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Virtual financial fair highlights new service delivery options

Context

Money Power Day® is CASH Campaign of Maryland’s (CASH) annual and free financial fitness fair that usually draws 800 to 1,000 attendees. The fair offers a combination of workshops, an exhibitor hall (for non-profit organizations, businesses, and government agencies), and financial services including credit counseling, legal services, and tax-return preparation. This implements one of our promising practices for increasing saving at tax time : hold special events to encourage saving.

The CASH Campaign of Maryland promotes economic advancement for low-to-moderate income individuals and families in Baltimore and across Maryland. Its strategies include free tax-return preparation services, financial education and coaching, and connections to high-quality financial services and products. CASH serves approximately 20,000 taxpayers annually.

Challenge

The 15th annual Money Power Day® in 2020 would normally have occurred in late March or early April, but CASH had to postpone it due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Knowing they couldn’t replicate an event that relied on people gathering in person, they needed a new plan.

Response

CASH Campaign of Maryland had experienced virtual conferences and seen the demand for virtual services. To make the event fit the new approach’s capabilities, they prioritized access to financial education services, exhibitors, and a virtual financial planning zone.

The virtual Money Power Day® was held on October 17, 2020, with 57 exhibitors and 607 registered attendees. The day included several workshops, which were pre-recorded, with 40 minutes of content and 20 minutes for questions and answers via a live chat box.

A total of 235 people participated on the day of the event, and 164 of those attended one or more of the financial education workshops. The most-attended workshop, with 96 participants, was Credit Check-Up. Follow-up e-mails focused on those who registered but didn’t attend. Anyone who had registered was able to access the event’s content online for 30 days after the event.

Results

CASH Campaign’s staff was happy with the online conferencing platform they chose. Exhibitors had a range of options: text with links, a chat box, pre-recorded videos, live video conferencing, and scheduled one-on-one video chats. Some stayed all day, and the platform featured red and green lights to show if a “booth” was currently staffed.

Staff knew the format would present obstacles in serving the most vulnerable populations. This was certainly true for community members without smartphones or with limited access to or comfort with technology.

A positive aspect of attendance was participation by residents from 21 of Maryland’s 24 counties, underscoring the role of virtual technologies in reaching widespread regions. Money Power Day® is typically held at a high school in Baltimore.

Looking Forward

Applying the lessons learned from the 2020 event, CASH Campaign of Maryland is increasing their use of social media platforms for distanced participation in its service offerings, including live-streaming content. Maryland CASH Academy has also increased its online financial education. CASH is also looking for ways to provide content through other organizations’ virtual events.

CASH Campaign’s director of financial capability reflected: “It was a really great event. While we don’t see ourselves trying to do another fully virtual financial fair, we’ve learned some new ways of doing things that we’ll be taking forward beyond the pandemic.”