The Delia Effect

Image of Book with Between the Pages mark
by Sarah Sonenberg

When you have the opportunity to host a big-name guest speaker, be sure to stop at the outset of your event planning to determine your goals. At the end of the event, be sure to measure your success to determine if anything should change in the future to better reach those goals. Here’s how we did it for a Delia Owens event …

Congratulations! You did it, you secured your dream guest speaker/celebrity alumnus for your virtual event. You are now providing an exclusive, UGA only experience that will engage alumni and further your goals.

Wait, what are my goals again?

  • Do I want to get as many people to attend my event as possible, thus furthering the reach of the program?
  • Do I want to directly impact the alumni participation rate?
  • Should I require registration and a baked in gift in order to bring in more first-time donors? If I do this, will it lower attendance and registration?

A recent Between the Pages event serves as a great example to help you all navigate these very important questions. In January, the Alumni Association collaborated with Libraries and Ecology to secure Delia Owens for Between the Pages. Delia is a 1971 graduate and NYT bestselling author, friend of Reese Witherspoon and literary giant. Along with Delia, we confirmed that Malcolm Mitchell, Superbowl Champion and literacy advocate, would serve as the moderator for our virtual program. Big names like these were sure to spur higher than anticipated attendance, thus requiring a clear strategy that will allow us to highlight important UGA centric causes.

Screen shot of Malcolm Mitchell and Delia Owens

The main goal going into this event was the first option I listed earlier…get as many people to attend as possible, thus furthering the reach of our program allowing us to inspire more people to support UGA causes. This would provide us with a platform to inspire a large and diverse audience to continue to look to the UGA Alumni Association for programming and engagement opportunities.

Fundraising was a secondary goal, and we worked closely with Libraries, Ecology, the Annual Giving team and DARCOMM to align appropriate causes with the themes of the novel and created a three-phase communication fundraising strategy:

  • Phase 1: Include the opportunity to give with the Evite – Registration would remain free (no baked in gift)
  • Phase 2: Include copy in the scripting of the program that would inspire attendees to give – we even included a holding slide listing the causes at the end of the virtual program.
  • Phase 3: Create a follow-up thank you email that would share the recording, while also encouraging another opportunity to give to the causes.

The evite went out, and within 48 hours we’d surpassed our goal of 300 registrations. A week later, we were over 500, and then hours before the event we realized we had over 1,000 registrations!

On January 26, the program went off without a hitch. We counted 741 people in attendance, watching the magic happen between Delia and Malcolm. The Ecology student providing the opening and closing remarks did a fabulous job with a soft ask at the end, the holding slide inspiring giving went up on the screen…basically everything went according to plan. Now to watch and wait, were people inspired to give during or after the event?

Let’s take a look at the fundraising story the data from this event tells us:

  • The event generated a total of 72 gifts for $1,890. These were all to the Ecology Fund.
    • 100% of these gifts were add-ons during the registration process.
  • Of the 72 add-on gifts during the registration process, 52 were made by alumni totaling $1,570.
    • Of those 52 alumni, 21 had not yet made a gift in FY21 (so, yay new donors!).
    • Naturally, most of the gifts made by non-alumni were first time gifts.

72 donors means that 7% of attendees made a gift while registering. Not bad!

The Delia effect was such that we were able to achieve our engagement goals by inspiring 741 attendees to tune in to the live virtual discussion. We have found that lifelong learners are repeatedly attending Between the Pages programming, and Delia helped us widen the reach of our alumni audience while also aiding in the fundraising for a cause close to her heart, the Odum School of Ecology.