Oct. 10, 2020—10/10/2020—was etched in the minds of many UC Davis staff, alumni, and donors. That was the date the university had planned to publicly launch a US$2 billion campaign—its largest ever. When the pandemic hit, UC Davis’ team launched the campaign online. Here’s what they learned.
The quiet phase of the campaign began in 2016. At what point in 2020 did you realize your in-person launch plans would need to change?
Shaun Keister: When COVID hit in March, we were in really good shape with [quiet phase of campaign] fundraising, so our fear was if we punted the launch out maybe a year or longer, we would get too deep into our goal. Then why even bother? In April, we began the dialogue about if we wanted to consider a virtual launch. Our key volunteers got on board very fast. The 10/10/2020 date was memorable—donors would rattle it off!—and was working too well for us to not execute on that day.
How did your launch planning shift?
Keister: We pivoted quickly, defining what lemonade could be made out of this lemon: an expanded audience. Online, we could invite more donors—not just major donors—and faculty, staff, and students, who have never really been invited to these events, because that’s cost-prohibitive. That was the exciting part: We could expand the universe of who could learn about this campaign.
Meriel Hughes: A lot of campaign launches are about thanking a small group of people for their support and inspiring them: to make them feel like they’re part of something. We wanted to keep that spirit but make it accessible for a broader audience who maybe hadn’t donated. We had some people who this was their first chance to reconnect.