There’s no question that the stay-at-home orders in Indiana have meant big changes to many parts of our lives. And the parts that have to do with events and fundraising are no exception.
On the evening of Saturday, April 25, Cancer Support Community of Central Indiana held its 20th annual Laughing Matters event. It didn’t happen at Old National Centre, where it was held last year, with dinner and drinks and more than 3,000 fans in the company of a headlining, nationally known comic. To keep the community safe from the coronavirus, Laughing Matters instead took place on CSC’s Facebook page and the Facebook pages of their streaming partners, WTHR TV, and WTTS, 92.3.
We’ve worked with CSC on the event since 2016. Each year, they hire a big-name comedian for the show—Seth Myers, Jay Leno, Whoopi Goldberg, and Nick Offerman have headlined the last four years. In recent years, they’ve offered a general admission ticket for the main act, with an additional VIP fundraising event and live program before the general admission show.
Generally, the VIP program features CSC patients and their families, on stage, sharing their stories about how CSC makes sure no one faces cancer alone. We try to balance the joy of the occasion with the seriousness of the mission.
This year, Martin Short was supposed to headline the big room at Old National Centre, and we had a madcap intro video planned for the VIP program—to tie in with celebrating Laughing Matters’ 20th year. It involved a fictional 20-mile run, a very real knee problem, and several characters in disguise as other characters.
We were all set to film several scenes of this video at the City Market YMCA on Thursday, the week of March 16. But on Monday afternoon of that week, the governor announced the closure of all gyms and fitness centers. So we needed to make another plan.
The CSC board had also decided to cancel the entire Old National event, including Martin Short, which meant we had bigger issues than where to shoot the video. They wanted to hold a virtual event instead, but at that point, they weren’t sure what form it would—or could—take.
With just a day to conceive, write, and plan the shoot for a new intro video, we were scrambling. But as often happens, we liked the re-conceived video even better.
That Thursday, we shot the new version of the intro video with the help of our friends at Creative Video. No one wore a mask because, at that time, the recommendation was against gloves and masks that might give people a false sense of security.
A Different Kind of Event
The live, virtual show was produced at Markey’s Rental and Staging, just outside downtown Indy. Gatherings over 10 were considered unsafe, so we had to tweak the show even further. That 10-person limit included a small crew, in addition to Eric Richards, CEO of CSC, and Darin Lawson, an auctioneer who has helped over the past several years with the auction and fundraising part of the show. Central Indiana’s own Dave Dugan, who for the past two years has hosted the VIP program and starred in our intro videos, would be our headlining comic.
When we do the show live, we tier the donation levels during the fundraising portion, trying to rouse a spirit of camaraderie among those who are able to give the larger amounts—starting with $5,000 donations, then moving down to $1,000, $500, $250, $100, and so on. In a packed house there’s always a bit of social pressure that comes into play, and those big donations come at a healthy and predictable pace.
Darin warned us that, in a virtual situation, people would probably just start giving at whatever level they felt comfortable. Donations would come in all over the map. That turned out to be the case, and we were prepared. We abandoned ourselves to the whim of the crowd, calling out donors by name—at whatever level—and filling in the gaps with illuminating examples of CSC’s programs for patients and families.
Same Great Impact
The event, which you can see in full here, was a big success. If the total amount raised was a little less than last year, the cost reductions for this year’s show—from letting go of the venue and the marquee talent—meant the net amount raised was actually right where it needed to be, compared to last year. This is great news, since Laughing Matters funds a significant portion of programs and services that CSC provides for the entire year.
I’ve got a personal soft spot for this event. The people I’ve met and the stories we’ve helped them tell resonate with me long after the night itself is past. And even though our groundhog puppet, Phil, is a bit of a prima fauna, we always have so much fun, and the audience always seems to get caught up in the spirit.
With fun—and a great cause—in mind, I hope you’ll join us at the next Laughing Matters, on April 17, 2021. Here’s hoping it will be face-to-face.