ULBGC 2020 Wine Dinner – A Virtual Success

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, nonprofits have had to remain adaptable and employ a level of creativity. In addition to altering how to provide our services to our communities, we all have had to reconfigure how we fundraise in order to continue sustaining our operations during this great time of need. Once it became apparent that the pandemic’s impact would be long-term, this left us asking ourselves how do we pivot to ensure we do not lose a significant part of our annual revenue? Here at the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs (ULBGC), we rely upon fundraising events, just as our fellow nonprofits do. Our Clubs and communities are depending upon us, and we knew we needed to make some big decisions, for their sakes.

This is where our incredible Board of Trustees Events Committee and Director of Marketing & Special Events, stepped in. With their guidance, we were able to convert two of our critical fundraising events into engaging virtual events. “We knew that just cancelling our events was not option,” shared our Director of Marketing & Special Events, Marina Del Cid, “we also realized that we could adapt our events to a virtual platform, it would just require us to rethink some of the events’ formatting and agenda.” The first event the Events Committee and our Director of Marketing & Special Events turned their focus towards was our Annual Wine Dinner.

Traditionally, the Annual Wine Dinner hosts around 200 attendees at the elegant Union League Club of Chicago (ULCC). Guests enjoy sumptuous multi-course meals prepared by the ULCC’s chef that are paired with wine from a partnering vineyard which is highlighted during the event. During the meal and wine pairing, there are opportunities to provide additional support for the ULBGC through our Fund the Mission campaign. “In addition to benefiting the ULBGC, the event is all about the wine and food,” explained Marina, “if we could keep those elements for a virtual event, then we do not even need to change the very character or feel of the evening.” This just left our planning team with figuring out the logistics.

For 2020’s Wine Dinner, we already had established Cakebread Cellars as the featured vineyard. Furthermore, Dennis Cakebread, Co-Owner and Chairman of the Board of Cakebread Cellars, was slated to join as the event’s guest of honor and would share his wine savvy with attendees while guiding them through tasting the selected wine paired with the evening’s meal. Marina and our Co-Chairs of the Wine Dinner, Lisa Shade and Matthew Sheahin, did not lose any time to reach out to Cakebread Cellars to coordinate. We wanted to keep the prearranged level of involvement on Cakebread’s part, and knew that a virtual platform would make this possible. Fortunately, Mr. Cakebread was still available to participate and he joined us virtually. This gave guests the quintessential Wine Dinner experience, with a somewhat more personalized feel as Mr. Cakebread talked about the evening’s selected wines from the deck of his home in California.

Our collaboration with the ULCC and the Chef, Michael Ponzio, was the second key component to recreating the core elements of the Wine Dinner. Chef Ponzio established a fantastic four-course menu of chilled crab stuffed artichoke, bib lettuce with melon salad, tender braised lamb shank and chops, and  a decadent dessert of triple chocolate mousse torte. Chef carefully crafted the menu to pair brilliantly with the wines selected for the evening: Cakebread Reserve Chardonnay, Cakebread Two Creek Pinot Noir, and Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon. The ULCC also coordinated the meal and wine packaging and pick up process with great efficiency. As stated by Ms. Shade, “By offering an option to pick up food along with their wine pairings from the Club [the ULCC], we are able to really make our virtual event stand out from others”.

In the end, our virtual Wine Dinner was a great success and lots of fun. It was attended by over 200 guests through Zoom, and with the virtual breakout rooms that our Director of Marketing & Special Events set up, all were able to virtually mingle with each other and chat while enjoying their courses, maintaining the sense of community that we all enjoy at our events. Most importantly, we raised over $59,000 with our Fund the Mission campaign to support our more than 15,000 Club youth, crushing our initial goal of $40,000. This funding has been essential for our Clubs to be able to continue their services to our Club members at a time when they are depending upon us more than ever.

We know that we will need to embrace the virtual route for our events for the foreseeable future. We also hosted our Inspirational Heroes Gala in early November virtually as well. Our Gala Committee Chair, Celine Fitzgerald, shared, “the Wine Dinner gave us a great template to use for our 2020 Gala, and the Gala will give use even more experience to help us plan and structure our future virtual events”.

In addition to a solid and well thought out program outline and an enthusiastic and adaptable team of staff and Events Committee members, the success of our event depended upon event sponsors. Event sponsors are equally as important in a virtual fundraiser as they are for their in-person counterparts, and they can continue to enjoy the same name and brand recognition benefits. For our Virtual Wine Dinner, we were fortunate to get sponsorships from Lavelle Law, the Shade Family Foundation, the Fitzgerald Family Foundation, and dedicated members of our Board of Trustees.

We are so grateful to the following for making our Wine dinner such a success:

  • our remarkable Wine Dinner and Events Committees, including our Wine Dinner Co-Chairs, and team of staff who all came together and worked hard to plan a wonderful event
  • the ULCC and Chef Ponzio for helping with the logistics and producing such an elegant meal for our guests
  • Cakebread and Cakebread Cellars for joining us, enthralling our guests with his wine savvy, and being our featured vineyard for the evening
  • ULBGC Alumnus, Jordan Merrick, for shooting and producing amazing videos at our Clubs to show guests during the event in order for them to see and connect with the impact our Clubs are making
  • our event sponsors: Lavelle Law, the Shade Family Foundation, the Fitzgerald Family Foundation, and Matthew and Michelle Sheahin
  • and of course, all of our Wine Dinner’s attendees and supporters who contributed to Fund the Mission and made our event so memorable

We could not have done any of it without you all! Thank you for ensuring we started off on the right foot for our first ever virtual event.