Covid Solutions: Virtual Events - Interview with Brian Russell on the Petrus Development Show

Oct 14, 2020

In this episode, Andrew visits with Brian Russell, Campaign Manager at Caruso Catholic Center at University of Southern California. In this episode of the "COVID Solutions" series, Andrew and Brian talk about pivoting from a long-standing gala to a new virtual event. They discuss the initial steps they took to make the change, the monetary success of the event as well as the pros and cons of such a change. They also talk about the long-term viability of these types of events. 

Show Notes:

Brian Russell is the campaign manager at Caruso Catholic Center at University Southern California. He is currently in his 10th year of working in Catholic fundraising and his 4th year at USC.

They are talking about the long standing gala that they host every other year and how they went virtual this year.


History of the Gala

They started the Gala event in 2010 and it takes place every other year. It is the big fundraiser for the center/church.

In May 2020, they had to figure out how to pull off the event. They had secured funds for the event and they had 400 registered guests coming from all over the country. And two weeks before they were scheduled the city closed to in person events.

The in-person event had a total cost of $200,000 and when they pivoted to the virtual event it cut the cost to $40,000. They had 125 online guests that logged on and they were able to secure $1.3 million in gifts and pledges.


Tools and format

They had a former board member that worked at Fox Sports that they reached out to who said they needed a producer for such an event. That gave them a starting point, a sense of direction, so they partnered with a company out of Chicago, Together to produce the event. They ran the event on zoom as the awardee wanted to be able to talk to people.


Feedback from guests

The biggest fear was that people would ask for their money back, but there weren’t any who did. In fact, they were able to raise more money while not even trying to raise money. Sponsors reached out wanting to be a part of the event. And the event was shared nationally as a way to do a virtual event like this.


Lessons learned

Brian is a fundraiser not a producer but he knows how to leverage relationships and listen to your people. This virtual opportunity is always going to be there, it will be a new tool going forward.


Moving forward

Pros – saved on costs by about 80%, gained national exposure

Cons – you miss the interaction with others, there’s not an opportunity for one-on-one interaction, they have a beautiful church that wasn’t able to be shown


Long-term Viability – how do you cultivate the passion that you create during in-person events?

At some point you just have to let go and let God.


To contact Brian you can visit the event website or their website and his contact information.

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