Success Story: COAF raised $4.5 MILLION in a televised benefit for the children of Armenia
In this video, I’m joined by Haig from the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) and Ariel from Virtual Gala Collaborative. They took us behind the scenes of COAF’s latest fundraising event, Moving Mountains: A Televised Benefit for the Children of Armenia. Through this star-studded virtual event, they raised over $4.5 MILLION. This is officially the most we’ve ever seen raised in a single campaign on Givebutter! All funds raised help provide critical resources needed to support Armenian youth and advance rural communities throughout Armenia. Follow along to learn:
- What made them turn to Givebutter to pull off this incredibly successful event
- How they made it effortless for donors to support their cause
- Tips, tricks, and lessons learned for simultaneously broadcasting a virtual event online and on television
“I jumped right to Givebutter...I've used it before, I know it's a very stable product, and I can rely on it. And it has great abilities to handle international registrants, international donors, and the kind of flexibility we needed. Choose your technology wisely...when it comes down to it, you need something that is reliable and something that is easy and as frictionless as possible—which Givebutter fits the bill for me.”
See why celebrities like Dan Levy, Tina Fey, Andrea Martin, and so many others stand behind this powerful mission!
Campaign at a glance
Full video script
Rachel: Hey everybody! Rachel here with Givebutter. Thanks for joining for another Success Story from the Givebutter community. Today, we are featuring the Children of Armenia Fund, also known as COAF. This nonprofit officially raised the single most funds raised in a campaign on Givebutter. Are you curious how much that is? $4.5 MILLION. Yes! This is all in an effort to support the children of Armenia. I have Haig and Ariel here with me to share how they were able to create such an engaging, star-studded televised benefit. They're also going to share what made them turn to Givebutter and—you know ‘em, you love ‘em—tips, tricks, and lessons learned along the way, so we can all give better with Givebutter. Thank you both so much for joining today.
Haig: Thanks for having us. Rachel.
Ariel: You bet. Happy to be here.
Rachel: To start, why don't you both introduce yourself and what COAF does. Let's start with you, Haig.
Haig: Children of Armenia Fund, COAF, has been around for 17 years. We're all about rural development in Armenia, primarily for children and for youth, providing them the opportunities to advance themselves and giving them access to education, healthcare, social services, and economic development programs. We’re in about 64 villages across Armenia and 5 different provinces. In addition to our programs in the fields that I just specified, we also do infrastructure improvements in a lot of these villages. We have a state-of-the-art facility up in northern Armenia, which we built from the ground up, and that serves as an after school center for children from the villages to come and take a lot of these courses there.
Rachel: Beautiful. What about you?
Ariel: I'm Ariel Glassman. I am actually a fundraising consultant and the Managing Director of the Virtual Gala Collaborative, which is the group that Haig worked with and who put this event together. Maybe I'll share a little bit about the background of it. One of the things I love working most on this event is it was a complete, short-term pivot from a different plan. We were originally working on a replacement of the gala that they have every fall which is beautiful and very glamorous. We were going to go for something virtual like that and then, of course, the conflict in Armenia broke out. All of a sudden, completely different. So we went from glamorous-online-virtual-gala-holiday theme to emergency-relief telethon. Thankfully, we were able to carry on with some of the plans and videos we were making, but this was a very challenging moment for the organization. The campaign really represents all the hard work that got put into what this organization wants to accomplish on the ground in Armenia.
Rachel: Amazing. Amazing. Let's dive right into this beautiful benefit. Can you tell us a little bit more, Haig, about the big picture? What was your goal? What were you hoping to accomplish? What were you thinking through in terms of fundraising strategy?
