How Big Brothers & Big Sisters Tapped into Innovation to Achieve Fundraising Success



Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio is part of the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Since 1933, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio has amassed profound success in developing lifelong and life-changing relationships between mentors (‘Bigs’) and mentees (‘Littles’). These relationships fuel and empower the next generation of leaders.



Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Central Ohio entered COVID-19 at a pivotal point in their fiscal year which had a significant impact on their fundraising events. When you hail from the Buckeye State where football rules, most fundraising events are executed in the spring. In fact, two of the chapter’s three major fundraisers are held two months apart in March and May. It’s been that way for 38 years.

By summer 2020 with the pandemic raging, they had to cancel one event and encountered challenges with two-way engagement with another event.

With event proceeds significantly down, the organization had to lean into innovation and creativity to deliver a premier experience, given these events not only engage investors, but serve as a vehicle to enroll individuals into their mission.

The idea that was percolating was a special virtual event and unique donor experience which could engage the community and create a space to articulate the need for support for the work of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio.  With a fierce commitment to the promise of youth driving the community, BBBS secured many elements for the event in very short order, including: a local news anchor (a Big himself), restaurant sponsorships, a prominent distillery partnership, and a VIP session with a Master Distiller.

With these elements in place, the inaugural virtual ‘Big Night of Bourbon 2020’ to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio was born!

A few months earlier, BBBS of Central Ohio, attempted a virtual event via zoom and had even gained a modest amount of traction, but ultimately the platform’s limited capabilities and due to the learning curve of virtual engagement, wasn’t able to translate into the experience that BBBS Central Ohio had been accustomed to when holding live events.

“We didn’t have the right solution. The event fell short of our vision, like many other events that tried to replicate their fundraising on a Zoom call. There was no engagement, no feeling of connection to the mission. It was like being on a webinar,” said Ryan Love, Vice President Resource Development, BBBS Central Ohio.

So the challenge was how to deliver an online fundraiser to the community, that connected supporters, and engaged donors in a virtual world.



BBBS of Central Ohio turned to their technology partner, OneCause. Their Customer Success Manager recommended new Virtual and Live Stream Event capability affording BBBS the opportunity to deliver an exclusive experience right into their guests’ living rooms.

“We sold an eVIP experience. Creating something unique and compelling, that donors would feel a personalized connection to the mission and the fundraising was important to us,” said Love.

The Virtual and Live Stream Event software is a fundraising tool with online, mobile, and virtual fundraising capabilities including live and silent auction, live appeal, online raffles, and donation opportunities. It is also an intuitive live production tool that directs a virtual show complete with real-time engagement opportunities. It’s three tools in one and exactly what BBBS of Central Ohio needed if they were going to pull off ‘Big Night of Bourbon.’

BBBS was starting from scratch, they had zero planning history with which to draw from. software made it easy.

“The new functionality has an easily approachable interface. I was able to handoff to my staff and they were able to handle it quite well and with ease,” shared Love.

The new Virtual and Live Stream Event software supported ‘Big Night of Bourbon’ even before event date. Tickets to the experience included a private bourbon tasting, special tasting virtual room, and remarkably crafted and exceptionally balanced bourbons to entice the palate. BBBS took advantage of the built-in invitational tool to send gorgeous communication to their ticketholders with instructions about how and when to pick up sampling kits at Bogey Inn, a popular local restaurant and the event’s venue sponsor.

In order to generate buzz and excitement for ‘Big Night of Bourbon,’ BBBS relied on a multi-channel communication approach. Text messaging is another easy to deploy tool provided by the new Virtual and Live Stream Event software. They used text message to communicate and remind donors about the event, reaching them where they were and in real-time. The messaging center, embedded in the software, also afforded BBBS the chance to track communications and get a sense of audience engagement.

“We love the cell phone approach. Our business is relationships, and our base likes the real-time communication aspect. People are glued to their phones, and we saw both great feedback and results,” said Love.

The experience was set for Friday, November 13, 2020. In Ohio, NBC’s Matt Barnes (BBBS’s 2020 Big Brother of the Year) was slated to broadcast live from Bogey Inn while in Kentucky, Master Distiller, Chris Morris was transmitting live from a production studio. With the help of the livestream capabilities, the team seamlessly volleyed back and forth throughout the event. In addition to the two live streams from two different locations, mission focused pre-recorded videos and sponsor commercials were intertwined. It was a 60 minute, non-stop, production piece chock full of moving parts.

Noteworthy: The virtual approach provided BBBS of Central Ohio the chance to work with Chris Morris, Master Distiller of Woodford Reserve, whose popularity in the bourbon and whiskey industry keeps him in high demand and made scheduling the event easy. There was an unmistakable upside to creating an online event setting. It afforded BBBS of Central Ohio the opportunity to conduct Q & A with Chris Morris providing a level of connection that would not have been easy to achieve at a live, in-person event. The new functionality by OneCause was making the difference with overall supporter engagement.


OneCause made the experience so seamless, so unbelievable. It was easy to incorporate the live pieces; we streamed from a cell phone and it looked amazing!,” said Love.

BBBS of Central Ohio took advantage of many of the robust features the VEC offered:

  • Invitations
  • Text Messaging
  • Live Stream
  • Pre-recorded Broadcast
  • Donate Overlays
  • Sponsorship Ads and Commercials
  • Silent Auction
  • Online Raffle
  • Impact-based Donation Opportunities
  • Guest Chat
  • Leaderboard and Donor Carousel

bbbs silent auction



The outcome from this unique virtual fundraising experience was remarkable.

  • 300 event supporters – 200% of goal
  • $32,193 raised

Love summed it up best, “Big Night of Bourbon was our first major success fundraising in the virtual space and it would not have been possible without OneCause.”

Connect with a Cause

Connect with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio by accessing their website.

Wrapping Up!

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