MANITOWOC — Institutions wondering how to raise funds during a pandemic might learn some lessons from Roncalli Catholic Schools.
Roncalli’s widely attended annual fundraiser was held virtually this year, offering only a quarter of the usual auction items. Surprisingly, its results surpassed last year’s.
“We did something that we had never done before,” said Candice Giesen, Roncalli’s director of development. “We had no experience doing it and we were able to pull off a very successful event. It was a team effort with a lot of support.”
The 36th annual Roncalli Pierside Auction, held in September, raised $340,000 — $60,000 more than last year.
The online event kicked off Sept. 2 with registration. Bidding on silent auction items began Sept. 21 and premium auction items were introduced Sept. 23. All bids closed at 10 p.m. on Sept. 26 following the auction’s show, which was livestreamed.
More than 700 people registered and participated in the online bidding, which featured 250 items.
The auction usually takes place in spring, but was pushed back to fall because of COVID-19. When it was obvious that the pandemic wasn’t abating, they had to come up with another plan, Giesen said.
“We took an event with 35 years of history of being a social event that has 1,000 people for food and drinks and oral and silent auctions and raffles, and tried to think what we could do,” she said. “We really didn’t decide to go virtual until Aug. 16. It took less than 30 days to turn it around.”
A helpful tool was GiveSmart fundraising software, which many supporters — even those who weren’t tech savvy — found to be user-friendly. Supporters told her they loved bidding from home, Giesen said.
Challenges included paring down the offerings so they wouldn’t appear overwhelming on the computer screen, highlighting items that would be appropriate to the season and finding items that would appeal to different demographics and interests. They also had to take attractive photos of the merchandise and write up more detailed online descriptions, she said.
Roncalli promoted the event by sending out more than 4,000 postcards and sharing Facebook posts and videos. This helped to reach new audiences, such as alumni from out of state who might not normally attend, Giesen said.
She and long-time supporter John Jagemann of Manitowoc were emcees of the 45-minute livestreamed finale, which introduced co-chairs, featured a message from John Stelzer, Roncalli’s president, shared student and alumni video testimonials, highlighted the auction items and held a drawing for the raffle tickets that had been purchased at the high school.
Their goal of the evening was to hold the attention of viewers by entertaining them and keeping the show moving, Giesen said.
They also helped supporters feel like they were part of the week-long event through emails and text alerts.
New to this year was a Jets Challenge Match, through which an anonymous alumnus matched gifts dollar for dollar, up to $50,000, and raised $54,000 of the total.
Pizza Garden also donated 10% of its sales throughout the day of the event.
The auction funds primarily tuition assistance, allowing the school system to continue serving students of all economic backgrounds. About 65% of Roncalli families receive some tuition assistance.
The 37th annual Roncalli Pierside Auction is scheduled for April 24, 2021. Will it be live or virtual? Possibly a combination, Giesen said.