Haig: You know Rachel, we had a lot of challenges just like a lot of nonprofit organizations had this year. Typically, we have a very fancy gala in New York at Cipriani’s, attended by about 500 people. That's our main fundraiser. This year, with the pandemic, we were like “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?” That's when we brought on Ariel and her team to sort of guide us in coming up with alternative solutions to fundraisers. We decided, obviously, we're going to go virtual—and Ariel can let you know a little bit more about why Givebutter exactly and how that came about. We also took advantage this year of the fact that there's a huge Armenian community out here in Southern California. Similar to the Latino communities, there's networks here in Los Angeles: Armenian language networks. We came up with a hybrid solution of having a virtual platform and also simultaneously having it broadcast on these Armenian networks here in LA. Believe it or not, most of our donor base was on the East Coast, specifically the tri-state region. This was a wonderful opportunity for us to go global, thanks to the virtual component, and also extend our base out here on the West Coast, which has a very sizable Armenian community, by making it available on these Armenian networks. It really was a hybrid solution actually, between the local, ethnic, Armenian television channels, as well as the virtual platform, which I think works wonderfully for us.
Rachel: Absolutely. I'm just curious; since you were branching out into new networks, so to speak, did you see any increase or difference in the number of new donors or supporters? I know you had almost over 1,000 supporters on your campaign, right? Amazing!
Ariel: Huge. It was an acquisition monster, in my opinion. I think that the TV had a lot to do with that, the simulcast, but, also the COAF’s marketing team did a really great job promoting this event on social. My team had some input into that strategy as well, but they really made it happen. I think that made the virtual reach even more than the previous virtual event we did in the summer with COAF.
Rachel: Right. Well, what did they do? In your opinion, what was the secret sauce or the magic that they did in marketing that was different or really worked?
Ariel: For one thing, we were sure to gather appearances for the show that we knew would be popular with the audience. As you probably saw, there were a number of celebrities who either were of Armenian descent or great friends of the Armenian community. The organization really leveraged those relationships to bring those folks on board. I think that was really exciting. We rolled them out slowly. We didn't just put it out in one burst; we created a rhythm. Meanwhile, this is happening with a team working in the U.S. and a team working in Armenia 12 hours apart. We were finding late night collaboration meetings to be the best way to plan that.
Rachel: Definitely. I remember I first saw the campaign when I was on Twitter. There was a little—I don't remember if it was a video or a picture, but it was Dan Levy, and I was “Ahh!” This was totally speaking to me because I'd be so excited to see that appearance, right? That's what first caught my attention. I love that you guys were slowly and intentionally teasing people and rolling that out and enticing them. Let's talk a little bit more about details about Givebutter being the fundraising platform that you chose. Ariel, what led you to that solution for COAF? Why was that the right thing? What did that look like?
Ariel: Well, it's an interesting story. This was actually the third platform we basically were intending to use. It [the event] had an auction component, so we originally went for something that had an auction component—which I know that Givebutter is putting together. It's going to be really exciting! But, that first product was very, very new and unfortunately not as stable as advertised. So then we jumped to yet another product, which unfortunately was not able to handle international donors in the way that we needed it to at high volume. One of the reasons I jumped right to Givebutter was A.) I've used it before. I know it's a very stable product, and I can rely on it. And B.) it has great abilities to handle international registrants, international donors, and the kind of flexibility we needed: to not require physical addresses when people giving overseas don't exactly have the same kind of zip code or structure to their address. Obviously, you guys have that stuff built in. It was just an immediate choice for thinking, “We've got to be on top of creating something that can help us capitalize on this audience.”
Rachel: Absolutely. Do you have—I guess this could be for either of you as I share this beautiful, gorgeous page. Of course, everybody who’s following along, we're going to link to all the things, so you can check it out for yourself. You should definitely watch the entire thing, maybe twice. As we're looking at this page, can you tell us about the logistics of how this worked? Tips and tricks for those who are curious: how did you pull off this “simulcast” that you speak of? What did it look like? How did you guys pull this off?
Ariel: Well, sure. And obviously, Haig, jump in...
Haig: No, please go!
