Online Church Fair is...Bazaar

Online Church Fair is...Bazaar

The year 2020 has certainly been a year of challenges and adjustments.  For Westfield Church, UCC, fundraising is one of those areas that presented a significant opportunity for change.

In recent years, Westfield has developed a strong culture of giving.  While the traditional pledging plus plate response has been important, an event based fundraising approach has yielded significant growth in the resources available to the church.  Resources invested in a growing ministry and reliance on Westfield to care for “The Heart of Killingly”.

And then...2020.

A host of events that have become Westfield institutions were cancelled.  From pie tents to golf outings to the Woodstock Fair, one by one chances to raise much needed funds to both offset a drop in tithes through no plate contributions and provide resources for new unexpected expenses such as live streaming gear disappeared.  With the end of the year fast approaching, one of Westfield’s largest fundraisers, the annual Winter Wonderland Bazaar, could have been next on the chopping block.
Items from Westfield's Virtual Bazaar

Enter a new opportunity.  A 100% fully online Bazaar!  Through a great deal of planning, and a very flexible congregation, Westfield was able to pivot to a completely different experience.  Items for sale from holiday decor to home canned goods to attic treasures were cataloged, priced and photographed.  Even baked goods had a sample batch made and plated for a photo shoot.  An online store was created through the church website.  Marketing was done via social media.  And logistics were all mapped out.

Over the course of two weeks, the store was opened for business.  Potential buyers were encouraged to peruse the site, find the items they wanted, and place their order as simply as if they had been ordering from an online retailer.  Payments were made via PayPal, allowing for payment from credit cards or checking accounts easily.  Once a purchase was made, the buyer received an email of thanks, confirmation of their order, and information to request a pick up window on the final day of the event.  Winners of the virtual silent auction and basket raffle were called to let them know they won and to have them schedule their pick up times.

The day after the event finished, a small team of dedicated volunteers pulled together items for each order, and provided curbside delivery.  For local buyers, a delivery service was also added through volunteers driving to their homes to drop off their finds.  

In the end, the event raised it’s second highest total ever of over $14,000!  There were many lessons learned throughout the process, but a few key things stand out as important.  First, you do need someone strong in web design to handle the creation of the online store and its operation during the event.  Second, you need to be willing to look at the event as completely different from your in person Christmas Fair. You can’t just replicate a live event online; it needs to be its own experience.  And third, you should start your planning mid-year.  Along the way you will likely encounter challenges.  Rather than hemming and hawing, confront your challenges head on and make bold decisions.  Early big choices give you the time to execute with quality and results.

But the main message to remember is this:  when you focus not on what a pandemic has taken away but what new opportunities it has created, magic can happen!

Watch Westfield's Virtual Bazaar Promotional Video below:



Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams is the Director of Welcome at Westfield Congregational Church, Killingly, CT.

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