by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director, and Devin Griffiths, Marketing & Communications Specialist

This has been quite a year. Coming out of 2019 with all the pomp and celebration of our 50th Anniversary, we were poised to seize the opportunity to create excellence for the next 50 years. Driven by the outpouring of support and passion for the Institute and our work, we were ready to take on the emerging challenges of today with renewed energy and an expanded base of support.

And then everything changed. The global health crisis put an end to “business as usual” in all aspects of our lives. It required us to rethink how we could conduct research, offer programs, hold events, and connect people to nature safely and effectively in this new reality.

Fortunately, we have an extraordinary team. With equal parts sweat and creativity, Education staff adapted or designed programs that were safe yet allowed for meaningful discovery, while Research and Conservation staff modified schedules and protocols to continue their critical research and conservation work.

Big events were another story, though – in particular our annual Summer Celebration. Part auction, part gala, Summer Celebration is our most important fundraising event of the year, and for those who’ve attended in the past, one of our most eagerly anticipated. We didn’t want to cancel, but under the current conditions, holding an indoor gathering of this scope was impossible.

The answer? Go virtual.

This presented its own challenges. We had never attempted a virtual event before, and moving one of this scale online was daunting. We needed help.

Step one: Assemble an incredible planning committee. Arguably the most critical piece of the puzzle, this talented group helped us build a strategy for success and provided valuable perspective to help us shape the message for the evening. The planning committee told us what they wanted to know about the Institute and shared their connections. They helped us focus on who we are at our core and then encouraged us to simply tell our story and invite others to tell theirs.

This meant developing a lot of content – which was incredibly important and challenging. We searched through thousands of images and videos, and shot new ones to fill in gaps or capture new projects and programs. We reached out to colleagues, former interns, board members, and friends, and asked them to tell their stories of what the Institute means to them or about their relationships with us. Though difficult, this process was exceptionally rewarding, reminding us of all we do and how our programs have transformed lives. We compiled everything into vignettes that displayed the essence of the Institute, pulling it all together into a live, hour-long event.

The day of the event, we converted our lecture hall into a video production studio and ran a full dress rehearsal, working out any last-minute details, ironing out kinks, and trying to calm our nerves. Over the weeks leading up to the broadcast, we spread the word: Summer Celebration was on, and all were invited to join in.

And join they did. People tuned in from around the corner and across the country, celebrating with us, sharing their stories, and pledging their support of the Institute and the work we do on behalf of the world we share and the coastal ecosystems upon which we depend. It was exhilarating.

Thanks to our incredible team, extraordinary planning committee, and the generosity, love, and support of all our donors – whether they’d tuned in for the first time that night or had been watching us for years – we found the path that transformed our virtual event into a real success. We were able reach more people with our story and help people rediscover the Institute, learn about us for the first time, or gain a better understanding of the depth and breadth or our work and its importance for our well-being.

If you missed the broadcast, you can still check out a recording of the event.