Ariel: In terms of the simulcast, we actually had a unique situation going. We were in collaboration with the technical staff at the Armenian TV station in Los Angeles. My team, who works with a webcast producer in LA, was actually running the show from the studio in collaboration with the staff who we met that week.
Ariel: It was a real collaboration with the TV station. Essentially, we broadcasted the same signal to Givebutter and to the TV station, so everybody was seeing the exact same thing at the exact same time. I am obsessed with having interactive live chat during my events. I've had it actually save the day a couple of times when other systems—not Givebutter—literally broke in the middle of an event. I love having it and I loved that I was able to use HTML iframes here to put a live chat in even though obviously, if you scroll a lot, you'll see that the Armenian community made incredible use of the ability to leave messages for each other in the supporter wall, which I love. Maybe Haig you can speak to this, but it felt like a visualization to me of the incredible surge in just community togetherness and support that this whole time has brought forth in the Armenian community. It was just beautiful to see and visualize there.
Rachel: So this wasn't—because I already know I'm going to get questions on this on social—how did you do this, again? This was coded in?
Ariel: Yeah! Where you edit your story on the main page when you set up your event, there is actually, if you look for it, a little icon with two carets: one pointing left and right. That's for HTML code. The webcaster I work with has a custom system for certain types of streaming and also a chat function. We built this custom chat box and put it in, but you could also put one from YouTube in there. Vimeo. Anything that's “HTML iframes.” I loved the flexibility of that; I really did.
Rachel: Gotcha, gotcha. We love that. Our whole team was definitely nerding out when we saw that. I also noticed that you're still getting donations in well after your event. Are you sharing this somewhere? How is that happening?
Haig: We're still pushing it out on social media, with e-blasts, thanking donors, asking people if they didn't get to watch it, it's not too late. Here's a replay of it on Givebutter. People are watching it and donating. There's something to be said: the fact that our donor base is mostly Armenian, it travels a lot. You've got Armenians, mostly in North America but all over the world, sharing it now. They're like, “Take a look at this program!” The power of social media, right? A lot of people are talking about, “Hey, did you catch that great program?” and sharing it with one another. People are watching replays of it and getting inspired to donate, so that's what's going on.
Rachel: I love it. Thank you for sharing the process there. That's another question I know I'm going to get asked. Haig, I'm wondering what's next? What is the future of fundraising for your organization?
Haig: This is a very good question. I was talking about the gala that we do in New York every December. I think that no matter what, with the pandemic and all next year, I think—Ariel and I have talked a lot about this. I think the future of fundraising for nonprofits has changed. For 16 years, we just did this very fancy gala. But now, we're realizing that moving forward...just like the Golden Globes or the Academy Awards...having the event, the fundraiser, the benefit also shown virtually simultaneously—why not? We would also utilize these Armenian networks here in Los Angeles and also get it on TV. I think the model moving forward is even if we do have the in-person fundraisers, we're definitely going to make them available virtually and on Armenian television here in LA. I don't see us as an organization relying just on having a sit-down gala for 500 people when you can increase your donor base and your constituency by making the fundraiser available to so many other people on different platforms.
Rachel: The future is hybrid; that's what I'm hearing you say.
Haig: It is hybrid. It's definitely hybrid. You could stream an event on Facebook Live or Instagram. But, our issue was how do you watch and donate? Right? The hybrid model was “Okay, great. On Givebutter, it’s obvious how you can donate.” But then, we were very creative as a team. I told Ariel. I said, “Listen, the demographic that's going to be watching it on television though is not necessarily tech savvy.” The grandmas or a certain generation that isn't necessarily internet savvy isn't going to go in and know what to do on Givebutter. So we had different options available. We had to create a phone number for them to dial in and donate some people by phone and set up a phone bank volunteer system. You have to think of all the different avenues to create that hybrid model that we're talking about. Does it seem archaic to do a telethon where you've got people calling in or give over text? We had different models. Go online and donate. If you can't for whatever reason, call this number and a phone bank volunteer will help you. Or, text “blah, blah, blah” to this phone number and donate that way.
