Sep 9, 2020
Our View on Virtual: A Story of Bold Vision and Relentless Commitment
Charitybuzz President Ben Erwin shares how being ahead of the curve, with the right vision and conviction, can pay off.
Team Charitybuzz
Charity Network

Everything is virtual now, but just a few months ago, it was still uncharted territory for many businesses. We’ve seen rapid growth and success as a result of embracing this change early on, and there are a few key factors that led us to this point: looking for opportunities and new ideas, having both the faith and facts to instill confidence in our direction, and working relentlessly to deliver on our mission.


Maintain an Opportunity Mindset

At the first mention of “quarantine,” we dove straight into building a category of must-have virtual experiences through our charity auction business. Within a matter of days, featured a shiny new “Virtual Experiences” navigation banner, showcasing Zoom meet-and-greets, remote cooking lessons and dinner parties, virtual pitch meetings, and more. Our team was talking about “virtual” all day every day; we were excited about the expansion and proud of our quick pivot. We pulled together marketing materials, communicated with clients nonstop, researched, read, analyzed and planned.


We were all fully bought-in to this direction and we set our expectations high. When that first wave of auctions closed, however, we found ourselves underwhelmed with the results. At that point, consumers hadn’t fully adopted all the new digital channels and tools out there, and there was still hesitancy in the marketplace to spend money. In reality, we were ahead of the curve within our industry, but that’s a fact nearly impossible to ascertain in this first phase.


Especially taking into account the circumstances of the economy, the results were fine, even impressive. But our team and the non-profit clients we serve were accustomed to seeing big numbers, even in the six-figures, for our traditional live experiences. We had put a lot of eggs into the “virtual experiences” basket and were anxious to see the payoff. At this critical moment, we easily could have lost focus. We could have said: okay, we tried this, it didn’t work, so let’s revert back to the status quo and wait it out until we can get back to auctioning in-person experiences. First of all, we’d still be waiting… but most importantly, we would have squandered our own first-mover advantage and missed out on a huge opportunity to raise vital funds for nonprofits when they need it most. 


Believe In Your Boldness

We “pivoted forward” and, in a sense, our tactical execution was still catching up with our bold vision. We were strategically investing in the future, and that approach provides no instant confirmation that your actions are either right or wrong.


But we not only had faith this was the right path, we had facts. We knew this is what customers wanted and weren’t going to let near-term results affect our well-thought-out long-term plan. The action we took was quick, but did not sacrifice due diligence and strategy; this gave us the confidence to push forward. We knew “virtual everything” was going to become a lasting effect of this time period, and there was value to be uncovered even beyond the immediate funds raised. Our stance was strengthened by the data showing the acceleration in adoption of digital tools, from videoconferencing to telehealth and more. 


We had our own initial results, we saw the macro trends – we knew our direction was solid. We didn’t need to shift our business approach, we needed to keep moving.


Revise Relentlessly

We recalibrated our expectations, adjusted some of our marketing and auction strategies, and doubled-down on virtual. The experiences themselves (our inventory) quickly became more unexpected and compelling, giving us the ability to sell to a broader customer demographic. Celebrities were getting acclimated to offering a few minutes of their time for digital experiences, nonprofits were getting more creative in their outreach to supporters, and customers were becoming more comfortable spending money on at-home entertainment. In fact, when we surveyed our customers directly in June, 95% of them told us they wanted more virtual experiences to bid on.


To maximize the opportunity of this consumer demand, our team took ingenuity to the next level. We expanded our virtual category to include personalized recordings, virtual concerts, remote music lessons, script reviews, pitch meetings, virtual family picnics, game nights, and even social media follows from celebs. Our newly reset expectations gave us the freedom to say “yes” to more opportunities and the numbers skyrocketed. The social media follows were going for tens of thousands of dollars each. The amount of inventory kept increasing. We quickly found ourselves giving auction bidders exactly what they want in this moment, and in turn, being able to give non-profit organizations the essential funding they need. 


Someone might glance at where we are now and think: “wow, that’s lucky, they sure fell into a nice position.” As I see it, it is only with determination, focus, strategy and effort that luck transpires. Because we’d been working on this concept for so long, relatively, we are currently much further in the development of this new vertical than we’d be if our conviction wavered in April. Now, as consumers are accepting circumstances and spending more, we are able to offer the most interesting inventory and have the strongest relationships with our partners because we’ve been committed to this path for months. 


I’m sharing this anecdote not to be self-congratulatory, but rather to highlight one discrete example of how boldness can pay off. Even for smaller companies that are more nimble and experimental, taking risks right now can seem daunting, especially if that means testing out something new. But with the right amount of conviction and belief, and data supporting your timing, being ahead of the curve can be a great thing. 


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