In this video, I’m joined by Chris from Northwest Film Forum. Northwest Film Forum incites public dialogue and creative action through collective cinematic experiences. Even though they couldn’t host their annual gala in person this year, Northwest Film Forum still served up a tasty online fundraising event that its supporters ate right up. Through its virtual Sunny-Side Up Brunch Fundraiser, supporters were invited to peruse a jam-packed menu of delectable donation levels—from sweet treats to their door to delectable filmmaker toolkits! Chris explains it all, as he shares:

  • How they transformed their in-person gala into a virtual event
  • What made this event so successful (Hint: Active team fundraisers!)
  • Tips, tricks, and lessons learned for creating an engaging virtual event experience
“[Givebutter] was super easy to use. Everybody was just like, “It felt second nature to all of us.” Something that really helped was all these team members having their own page, their own subpage. It actually ended up giving a little bit of that good competitive spirit which really helped.”

Stick around to learn how they made this event so egg-citing for supporters!

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Full video script

Rachel: Hey everybody! It's Rachel here with Givebutter. Thanks for joining for another Success Story from the Givebutter community. Today, we are featuring the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle. Recently, their Sunny-Side Up Brunch Fundraiser raised over $50,000 on Givebutter to further its mission of inciting public dialogue and creative action through collective cinematic experiences. Listen—if you're looking for a super creative, I mean over-the-top, one-of-a-kind fundraising virtual event example—this is the one for you. I have Chris here with me to share how they made this campaign so successful as well as tips, tricks, and lessons learned. Chris, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your story.

Chris: Thanks for having me.

Rachel: I’m so eager to dive in! To start, why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself, your role with your organization, a little bit more about your mission, and what you all do.

Chris: Totally. My name is Chris Day and I’m the Managing Director here at Northwest Film Forum. We are a nonprofit film arts organization in Seattle, Washington. We've been an organization now for… We're celebrating our 26th year this year! Our big 25th blowout was during the pandemic, so it was blowout-ish. It was kind of a gentle deflation, I guess, but it was good. We did an online smorgasbord for that, too. We are a lot of things. I’ll try to encapsulate it the best I can. We are an exhibition space; we have two different theaters inside one home. We show films from all around the world—independent, arthouse, repertory cinema, film-on-film, lots of local showcases—the list goes on. We also have a substantive education department as well for youth and adults. Education year round for filmmakers at all stages of their careers. We have robust artist support services such as our fiscal sponsorship program. We do direct grants to filmmakers and artists and gear rental… I'm sure I'm missing a bunch of other stuff, but we're a pretty small team that works ourselves to the bone and makes just a good film and media hub for artists to come and just experiment.

Rachel: Amazing! Well, I'm sure so many of you that are following along are nodding your heads as Chris says, “Small team, doing all that we can, wearing all the hats.” Inspiring! You guys are doing so many different things and you've been doing all this through a pandemic in the last year, which I'm sure is a part of what made you pivot to this Sunny-Side Up Brunch Fundraiser. I can't say it without smiling! Walk all of us back to the origin story here. How did you start thinking about this event? Have you ever done anything like it? Tell us more.

Chris: We usually do around late spring/early summer an annual gala fundraiser because summer, believe it or not, is a big movie time for a lot of places. But in Seattle, it's just so gorgeous during the summer it's hard to get people inside.

Rachel: Right!

Chris: It’s just one of those times. It's a good time to help fundraise for our operations and growth. During the pandemic, obviously, we—I don’t even know where to begin with all the changes that have happened! Right now, we're also looking to hire a lot of new staff, new positions, and new roles and come back from this pandemic honestly stronger than ever and with different offerings that have come into focus like our direct grants, for instance. We hadn't done it for a decade plus before the pandemic. Anyways, it was a good time to do the fundraiser. Obviously, we usually do our annual gala in person. Last year, we just skipped it all together because we had other relief loans and funds and other support that happened. But, it came time when it was like, “Okay, we do need to do our fundraiser.” Obviously, we couldn't be in person. We couldn't do a big blowout dinner event like we usually try to. We were just brainstorming with ourselves on staff and the Board and basically the feedback was, “How do I get my friends to be on Zoom on a Friday night or Saturday night?” Everyone hates Zoom at this point.

