The Pandemic Boost: Buckling Down + Changing Course = 14 Days to Record Results

Facing cancellation of its largest annual event due to COVID-19, the Middle + East Tennessee chapter of JDRF pivoted to a virtual Promise Gala to raise money for research for Type 1 Diabetes (T1D). Scheduled for April 25, 2020, JDRF had only 14 days to imagineer the largest virtual Gala that Tennessee had ever seen.


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dollars raised
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The Challenge

The decision to power ahead on a virtual Gala presented an incredible opportunity to think differently and leverage people’s desire for normal activities in very not-normal times. With fuoco as its integrated marketing team, JDRF had an opportunity to amplify the cause, generate buzz, and create a lasting impression.


fuoco designed a multifaceted approach, including messaging and a digital media strategy emphasizing social media, email, website and earned media (TV, print and radio) to tell and promote the JDRF story. We worked as an integral part of the JDRF team, creating a compelling campaign and storylines, and leveraged the relationships and star power of our local JDRF Chapter and of Nashville at large. 


Given the short timeline to help JDRF raise awareness for the virtual Gala, we leveraged the real subject matter experts – those affected by T1D. Well-known local faces willing to share their story included: 

  • Mary Lyn Schuh, executive director of JDRF Middle + East Tennessee
  • Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson, whose daughter Taylor has T1D, and his family
  • Eric Paslay, chart-topping country music artist who has T1D
  • Bart Millard, lead singer for American contemporary Christian music band MercyMe, whose son, Sam, has T1D

We created fun videos and posts – the Robinson Family’s carpool karaoke and an auction-off between Jon Robinson and professional auctioneer Jeff Randall – for the chapter’s social channels. 

We engineered a companion digital campaign, The 20×20 Challenge, that lowered the monetary “ask” to just $20 a person. We turned to friends, family, and supporters of JDRF to donate $20 to JDRF Fund A Cure to post on their personal social channels that they were taking the 20×20 Challenge, and then tag another 20 people asking them to do the same. 

We compiled a social media influencer list of all JDRF chapter stakeholders (board members, the chapter mailing list, sponsors, Nashville influencers, etc.) to boost the 20×20 Challenge signal across social media channels. We developed a social media toolkit explaining the Challenge and template social media posts so stakeholders could easily participate. 


In 14 days of intense local and national pitching of the press release and storyline, fuoco secured a story in Forbes, a front-page article in the Tennessean, which also appeared online, and live segments on three top local news channels.  

JDRF well exceeded their goals in terms of awareness, participation and funds raised. Additionally, making the Gala virtual allowed over 1,200 more people to participate than the normal in-person event, which typically brings in 850 people. 

  • Approximately 2,000 people (1,000 households) attended the virtual Gala
    • 750 households through Zoom
    • 280+ households joined via Facebook Live
    • People tuned in from 35 different states
  • 255 people from 32 states and 3 countries donated to the 20×20 Challenge, raising $9,813
  • JDRF’s social posts garnered unprecedented engagement on JDRF’s channels
  • $1.16 million was raised for JDRF Middle Tennessee
“Once we decided to make the 2020 Promise Gala a virtual event, I really felt that raising $800,000 would be a great feat. I was absolutely blown away when we calculated the numbers and realized we raised over $1 million.
Mary Lyn Schuh
Executive Director, JDRF Middle Tennessee + JDRF East Tennessee at JDRF International
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