United Way of Broward County (in Fort Lauderdale, Florida) does a spectacular job of engaging their community and donors. This particular social good organization doesn’t rely solely on a fall campaign model. They have a year-round engagement strategy that is sprinkled with a variety of events. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, United Way of Broward County’s recent activities have looked very different from past years, they have become virtual events. Some of the virtually hosted events are Lunch and Learn webinars, online trainings, and online talks. For the first time, United Way of Broward County hosted their renowned Annual Magnolia Luncheon as a virtual event last month.

How did United Way of Broward County pivot and adapt their 9th Annual Magnolia Luncheon to make it a virtual success? We spoke with Stephanie Metrie, Manager of Public Relations and Marketing, to find out. Read on to learn what technology was used and how the event was structured. Plus, get tips and ideas that you can apply to your organization’s future virtual events.

Can you tell us more about the 9th Annual Magnolia Luncheon?

Typically, our Annual Magnolia Luncheon is reserved for our Women United members who give $1000 or more. The ticket price for attendees is $50 per person. This year, we opened up the event to the general public, and it also did not matter what their giving history was. Each ticket gave attendees access to the event and also counted as an entry to the Secret Armoire, which is a lottery giveaway of luxury gift items.

How did you manage registrations?

We handled registrations and collected payment through Andar i-Attend. We exported an Excel list of registrants and uploaded them into Zoom so that the meeting information and notifications would be sent out from there. We waited to send out the custom Zoom link and password to the event until twenty-four hours before the event. We did this because the luncheon was a sold-out paid event, and we didn’t want anyone jumping in that shouldn’t be a part of it.


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Did you have event sponsors?

Yes, we had different sponsorship levels and virtual table sponsors. Each sponsor had the opportunity to purchase ten tickets and, in exchange, had their logo and information appear in various collateral and on the screen multiple times throughout the event.

Which campaign did the 9th Annual Magnolia Luncheon benefit?

All ticket sales went toward our COVID-19 campaign in two key areas, food assistance and emergency financial aid. However, during the event, we asked attendees to support our general campaign because our community still has many needs beyond the coronavirus pandemic that require our support and attention.



Inside South Florida showcased the 9th Annual Magnolia Luncheon prior to the event. Watch this video to learn about the luncheon and the keynote speaker, Col. Nicole Malachowski.

What technology did you use to host the Luncheon virtually?

We used Zoom as our hosting platform, but we didn’t jump into it blindly. We hired a third-party company to train us on how to execute the event properly. We were shown how to switch from a PowerPoint presentation to a speaker seamlessly and were given tips on how to display the appropriate screens at the size we wanted them in. This third-party company was a part of all of the rehearsals and the live event. We learned a lot from them, and their guidance ensured that everyone that participated in the event was completely comfortable with the platform they were using.

How long was the event?

The event was scheduled to be an hour and a half, but we went over our original programing by forty-five minutes. We had a Q&A portion at the end that was very well received. The speaker was open to keeping the event going for a little longer than anticipated because she was having such a great time, and the attendees were really engaged.

How did you prepare the speakers for the event?

We had individual dry runs with each panelist and then held a full rehearsal two days before the event with the six speakers and all of the coordinating staff.

How did you select your keynote speaker?

It’s really important to find a captivating keynote speaker that understands the audience and relates to your nonprofit organization’s goals. This year, our speaker was Col. Nicole Malachowski, the first woman pilot on the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron. She did a phenomenal job at capturing the audience and tying her life lessons to the work we do at United Way of Broward County.

How many staff members were involved in making the virtual luncheon a success?

Excluding the panelists, we had seven people working behind the scenes making sure that all of the tech transitions occurred at the right time and that all of our attendees were supported if they had any questions or concerns.

How did you make the event interactive for attendees?

To keep our audience engaged, we asked questions throughout the event and conducted polls. If attendees had questions, they asked them via the chat in Zoom. We had team members in the backend who monitored the messages, organized them, and distributed them to the right person for an answer. For example, if a question came in about volunteer opportunities, one team member would provide the answer right away. If the question was directed at one of the speakers, a team member would pass the question to one of our panelists.

What are some other ways you kept your attendees engaged?

We encouraged all the attendees to dress up for the event and send in a photo of themselves. Those who did would then receive the photo back in an Annual Magnolia Luncheon photo frame. We shared all of these photos on our Facebook account. Plus, we reminded attendees to share updates on their social media accounts by using the hashtags #MagnoliaLuncheon and #WomenUnitedBroward.



Luncheon attendees were encouraged to send in photos of themselves dressed up and participating in the event. You can see all the photos in the United Way of Broward County Facebook page.

What's something that you have learned about hosting such a large-scale virtual event?

We learned that even though we weren't in attendance in person, it's possible to make a successful and engaging virtual event. Our largest event of the year, the Mayor's Gala, is coming up in October, and we are currently looking at how we will host it, given that the virtual Magnolia Luncheon went over so well.

Thanks to the virtual luncheon, we now have more contacts in our database that we plan to engage with and invite to all of our other virtual events like our lunch and learn webinars.

What tips would you give to a social good organization looking to host a virtual fundraising event?

Rehearsals are key to making sure your event goes smoothly. The time we invested in preparing our panelists and internal staff was crucial in ensuring that the live event was a success.

Another tip is to have a solid marketing campaign leading up to the event. Given the COVID-19 pandemic's physical distancing limitations, we didn't go out to meet with people in person to sell tickets. We had to be creative about engaging new audiences and recognizing our sponsors during the event.

Thank you, Stephanie Metrie and United Way of Broward County, for giving us the inside scoop on how to turn an in-person event into a successful virtual event. Many nonprofit organizations will benefit from the ideas and tips you have shared with us here — and we can't wait to see what you do next!


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