Ariel: And the phones were ringing off the hook. I think we expected it to be an afterthought, and it was not. Thank goodness we had enough volunteers and a system in place to handle the volume of it. It was intense.
Haig: Totally. But hybrid models—don't stick to just one way of doing things, okay? You have to change things up. You have to give people different options. You have to always put yourself in the shoes of the donor and what age demographic. Like with Ariel, a lot of times we were talking on the phone, having our meetings, and my mom would be in the hallway. My mom's like 70, and she's going to kill me for just announcing her age. I'm like, “Mom, would you know...blah, blah, blah?” She goes, “Well, if I’m watching it on the Armenian network, I'm going to call the number probably.”
Ariel: We got feedback from the community. We looked to the people who represented the demographics that we knew we wanted to participate, and I think we really struck gold doing it that way. I would also like to point out, while we're on the topic of Haig’s mom, that she came up with the name for this event.
Ariel: Once we decided that we had to have this emergency telethon format instead of the gala, we knew we needed a brand that reflected what we were trying to accomplish. Haig’s mom was behind on a Zoom call and we just said, “Well, why do you give to COAF?” She said “Because you guys move mountains for the kids.” That was it. Right there. Then of course with the graphic design, if you go to it, you can kind of see some of the elements. That's actually Mount Ararat’s silhouette, which is the most famous and loved mountain in a very mountainous country: Armenia. We were trying to connect it visually, as well as that’s something that literally came straight from the horse's mouth. Not that your mom is a horse. Your mom is beautiful.
Rachel: I love that so much. Just to close here, I'm wondering if you both had one quick word of advice for all the fundraisers who are watching right now.
Ariel: Choose your technology wisely. We had a journey with this event on it. Bells and whistles and new stuff is great, but when it comes down to it, you need something that is reliable and something that is easy and as frictionless as possible—which Givebutter fits the bill for me. I'm doing other campaigns on it right now. Pick your tech wisely. Don't be afraid to try new things. Don't be afraid to try and leverage all the features.
Haig: Yeah! Thank God for Ariel because I'm not a tech guy. I was like “What platform? Let me know.” I'm a fundraiser, you know? I'll repeat what I said. I think hybrid models for fundraising are great. Don't stick to the same way of doing things. Make sure you're calling your donor base prior to any events and getting commitments and things like that. Be very—I don't want to use the word aggressive, but use your social media. Use your contacts. Get the word out there because obviously—and you said it, Rachel—even after the event, we're getting donations coming in because we're still promoting the event and the cause. These are more general fundraising advice and tips, but be clear with your messaging and what you're doing. Know who your circle of supporters are and try to utilize them as best as possible and get them invested into the mission of the organization. These are all very important things; it's about communications.
Ariel: There's another thing: it's really about stepping up and telling your community what you need. If you watch the messaging in this event, we were very clear. We are building X number of homes for people who are displaced refugees. Of course, there's fine print where we're using it for a variety of our initiatives, but we were able to create a really great illustration of the need and work to bring it to donors in a vulnerable way. I think that setting a big giant goal like that publicly, having the kind of emotion that was involved from the host and the CEO and the people in the videos...if you don't present what you need to the world, then they can't give it to you. That is another great piece of advice that I would give to any nonprofit right now. Be transparent and vulnerable about what you need and the people who love you will step up and they will give.
Rachel: Yes; so good! Excellent words of advice. Powerful. Thank you both so much for using Givebutter, for sharing this inspiring event, and for letting us uplift your incredible Success Story today.
Haig: Thank you, Rachel.
Ariel: Thank you so much, Rachel.
Haig: And Ariel, thank you for choosing Givebutter!
Rachel: Yes, thank you so much. We love our partners! For everybody else who's following along, we look forward to seeing you next week. Please remember to like, share, and subscribe to Givebutter’s YouTube channel, so you never miss a Success Story again. Until next time, goodbye everybody!