Rachel: A year into the pandemic—yeah!

Chris: We were just like, “What if we did a brunch? Would you be able to get your friends involved in that?” It just kind of felt right to be like, “This whole thing is an experiment anyway.” I know something that people can also relate to is that it's just this big question mark. It's unprecedented. People haven't tried online fundraisers in this way. I've seen a lot of other organizations do successful ones, so we were feeding off of what we learned from other organizations in that path. We were just like, “I don't know; let's try a brunch! Let's just get weird with it.” We were like “Two people might watch this, or 200 might watch this. I don't know, let's just be us and be weird and come up with weird ideas to try to get people on a Saturday morning to eat food and watch us weirdos do our thing.” Then we sealed the deal with our Marketing Manager Paul Siple. He created this amazing graphic of these smiley little eggs and it was the cutest thing in the world. We all went, “Awww!” Exactly! Those little happy eggs. That was the moment we were like, “Alright, this works! I think we can make this happen.”

Rachel: It just felt like there was a lot of synergy there with Givebutter. We have our Mr. Butter who's waving and smiling.

Chris: Yup! I can’t count how many times we made butter jokes.

Rachel: It just felt right to host this for you: for your brunch event and your smiling sun and eggs!

Chris: Exactly!

Rachel: But it seems like that sort of whimsy really resonated with your supporters. Everyone, of course, we're going to link this for you to explore, check out, donate, and support. Your supporter feed was so fun to look at. So many hilarious GIFS and comments. You had really active participants from the team side of things and just a really clever format for Zoom. Tell us a little bit more about how you structured the fundraising event. What are these different rooms and menu offerings that you guys came up with because I thought this was so clever.

Chris: We kind of stemmed off of an event we hosted back in December online as well: a winter solstice—big party basically—called Longest Night that we hosted the previous year for the first time in person. Then, we did it over Zoom last year. With our venue the way it is in person, we have many different rooms and spaces. We just basically activated the whole space and had stuff going on—audio, visual, the lights happening—in every room here. We were trying to replicate that feeling online. We just basically had multiple breakout rooms on Zoom and let people just kind of drift in and out of the rooms as they pleased. Some would just be people talking, some would be musicians playing, some would be experimental film showcases—all of that stuff. We stemmed off of that. It was so successful and so genuinely fun to be a part of. Okay, I think we struck something that might be fun on Zoom! We tried this that way, too. We had local music videos playing. We tried a little quarantine karaoke where we had karaoke videos playing. We asked everyone to mute their mics so that we wouldn’t just have a cacophony.

Rachel: I was going to ask about that!

Chris: We curated these art walks of people's art in their homes and also local galleries, such as the Jake Lawrence Gallery and Wa Na Wari. Then a good friend of ours, Malakie Peters, put together this amazing video compilation of pets in movies. She surely went over the top, amazing on that. She did a 30-minute montage of animals in film and it was just the most delightful thing. We had our main room, which was hosted by a good friend of ours Isabella Price, who is the Queen of Darkness. She was like, “I'm not a morning person. I am of the night.” But she's a huge horror buff and did this spectacular and somewhat raunchy-esque morning hosting and it was wonderful. We just kind of hung out and we talked about the Forum. We showed some clips, showed some films of our past, and all of that. Really just tried to make it a super casual event for about an hour and a half. People eating brunch and just chilling with us. Then we all came together through a raise-the-paddle in that main room where we brought everyone back together. Filmmaker SJ Chiro led the raise-the-paddle and just got everyone super stoked about all that. It was really good.

Rachel: Nice! So that was your one connection to what would… Would that normally happen during your annual gala?

