Virtual success during a pandemic


Advancement Office finds new ways to bring people together

When the COVID-19 pandemic sent MU’s Advancement Office packing for home in March, fundraising and alumni staff had to reimagine their jobs.

On-campus Giving Day activities were canceled and no in-person visits or events with alumni were allowed.

“The pandemic forced us out of our comfort zones and into a virtual space we hadn’t really utilized,” says Kylee Rosenbaum ’11 Moss, director of alumni relations. “For me, it felt very challenging, but I also recognized that this was the new norm. We were going to have to learn to adapt to this.”

Adapting meant scrapping Moss’s plans for on-campus Giving Day activities in late April. The annual one-day fundraiser was rescheduled for June 3 and the alumni team started exploring ideas for virtual connections with alumni that would complement Giving Day’s email outreach and robust social media presence.

“For me, Giving Day is more about people engaging with Manchester than anything else,” says Moss. “Knowing that people were worried about the coronavirus and their finances, we thought let’s not worry so much about fundraising and just focus on connecting with people.”

The result was the best of both worlds. Giving Day raised a record $235,650 for The Manchester Fund, and the virtual events that brought people together on Zoom and Facebook Live have forever changed the way Moss looks at alumni outreach.

“It was a fun way to engage with alumni who are not local,” says Moss. “Even if they are local, they might not be able to get out of the house right now.”

Giving Day featured a coffee hour with President Dave McFadden ’82 on Facebook Live, a cooking class with MU Dining staff, a cookie-baking lesson from education Professor Heather White Schilling ’90, and a Manchester trivia contest. Moss asked MU’s music faculty to help with a virtual happy hour, which featured live music from a faculty member, a recent graduate and an alumna. “It was really a fun day,” says Moss.

Giving Day’s overwhelming success has given Moss and her staff the confidence to connect with alumni in other virtual formats.

The Alumni Book Club used to meet in person on the North Manchester campus, but moved to Zoom meetings this summer. The group read Along the Way, a coming-of-age story set on Manchester’s campus during the Vietnam War and written by Michael Morris ’71.

“Book club has been really awesome,” says Moss, who has decided to keep the club meetings virtual after the pandemic. Why? Because anyone with internet access can participate, not just people who live close to campus. “We had an alumna from Pennsylvania join us this time, something that could not have happened before,” says Moss. “She hadn’t been back to campus for years, but she could feel connected with the virtual book club.”

Also getting into the virtual space this summer was the President’s Society celebration, coordinated by Megan Julian ’07 Sarber, manager of donor relations in the Advancement Office. The event on Zoom attracted 56 participants and included an update from President Dave McFadden, remarks by Board of Trustees Chair John Zeglis, an expression of gratitude from Haley Farris ’20, and a time for questions and answers.

“It was fun to try some of the features of Zoom,” says Sarber. Before the events, she sent participants a link to a video of Renée Fancher McFadden ’82 baking cookies. “Then we used a poll feature in Zoom to ask participants whether they preferred creamy or crunchy peanut butter. It wasn’t relevant to the President’s Society meeting, but it was fun and helped get people engaged in the conversation as the meeting began.”

Sarber expects Advancement will use the virtual format for other donor events until the pandemic eases.

Even in a post-pandemic world, however, Moss says virtual gatherings aren’t going away.

In August, the alumni office provided four:

  • “Judging a Beer by its Cover” with Associate Professor Michelle Calka who talked via Zoom about her experience with diversity in the craft brewing industry, her sabbatical research topic.
  • “Take a Hike with Tim Brauch,” associate professor of mathematics who teaches a hiking course and discussed the basics of hiking on Facebook Live.
  • “Watercolors with Jeff Diesburg,” associate professor of art who helped participants create a watercolor painting via Facebook Live.
  • “Hosta and Shade Gardening Tips and Tricks” a Zoom event with MU’s first lady Renée McFadden.

 “I think virtual meetings on platforms such as Zoom are going to be the new norm, in addition to in-person events,” says Moss. There is no cost involved, and meetings can be recorded for other people to watch.

“It’s a great way to engage with people who are not able to come to campus and it’s a great way to bring Manchester into their homes,” says Moss. “People have fun connecting with each other. It brings people together.”

By Melinda Lantz ’81