The Nonprofit Organization
Dorchester Paws strives to instill humane principles into society through the prevention of cruelty to animals.
Dorchester Paws, formerly known as Frances R. Willis SPCA, is a 501©3 nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of animals in Dorchester County, South Carolina. As the only open admission shelter in Dorchester County, Dorchester Paws partners with Dorchester Code Enforcement, and takes in every lost, abandoned, and abused animal and provide them with food, shelter, and medical attention until they find their forever home.
The Dorchester Paws shelter was established in 1972 by Frances R. Willis with land donated by KapStone. Dr. Brunson Westbury and Frances R. Willis worked to get the road build and land cleared to open the facility. Over the years, the shelter has been expanded, but continues to reach and exceed capacity because the community is growing, and the pet overpopulation crisis is not abating.
Dorchester Paws, a private shelter that does have a county contract, processes just under 4,000 animals a year on an annual budget of roughly a million dollars. This includes intake, kittens, cats, puppies, dogs, owner surrenders, strays, Animal Control, court cases of abused and neglected animals, as well as other cases where someone has been arrested or needs emergency care, as law enforcement cannot leave the animals in the home.
Delivering on Dorchester Paws’ important and critical mission is highly dependent on a substantial amount of fundraising revenue being generated directly by the organization through donations and fundraising events. The expenses associated with serving its mission, and processing nearly 4,000 animals a year are significant and immediate, including providing the shelter, food, vaccines, medical care, spaying and neutering, and other operating expenses. It costs $35 per animal just for intake, not including medical care, or spay/neutering. It also costs $25 per day just to house an animal. Raising enough money to cover these daily, weekly, and monthly expenses is absolutely essential to enabling Dorchester Paws to serve these animals and preventing a situation where there would be any gaps that could leave animals in crisis.
Traditionally, Dorchester Paws largest fundraiser each year has been their Annual Oyster Roast. In February 2020, prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the organization held their Downs Byrd Memorial 20th Annual Oyster Roast fundraising event, known since 2000 for being a great party where supporters enjoy endless oysters, live music dancing and bidding in live and silent auctions. It is widely known as a must-attend event each year in Summerville, SC. The event, with historical attendance nearing 1,000, raises money through upfront ticket sales, sponsorships, and the live and silent auctions. The typical net raise from the event raised from this event has been about $40,000, in addition to the great awareness built through the event which gets people talking about the organization and their important mission.
As the pandemic unfolded in 2020, with lockdown, including social distancing and mask mandates, in full effect, no permits were being granted for live events of this magnitude in South Carolina, and the organization was forced to cancel other signature fundraising events including Rock the Rescue. It became clear that Dorchester Paws would need to reimagine this event for 2021 and to identify additional ways to raise money in the changed fundraising event landscape. The loss of this event in its typical form, not only meant the loss of the funds raised, but also impacted fundraising during the year, as attendees typically give multiple times during the year after attending the event. These factors, in addition to the overall impact of the pandemic on fundraising, left the organization coming in to 2021, in the red, and faced with a shortfall that would significantly impact its ability to serve its mission going forward, if not turned around.
As 2020 drew to a close, Dorchester Paws leaders, Executive Director, Maddie Moore, and Director of Shelter Operations, April Howard, along with their Board of Directors knew they needed to take immediate action to not only reimagine their fundraising strategy for 2021, but also to find ways to raise money immediately in 2020. The leadership team became aware of MaestroSoft, an Arreva Company, that has been helping nonprofit organizations raise money and engage donors with fundraising auctions, galas, and events for many years. They saw how MaestroSoft had recently been helping organizations successfully pivot to virtual auctions and fundraising events during the pandemic and decided to work with MaestroSoft and use their MaestroAuction Online software to help them quickly launch their first virtual auction, combined with a small live event in early November. The virtual auction was a success and helped them raise $15,000, which was three times the amount they’d previously raised through auctions. This success created excitement around further brainstorming to reimagine their fundraising for 2021 to significantly elevate dollars raised to be able to successfully deliver on their mission.
Through the brainstorming process, the leadership team at Dorchester Paws came to the decision to shift the Annual Oyster Roast, scheduled for February of 2021, to a fully virtual event; a “Virtual Pot Roast” event where hungry oyster lovers, were able to pre-order a pot roast stew or oyster roast stew, that could be picked up at a designated location. This allowed for some continuity of this traditional event until such time that it could again be live, along with a silent auction, but still left the organization needing to come up with a major auction/event that could be held in 2021 to make up for the shortfall, which was exacerbated by a downscaled February event.
The team came up with the creative and fun idea of holding a formal gala event with a “Prom” theme, a ball and gown event with a sit-down dinner and live auction. “We really felt that this type of formal gala event would be really engaging and a lot of fun for supporters yearning for a nice dressed-up night out, after such a long time socially distanced, and would be very different than our annual Oyster Roast event, with its outside, party atmosphere, and everyone standing around shucking oysters,” shared Maddie Moore, Executive Director. The team knew they had a winning concept, but admittedly had more questions than answers when it came to making this entirely new type of fundraising event all come together successfully. Their enthusiasm for the idea was great, but they found themselves dealing with a lot of uncertainty. The team grappled with specific questions of whether to do an auction and whether to have a professional auctioneer, and even bigger overarching questions like, “How are we going to do this, we’ve never put on a gala before?” The team decided to turn to MaestroSoft, who had recently helped them with their virtual auction, for advice and guidance.
Dorchester Paws met with the MaestroSoft team and finalized their plan to launch their new live auction event, “Prom by the Pond, A Dorchester Paws Celebration” on June 19th, 2021. The Dorchester Paws leadership team was not only impressed by their earlier successes in working with MaestroSoft software, but also by the auction event expertise that Jay Fiske, Chief Auctioneer and Co-President of MaestroSoft, and the entire MaestroSoft team, brought to the table.
