Exclusive Q&A Session with Kids’ Chance of Massachusetts’ own John Wagner & Laurie Parsons
September 9, 2020
Kids Chance of America’s Membership Director Cheryl Ducette attended our Virtual Cocktail Hour/Silent Auction Fund Raiser—and afterwards, contacted us and asked if Kids Chance of America could write an article about the event to be shared with the other state chapters-and publish it in their December Chronicles.

We agreed and Laurie and John developed a Q&A that Kids Chance of America could use to assist them in writing the article. We are proud and humbled to be chosen for the Chronicles December issue, and we are posting both the Q&A, as well as the national article for those who may have an interest. In closing please feel free to reach out to us, if you have any questions about the event.

Read National’s Article

Why a virtual fund raiser now?

John: Well, our KCMA chapter had just gone through a reorganization under the guidance of KCOA, and although we knew that we were in the middle of COVID-19, and all the issues that come along with the virus, i.e.: food insecurities, loss of employment for many American families and high unemployment, etc., we understood that we had just brought on some new board members – after much time was spent in recruiting – and realized that we needed to engage these new members now with our mission, despite the epidemic. After our reorganization, KCMA created new committees; our Fundraising Committee -FRC- had all new members and they were motivated to “get going’ and raise money for next year’s KC student candidates. Laurie Parsons of AIM was named our new Committee Chair, and the stage was set.

Laurie: Being on a fundraising committee during the middle of a pandemic is a very daunting position to find yourself in. But when you consider the situation of so many people during this crisis, it became a matter of how, not if, we would host an event. So the first hurdle was how to have an event and still keep everyone safe. The option of doing a virtual event was our decision. Then we were forced with the task of making it attractive to professionals who these days find themselves on virtual events during the majority of their workday!

How did you begin?

John: Well, we had a lot of Zoom meetings to begin to get the committee members ideas down on paper. We did not have a budget, yet our mantra was to attempt to keep our cost minimal and in check. We began by researching different platforms that could host our event. We contacted some other nonprofits in the Boston area to find out what they had done and, after lots of discussion, we chose Bidding Owl, and then Laurie did a great job in negotiation fees.

Laurie: The first thing is to have a good fundraising committee. We have an excellent team and everyone has different strengths and ideas, and that helped to keep us on our toes and always looking to improve. You need to focus on planning and I can’t say enough how important it is to start early. We assigned tasks to the various members and we would follow up and communicate in between our meetings to make sure we stayed on track. It was helpful to reach out to other organizations and individuals who previously ran events and get their feedback. However, you have to be careful to use recommendations or ideas that match your needs. We are a fairly new chapter. It didn’t make sense for us to use the bidding website that a larger chapter uses when we didn’t have a large number of items in our silent auction. After a lot of research and phone interviews, we selected Bidding Owl and they were the right fit for our needs.

Who was invited, and how did you decide whom would be invited?

John: We focused on the plaintiff and defense WC bars. Two of our board and committee members, Buzz Schneider, a defense attorney and Vin Tentindo from TKCK, a defense firm from Boston, were given a list of attorneys that they would contact. We also extended invitations via emails and phone calls, not only to the insurance industry, but numerous businesses that provide services to the WC industry in MA.

Laurie: The short answer to that question is everybody! We had attorneys who work in the Workers Compensation arena and they sent out email blasts and talked up the event every time they were on the phone. We enlisted the help of the Senior Judge, Omar Hernandez, at the MA Department of Industrial Accidents to assist us in spreading the word to people in the industry as well. Insurer representatives are crucial to include; they are the individuals who are the first to deal with individuals or families that have experienced a catastrophic event. We used the virtual event to help us get the word out on the process for referral of someone who would qualify for these scholarships. And don’t underestimate family and friends, Some of our great auction items were donated and bought by people who participated due to the fact they knew it was important to us on the committee!

Where and how did you get the items you used to auction off, and what was the plan of action?

John: All of our board members contributed items, and without their generosity and giving, we would not have had as many items as we did. We knew that we needed some large items that would attract some high bids and $ such as sporting event tickets: i.e.: Boston Celtics and Bruins tickets (no Patriots this year), an apple watch, a super golf package, and a number of food and liquor baskets, etc., etc.; as well as some less expensive items: golf bags, a blender and even a “high tech” toaster, that would keep attendees’ interest and, hopefully, provide some fast paced excitement.

Laurie: We originally started with a short-term goal of 10 auction items. Once we obtained 10, we made it a goal to reach 20 items; by the time of the event, we had a total of 32 items. We requested donations from attorneys, insurers, vendors, board members, family and friends. We actually sent out letters requesting donations from Massachusetts based companies, but that wasn’t productive so that will need to be one of our focus points for our next event. Due to the pandemic, we decided that we should focus on a few large items, but have the majority of the items for $100 or less. We wanted everyone to feel that they could participate. We heard of a silent auction where a toaster went for $225 due to a bidding war, if people understand the importance of the cause they will bid and be generous!

How did you decide when the bidding would begin?

John: The KC’s FRC decided that we would open the bidding before the evening of the auction, but not too early that people would lose interest. Laurie sent out an email to the list of attendees and possible attendees 10 days before the event to announce that bidding had opened, and how they could access the platform to begin to bid. Sending out a list of the items and opening the bidding before the days of the auction is crucial. You want to begin to create an “auction fever”, or what the auctioneer’s describe as the “endowment effect”. This is an important point, since the “endowment effect” means that when the bidder bids early on an item, they then have a sense of ownership; and anyone who has been outbid on an item at an auction knows what this feels like, and then the bidder will more likely bid up the item when the auction is live. In other words, the bidder is usually willing to bid a higher price than they originally intended, i.e.: the $50 bid on the toaster. Our administrative assistant, Rolisa Tutwyler, did a great job on keeping us on track, and we sent out a number of reminders (emails) the week before the event in an attempt to build interest and to “peat and repeat” advertising the event.

