After a long year of hard work, the Auction of Washington Wines team tallied the weekend’s proceeds to be shared on-screen. It was the end of the night on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019, at the gala held under the big tent on the grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle. Revelers, donors, and winemakers were eagerly awaiting the results. The total? $4.58 million — an all-time record for the 32nd annual fundraiser for Seattle Children’s and Washington State University’s Viticulture and Enology Research.
Energized by these results, an ecstatic board of directors, and a strong economy, we began planning immediately for a year that would surely be our best yet: 2020.
Seven months later, it became clear that doing things the same way we’ve always done them would not be possible. We pushed our dates out, thinking things would surely change if we could hold out for just another month or two. As COVID-19 cases rose, we modified our plans. Then modified them again. And again.
When all was said and done, our 2020 annual weekend of events, made memorable through the gathering of winemakers, wine lovers, and philanthropists, for the first time in 33 years, would be a virtual one.
I never imagined that I would consider a 59 percent decline in YOY proceeds to be a tremendous success. But I do. Our team was able to keep the (figurative) doors of our organization open. We exceeded our pandemic-adjusted fundraising goal. And we provided much-needed funds to our beneficiaries in a year they needed it most. We also gained invaluable insights regarding the strength of our donor base and the state of our ever-generous industry.
Among the many lessons the pandemic granted us, here are three I won’t soon forget:
- Our talented team pivoted with finesse.
As plan A turned into plan B, and plan B into plans C, D, and E, our team never lost focus — or heart. At every turn, they remained the committed professionals I’ve always known them to be.
- Our accomplished board responded with urgency, delivering timely decisions that gave our team time to act.
With no shortage of their own personal and professional concerns, our board members gave us their counsel, guidance, and time when we needed it most. Because of their prompt responses to our ever-changing proposals, we were able to plan, create, and deliver a virtual event that exceeded our expectations.
- Our generous donor base showed up in more ways than one, continuing a legacy 33 years strong.
Three decades of donor loyalty is nothing to take for granted. This year, we came to understand their dedication in a new way. With so many ways to spend precious time and resources this year, our many donors and partners stepped up and made this year possible.
Just a few months ago, our team gathered to consider a dispiriting option: what if we shuttered the doors and just sat this year out?
After all, the in-person gatherings we’d spent decades perfecting were not possible. The vintners we partnered with were struggling, and the donors we relied on were facing asks from so many.
What a mistake that would have been.
Had we sat the year out, we would never have attracted so many new patrons given the accessibility of an online event.
We would have missed the national reckoning that alerted us to the importance of incorporating diversity in our strategic plan and expanded our celebration of the industry’s most overlooked participants.
I never would have seen the creativity, quick thinking, and determination of our team, the inspiring commitment of our board, or the humbling loyalty of our partners and donor base.
In spite of the challenging year, the organization is stronger than ever. With the overarching vision of inspiring the world to experience Washington state wine, we defined our specific role and mission to support the growth and awareness of the Washington wine industry through celebrated events that give back to our community.
2020 gave me a lot to consider. As a new year begins, I am as determined as ever to keep learning and striving for excellence, despite any uncertainties that lie ahead.