Maddie Moore, Executive Director of Dorchester Paws shares, “MaestroSoft really helped us a lot. Jay suggested we run our event the way that he had traditionally helped countless other organizations run galas. He walked us through, step-by-step, how we should put together our run-of-show, from how should properly check-in guests, take their credit card payment information, and even how we should set up our tables, put the program together for the evening, which auction items should be silent auction items, which items should be live auction items, and so much more. He truly helped us with every step of the way, including putting in place the right software and services to optimize our auction event and fundraising results.”
Dorchester Paws utilized MaestroSoft Event Optimization Consulting Services, as well as MaestroAuction™ and MaestroAuction Online™ to set-up, manage, and promote their auction event. They used Text2Bid® virtual, mobile bidding software for the silent auction for the week leading up to the event and then closing it just prior to the event. During the event, they held the live auction and conducted a raise-the-paddle/fund-a-need fundraiser, led by a certified, expert, live auctioneer, through MaestroSoft’s MaestroAuctioneer service. The organization integrated digital technology throughout the event, using Text2Bid for the Heads/Tail, Wine-Pull, $25 Adopt-a-Pet, and the selling of $10 corsages for the “Prom.” Text2Bid made it easy for people to bid and give in multiple ways leading up to and during the auction. To get started, they simply needed to pull out their phones and text the keyword “Prom” to 71760.
Maddie admits that there was some hesitancy about introducing technology like Text2Bid to an event given the somewhat older demographics of their supporters. However, she shares that, “It turned out that our guests absolutely loved it. They thought it was great, because they received automatic reminders, so they didn’t have to leave their table to keep bidding. This was really the first time that people had been out since COVID, so they were also happy about safely bidding via their phones, and not having to share pens. They also didn’t have to keep walking up to the items all evening to make sure they were the highest bidder. And, we had so many fun things going on through Text2Bid, like the corsages for sale, the wine-pull and more, that it was really just a lot of fun for everyone.”
Dorchester Paws also made sure to fully engage many yearlong and new sponsors for this new event to help signal to the business community that it was time to get back in the rhythm of giving to the organization, and to raise additional funds to offset the expenses of putting on this great event. Sponsorships were sold that provided more exposure for sponsors than just a banner on the night of the event. Sponsors received prime exposure on the MaestroAuction Online event website leading up to, during, and after the event, as well as on social media and on the organization’s website. Maddie shared that the dollars raised from one big presenting sponsor and multiple lower dollar sponsorships alone, more than paid for the technology platforms for the event.
By all accounts, the “Prom by the Pond, Live Auction and Celebration” event was a tremendous success for Dorchester Paws. The $73,000 raise from this new event, including $22,000 from Raise-the-Paddle/Fund-a-Need, turned around the deficit the organization was facing, exceeding their goal by $35,000. 202 total bids were placed, and 57 bidders placed at least one bid. 12 event sponsorships, sold to very happy sponsors, helped more than offset the technology expenses. The organization also significantly increased donor reach and impact with this new, very engaging event that brought in new donors and re-engaged donors, bringing many major donors back who had lapsed during COVID.
The Dorchester Paws leadership team is the first to admit that they were blown away by how successful this event was, as it was such a departure from their previous, also successful, Oyster Roast. Maddie says, “I was simply not expecting results of this magnitude. I was expecting to raise some amount of money and to re-engage donors, but at the end of the event, as people were leaving, they were absolutely raving about how much they loved it. They loved how it was a gala where they could dress up, come out, and have a good time. Many said it was exactly like going back to prom. As it turned out, this was a very different crowd than that for the Oyster Roast. This was a crowd of supporters who were more interested in a nice sit-down dinner event, and I don’t think we had really realized before that these donors may not have necessarily been coming to other events of ours that were outdoor events. We also realized how impactful an event of this type can be with all the ways to get people engaged and giving at the event simply by picking up their phones. We’ve really come to realize that these are two totally different great events, with totally different crowds and we’re going to greatly expand our fundraising potential going forward with both events in place alternating on a semi-annual basis.”
The organization had high praise for MaestroSoft’s role in helping them achieve such success. “Without the consulting and assistance of MaestroSoft, and having a MaestroAuctioneer, I really feel that this event would have not even raised half as much as it did. Clearly, the MaestroSoft software and services were instrumental in how smoothly and easily we were able to put on this event and handle every aspect of it so well,” says Maddie Moore. “I was amazed at how quickly we could check in 250 people. It literally takes about 10 seconds a person, and we closed out and checked everybody out of our entire event at the end of the evening in less than 30 minutes. It’s all automated, they just come on up with their receipt, and they walk out the door, and we run their credit card. It’s very easy and hassle-free, there’s nothing for the attendee to do, other than picking up their auction items, and relishing a great event. The fully integrated payment processing makes it very easy to be able to check out with qCheck, essentially eliminating the traditional tedious checkout process.”
Maddie shares this final advice for any other organization that might be considering working with MaestroSoft, “Whether you’ve put on an auction, gala, or other fundraising event before, you’ve never put on an event, or you’re trying something new for the first time, it’s definitely worth having somebody who’s been there, and done that with the experience and the expertise, like MaestroSoft. The insight from the consulting was priceless, it really was. The way they guided us through the process, every step of the way, was key to our success, and the coaching post-event to position us for even greater success with our next events was tremendous. They’re truly partnered for long-term success. Everybody who was part of our event team remarked about all we learned from this event that we will be able to carry forward into our future events. We’re looking forward to working with MaestroSoft and achieving even greater levels of success for our next event.”
MaestroSoft Auction and Event Software
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