Laurie: We talked to many people about this aspect. The general consensus was to start one week before the actual event. That gave us an opportunity to make sure we had all the items in and listed on the website. It also provided an opportunity for individuals to see what awesome items we had for bid. One other thing is that it gave us an idea of what items we needed to focus on and talk up during our event. We were able to see what were the hot items, and what items we needed to highlight because of no bids.

How do you prepare for a live event, like a virtual auction?

John: Practice, practice, practice…..A week before the event, we gathered in Boston at the TKCK’s law firm’s conference room – who were kind enough to donate the space – as well as their IT guy who acted as our event director/producer, and we rehearsed as if the event were live. This rehearsal was important, since we went through the schedule and then worked out any glitches that we found in our notes. We had all the items with us that were going up for bid, and we actually lined them up in order. The rehearsal greatly assisted us in figuring out how and when the items would be presented, and who would present them. It was important to project high energy and some fast based excitement. We also allowed attendees to buy time to speak, and they could speak about whatever they wished as long as it was PG. We wanted to present a student to our audience, and Sue Mellody of Liberty Mutual and Shawn Deane of Ametros did a nice job in videotaping our first scholarship student. Our student did a wonderful job telling her story in a short video. We wanted to not only have a fast-paced event, but sprinkle the event with some videos that were humorous. Buzz knew a bartender that was also a standup comic, and they came up with some short videos on how to mix certain drink combos with names that reflected the WC industry. It was a big hit!

Laurie: Preparation and planning are critical! We had a production outline that listed every single thing we were doing and the amount of time we had for each segment. The worst thing you can do is have dead air so it was our mission to have every minute accounted for. We decided we would rather run a few minutes over than have silence. The most important and effective thing that we did was conduct a dress rehearsal the week before; we went through every aspect of the time slot, decided who was going to speak and for how long, and made any adjustments to the program we needed. I think we all agreed that was the most beneficial piece of preparation that we did.

Who’s idea was it to have a “Door Prize” at the end of the auction.
John: It was Laurie’s idea, and it worked….since a lot of attendees stayed until the end of the event.

Laurie: We knew that we were going to be discussing all the silent auction items during the event and continually focusing on the items that weren’t getting bid. It was important for us to keep everyone interested and in the event until the end. What better way to make that happen than to offer a door prize at the end of the event and require the person to still be attending to win!

What ideas would you like to share with other chapters when it comes to putting on such an event?

John: Well, I think the most important point is to have fun, and leave your egos at the door. All the planning and Zoom meetings created a good team vibe – we often had our meetings at 5 p.m.; and although we were a bit nervous when we went live, we were prepared. As one attendee commented after the event, “it was so much fun, the event had a feel of being involved in a call-in TV show”. Also, get yourself someone who has a radio voice and can assist with introducing the items to be bid. During our rehearsal, Shawn volunteered and he just cracked us up with his “show business announcing” voice. He did a great job, and kept the event moving. Also, after the rehearsal, we went out for some drinks and food in Boston. Not much was open due to the pandemic, but we ended up outside at a 99 Restaurant in the rain, under a leaky tent. It was dark, cold and the service was terrible….yet it was a bonding team experience that served us well.

Laurie: Work together with a team as there is a lot of work to be done and you need everyone’s help to make this type of event successful. I would absolutely recommend using someone who understands the technical part of the event. It would be horrible to have the event not work on the big day, I had nightmares about that before I met our tech expert! would also recommend using a bidding platform. Everyone loved being notified if they were outbid on that item they just had to have! I truly believe that the bidding platform increases the bids as it is instantaneous and it keeps people up to date on the items they are interested in. Plus, it is one less thing that you have to worry about during the event! Plan early and meet often! There is a lot to accomplish and you don’t want to be caught unprepared. I think it is important to carve out time during the event when you are not asking for money. For example our event was a virtual cocktail hour so we had a bartender film video clips of directions to make different cocktails. We sold time slots for people to purchase if they wanted to speak to the group to tell a story or promote their business, or just had something to say. Of course, having a scholarship recipient tell their story is a great heartwarming addition. I would say the last thing is don’t be afraid to ask.

How much money did you earn, and will you do it again?

John: Laurie has the final count, and we’re excited for next year. Most likely, we will still be facing Covid and, of course, we will be ready with script in hand.

Laurie: We earned $16,215. We are very proud of that accomplishment. Our first virtual event and in the middle of a pandemic! Everyone’s safety is our priority so if, in fact, it is not safe for us to gather in person, I would say we will do another virtual event. We had individuals contact us after the event to indicate they didn’t win a bid on the auction items but they still wanted to donate so, in the future, we would address that during the event and do a better job of indicating how donations can be made.

How did you deliver all those items?

John: Laurie delivered the items, although next year we may need to come up with another plan of action, since that is a lot of work. Also, Laurie didn’t want to travel to Hawaii.

Laurie: This is one area where we definitely could improve upon. We offered to deliver anything in the state of Massachusetts which, in and of itself, was difficult attempting to coordinate schedules. If the winning bidder was out of state. they had to pay for shipping. However, that became a challenge when bottles of liquor were involved in the auction item as Massachusetts does not allow for the shipping of alcohol, so make sure you have a plan in place to address this issue. In the future, one option we have discussed is a pick-up location for the items and if people want them shipped, we will require them to pay for shipping. We will make it known that if you bid on something with liquor. You will need to pick it up!