The Nonprofit Organization
The Sno-Valley Senior Center, housed in the beautiful refurbished Odd Fellows Hall in Carnation, Washington, has been serving Snoqualmie Valley (Carnation, Duvall, Fall City) Seniors and their families since 1975. Their mission is to inspire, support, and empower seniors to lead healthy, and enriched lives, serving as a community center to get people of all ages in the region focusing on seniors. They offer access to Valley resources, and all kinds of adult education, transportation services, health and wellness programs, as well as daily meals at noon. Their facilities are often used for weddings, receptions, birthday parties, community events, public meetings, memorials, seminars, classes, and more.
Sno-Valley Senior Center operates on an annual budget of approximately $650,000 and funding comes from city and county funding, grants, thrift store sales, individual donations, and fundraising events. The center is largely dependent on the community and their support to fund their operations, services, and programming, and fundraising events are the largest source of revenue for the center. The largest of their annual fundraising events is their auction event, followed by their Plant Sale event. They’ve also held very popular Rainbow Bingo events featuring a drag queen bingo caller since 2015.
"Even though our annual auction event was traditionally our largest fundraiser, we were seriously considering not doing the event in 2021 if we needed to do the event 100% virtually. Social distancing made it clear that we could not host anywhere near the 200 usual attendees in a venue, and without finding a way to bring the energy, enthusiasm, and competitive bidding that was common with our live events, we were really at a loss on how we could realistically pull off the successful event we needed to reinvigorate our fundraising to raise the money we needed to be able to fund our operations, programs, and services."
Lisa Yeager, Director at Sno-Valley Senior Center
Sno-Valley Senior Center suffered a loss of approximately 90% of their revenue, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. They had to close their thrift store, which historically brings in $70,000 annually, and the pandemic also had a huge impact on their funding in a number of other ways. COVID restrictions, including social distancing, meant the immediate loss of funds from people paying for programs, and from those who typically rent out the facility for their own events such as birthday and other celebrations. Sno-Valley Senior Center’s only source of fundraising remaining was their monthly recurring donors, which at least helped to keep a small flow of funding until grants started coming in and they could then pivot to new ways of fundraising.
During the first year of the pandemic, in 2020, Sno-Valley moved forward to do their annual auction event as an entirely virtual event using Greater Giving software. They were disappointed by the entirely virtual event experience, as well as the significantly reduced revenue results. Even with the reduced overhead, with no physical venue, the auction only succeeded in raising $21,000, and seemed to be lacking much of the energy, engagement, and enthusiasm of a successful live event.
As they entered 2021, Both Lisa Yeager, Director and Kira Avery, Assistant Director at Sno-Valley Senior Center were understandably apprehensive about the prospect of possibly having to again make their 2021 event completely virtual. “Even though our annual auction event was traditionally our largest fundraiser, we were seriously considering not doing the event in 2021 if we needed to do the event 100% virtually. Social distancing made it clear that we could not host anywhere near the 200 usual attendees in a venue, and without finding a way to bring the energy, enthusiasm, and competitive bidding that was common with our live events, we were really at a loss on how we could realistically pull off the successful event we needed to reinvigorate our fundraising to raise the money we needed to be able to fund our operations, programs, and services,” said Lisa Yeager, Director.
Lisa enthusiastically points to a chance meeting that made all the difference. “Luckily, we were introduced to Jay Fiske (Co-President and Chief Auctioneer) with MaestroSoft at a local Rotary Club event and struck up a conversation with him that changed everything. Jay shared with us exciting ideas about how we could reimagine our auction event as a hybrid auction that combined the best elements of a live auction with virtual elements to produce an engaging, successful auction event while accommodating social distancing,”
Jay shared with Lisa and Kira how other nonprofit organizations had been having great success through virtual auctions, galas, and events using MaestroSoft software and services. He said that with so much uncertainty, even with signs of hope in 2021, about the possibility of doing live auctions, many organizations he worked with were planning for hybrid virtual and live auctions and events, that would allow them to adjust the blend of virtual and live elements, to allow for a successful event that raised significant money and engaged donors, no matter the road ahead. Lisa and Kira left the conversation incredibly enthused and hopeful, confident that they could really do this, and produce a great, successful auction event, even during these challenging times. They decided to move forward with MaestroSoft and set about planning for their 2021 auction event knowing that they could make a final decision on whether this would be a live, virtual, or hybrid auction event, depending on how the pandemic unfolded, as the event date drew closer.