Chris: Yup, exactly! We had hosted some—through Givebutter here, as you can see—we hosted a menu of offerings. We still did what would be kind of like auction items. We popped popcorn for people and delivered them brunch items at a certain level. We offered filmmaker toolkits with local artists, filmmakers, industry professionals, etc. Then some other vacation packages. The kind of stuff we would normally have at a gala. As you can see, there's lots of Magic Mike XXL GIFs—that's the house movie. You’re not looking at me!

Rachel: Just to clarify for everyone! So those were parts that were traditional to your event?

Chris: Yes.

Rachel: Just a different format. Yeah, I love that. One of the things that I think anyone watching this can take away is that you wrote up here both participatory and passive. I thought that was so key because it was kind of like choose your own adventure, but we're still going to have a collective moment together in this main room. We’re still going to do some of the things you know and love and expect from us every year at our gala, but we're going to experiment, like you said. See what happens! If you want to participate and sing along, great. If you don’t and you just want to watch animals, great. Whatever works for you! I think any nonprofit can take inspiration from that and make it their own for whatever they're doing. Let people choose what makes sense to them. What was it like coordinating all of that?

Chris: Oh, you know, it was still the usual, logistical nightmare at times. It was also super fun getting everything together. The collaboration was something that we have in our spirit, even amongst our staff and Board. We're just so open with each other and collaborative in spirit that it felt easy just to bounce ideas back and forth. I love that we really leaned into the experiment part of it, as you said. We know our folks. We know our donors. We know our audience. We know what they like. We might be taking stretches, but also, what do we find fun in a normal situation, in a normal person's world? Well, that translates online too if you try. It’s sort of like they like what we do because we like what we do. We just thought why not? This sounds fun. Once you get a laugh out of folks, you’re like alright, we're on to something.

Rachel: And, it worked! You raised above and beyond your goal. Do you have any tips, tricks, or lessons learned for pulling this off on Givebutter for everybody else that’s following along?

Chris: I’d say something that really pushed us over the edge actually was we really liked A.) It was super easy to use. Everybody was just like, “It felt second nature to all of us.” Something that really helped was all these team members having their own page, their own subpage. It actually ended up giving a little bit of that good competitive spirit which really helped. It got everybody sort of like, “I’m going to beat you!”

Rachel: Right!

Chris: Yeah, people love competition. I really think that encouraging folks to really dive in deep with that and feel emboldened for it, it feels nice. It feels like a good, healthy competitive spirit. I liked that part of Givebutter a lot.

Rachel: That team element! It seems like your supporters had a lot of fun on the feed, like I said. They enjoyed using that and obviously it was easy for them. I also want to point out your checkout process was, I just thought, really smart, some of the things that you did. Lined right up with the gifts, then you can dedicate to a team member if you want to. You made them be even more specific about that, so they understood what they were donating to. Leave a message; this is a supporter feed. I really thought it was smart that you gave a couple more options for people. Not everyone chooses to include that, but I think it's really smart when you can. So great checkout process there that you guys created and overall super successful. You raised above and beyond, so congratulations to you and your entire team. Thank you for making all of us at Givebutter just smile through this fundraiser with you.

Chris: Well, thank you for checking it out and for giving it a showcase too! That was really great.

Rachel: Chris, where can everyone find you if they’ve just become huge fans—as I’m sure they are after meeting you on this call.

Chris: They can go check out Starting in mid-September, they can actually come to Northwest Film Forum again. Fingers crossed! Yeah, that's when we'll be re-opening to the public. It’s this big open building; come find me. I’ll be around!

Rachel: That’s really exciting! Thanks again, Chris. For everybody else who's following along, thanks for joining us. Don't forget to like, share, and subscribe to Givebutter's YouTube channel, so you never miss an inspiring story again. We will see you next week and, until then, happy fundraising! Bye everybody.

Chris: Thank you so much!

View campaign: Sunny-Side Up Brunch Fundraiser for Northwest Film Forum

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Rachel Mills

Rachel Mills

Givebutter Marketing & Contributing Writer

Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.

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