, your audience is much more likely to pass up on a virtual event than before the pandemic began.”
The question became: How could we create a safe, enjoyable event that still fulfilled the event goals?
We began brainstorming with the Girl Scout’s event team and searching through local guidelines and CDC recommendations. Then we reached into the past and resurrected the drive-in theatre.
We had the kernel of a good idea; now we had to grow it. Whenever plans fall apart, a lot of work is needed to pivot to a new idea. Working with our team and partners, the logistics came together for two drive-in, Boots and Pearls events: one in Columbia and one at the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds in Spartanburg.
The event program was pre-recorded and projected onto an inflatable movie screen, the caterer boxed and distributed all the dinners, and we even broadcasted a FM radio signal for an authentic drive-in experience. Attendees parked in a spaced-out parking lot, and some had a distanced picnic beside their cars.
Meanwhile, our team photographed everything and operated live social media from the event. The hours of advertising and preparing, selling tickets and checking health precautions had finally come to a head.
We were finally working at an in-person event again, though not exactly as before. Nevertheless, we helped the Girl Scouts host a memorable experience that did more than just raise money.
We honored valuable women in our community. Through the videos, the event’s honorees told of their journeys to success.
We displayed the organization’s value. Gold Award Girl Scouts showed how their service projects bettered the community, and Lora Tucker, CEO of the Girl Scouts Mountains to Midlands, spoke on her experience as a camp counselor with the Girl Scouts growing up.
We gave clients an outside-the-house experience. They could enjoy the beautiful sunset that evening, have a good dinner and appreciate the hard work of those being honored.
And, in a small way, we conquered COVID-19 for one wonderful evening.
“Instead of dressing up and sitting down for a traditional program, our friends and supporters were able to drive to the fairgrounds and watch a 45-minute video, highlighting our Women of Distinction, Gold Award Girls, and our local camp,” Alyssa McKenzie, Fund Development Manager for the Girl Scouts of South Carolina—Mountains to Midlands, said. “Not only did they get to celebrate Girl Scouts, but they were able to spend time with friends in a safe and distanced way.”
Transforming an already prepared event requires effort. And not everything can transition into a distanced, pseudo in-person evening. Often virtual is beyond valuable. But knowing the critical natural and impact of in-person, we coordinated with the Girl Scouts step by step to create a unique Boots and Pearls gala.
“This event was definitely a 'win'! We will do the same thing this year, with some additions to make it even more fun,” McKenzie said.
If you have questions about transitioning your events, whether in-person or virtual, contact us. We’d love to figure out how to best address your needs and help you serve your customers’ needs. You can reach us at email@example.com or by filling out the contact form here on the website.