As Sno-Valley Senior Center met with the MaestroSoft team and worked with them to plan for a successful auction/event for 2021, amidst an ever-changing landscape, they went back and forth internally on doing the auction and event live, virtually, or as a hybrid (and if hybrid, on what the mix of live and virtual should be). Ultimately, given uncertainty around the Delta Variant, they reached a decision to do it as a hybrid event with just 50 people in-room, in their facility with a capacity of 115, to comfortably allow for social distancing, and to provide an ability for others to “attend the auction event virtually.”
Lisa was enthusiastic about how engaging the hybrid event with Maestrosoft was, “Having 50 people in the room made a big difference, compared to our all-virtual event last year, really adding to the energy, fun, and excitement. The approximately 60 additional people viewing virtually online, really reacted positively to the interactivity created by having a real live auctioneer lead the auction. This year, with Jay (MaestroSoft Certified Auctioneer) actively engaging with everyone presented a night and day contrast to last year’s all virtual event, where every aspect was done online, and it was almost eerily quiet. Jay was all decked out in costume as the ‘Wizard of Bids,’ in line with our event theme - Sno-Valley in the Emerald City.”
Kira Avery adds, “This year we really stepped things up from a technology standpoint. We used MaestroSoft’s Text2Bid (digital, mobile bidding software) and provided live-streamed video of the auction and event, allowing those viewing virtually to see all the action and interaction as it unfolded, which helped bring the virtual and live aspects together perfectly, and also provided great visibility for our sponsors, with lots of sponsor mentions, sponsor messages, and 30 second video ‘commercials’ for top sponsors. Speaking of sponsors, we had the most sponsors we’ve ever had this year, thanks to the great value we were able to provide them. Typically, sponsors would just receive a set number of seats at the auction, but this year we were able to provide gift bags with a bottle of wine, chocolate, cheese, and crackers.”
The live auction purposefully had just 15 well-selected items, bid on by around 100 bidders, using MaestroSoft’s Text2Bid mobile bidding software. “The MaestroSoft team produced a terrific and very short video explaining the simple steps involved in using Text 2Bid, that made it easy for our live and virtual attendees to place and manage their bids directly from their smartphones. There was really great fun and excitement around the bidding, with the auctioneer encouraging and playing off of competitive bidding activity. There were also a couple of virtual watch parties, with 6 to 10 people gathered in homes, happening during the auction, further expanding the fun and participation,” adds Kira Avery.
Sno-Valley Senior Center also held a silent auction on the MaestroAuction Online provided website, leading up to, and ending just before, the live auction event. Supporters could view the items and simply click on the item and use Text2Bid to place their bid.
The Sno-Valley Senior Center’s “Sno-Valley in the Emerald City” Auction Event was a great success, and just what the organization needed to significantly boost revenues that had been impacted greatly by the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The hybrid, live and virtual auction event, with MaestroSoft yielded 233% more revenue than the previous year’s virtual auction revenues with Greater Giving, and also surpassed typical pre-COVID auction net revenue by 40%. while also reducing expenses without the need to rent a hotel facility for a larger live event.
Lisa and Kira expressed how impressed they were by the experience of working with MaestroSoft’s team and MaestroSoft software and services, including MaestroAuction Online, Text2Bid, and enlisting a professional, certified, MaestroAuctioneer. “We really like Text2Bid, it was extremely user-friendly, looked nice, and could be customized. Once we got accustomed to setting it up and using it, we were pleased with how easily we could get answers to any questions we had, directly from the team and the materials they provided. We were also very grateful that MaestroSoft introduced us to live streaming our auction, which we felt really contributed to this being such a great, engaging event. Enlisting a MaestroAuctioneer was a key success factor for this event. Thanks to the success of this auction event, combined with the reopening of our Thrift Store, we’ve really been able to turn things around for the better and were able to deliver on our goal of providing “Community Connections for Seniors,” said Kira.
Of course, the mission continues, with an ongoing need to raise even more money to fund operations, services, and more, and so Sno-Valley Senior Center is already working closely with the MaestroSoft team as they look forward to 2022. “We will definitely be working with MaestroSoft again. There’s no sense in messing with success!” adds Lisa Yeager.