Cashbah is an annual event held to raise money for SLUH’s need-blind admissions policy. As part of SLUH’s Mission Statement, students are selected for the school not because of their ability to pay, but because of their ability to succeed. Cashbah is a significant part of how that vision becomes a reality.
“This year there is over $4,000,000 in financial aid that we are giving to our students. On the line item, Cashbah is marked to bring in $1,000,000 or more,” said Director of Annual Giving John Penilla. “The people I work with in the Advancement Office, when we look at that $4,000,000 target for the financial aid, it is our goal to raise that money, and a quarter of that comes from this event.”
Surpassing $1,000,000 has become an expectation in recent years, and this year’s success marks the sixth consecutive Cashbah in which the donation total will exceed seven figures.
Co-Chairs Martha McArthur and Carol Andrew began planning for the event last July. Through months of planning along with their fellow parents, the Co-Chairs were able to assemble a list of tantalizing items that included front-row Cardinals green seats tickets, a trip to Turks and Cacos, a Los Angeles Vacation, a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and puppies, among many others.
Around the start of March—when the threat of COVID-19 in America started to materialize—members of the Advancement Office started to brainstorm contingency plans, realizing that an event with over 1,000 people might turn out to be unsafe.
Three contingency plans were considered: cancelling Cashbah, making some minor adjustments to the event, or moving it to an online virtual experience.
Penilla suggested rescheduling the event to June, but decided that the uncertainties surrounding the spread of COVID-19 made that a too risky plan.
In the three week period between the announcement of it going online and the event itself, a good deal of unexpected logistical work had to be taken care of. The first step was to cancel all reservations for the event including food service and party supplies. Additionally, they had to write more in-depth descriptions for many of the items up for auction now that potential bidders could not use their own eyes to inspect the items.
“I was nervous because Carol (Andrew) and I had worked for seven months on this and I felt like we were a yard from the finish line and suddenly the game changed,” said McArthur. “I was nervous that all of our work would not result in the successful event we had envisioned and a little disappointed too because that evening is a party and that is part of the fun, but once we saw what was going on, there was no questioning the school’s choice; we were there to serve.”
Because of a whole new series of unknowns, the initial prospect of an online Cashbah was daunting to the Advancement Office.
“When we knew we were going to go online, we had no idea what to expect,” said Agniel. “We’ve never done that before, and all of the different elements of Cashbah that we’ve found to be successful over the last several years all went out the window. Everything we’ve been able to predictively saw ‘yeah, we know this works,’ all of a sudden we don’t know.”
“I was humbled and somewhat surprised that the frenetic and busy nature of putting on a virtual auction (in less than 30 days of preparation) was even greater it seemed than a live event,” said SLUH President Alan Carruthers in an email to the Prep News.
Compared to recent years, a larger emphasis was placed on the Fund-A-Need portion of Cashbah. Fund-A-Need is where donors can make giftless donations to help support SLUH’s financial aid program.
“We tell the story of why supporting scholarship at SLUH is so important, and why it’s interesting and unique that more than 400 Jr. Bills receive need-based financial aid, and what that means about who we are as a community, the legacy of St. Louis U. High as a place where all are welcomed, and are supported based on their ability to thrive at St. Louis U. High, not on whether or not their family can afford tuition,” said Agniel.
The set goal for Fund-A-Need was $425,000, and thanks to many generous donors, that goal was comfortably surpassed. When it was all collected and counted, Fund-A-Need grossed $472,513.
The Advancement Office, with limited time before Cashbah, also came up with innovative methods to increase the chances of hitting the $1,000,000 mark. Effectively utilizing social media and mobilizing the alumni network were two key components they zeroed in on.
On the Cashbah website, they embedded videos of students and families all sharing what financial aid at SLUH means to them. English teacher Michael Mohr, S.J. even used Facebook Live during the auction to encourage people to donate.
Even with over 400 items in the auction, just a handful were taken out due to COVID-19 complications. One of them, for instance, was a trip to London for the Cardinals vs. Cubs London Series this upcoming June. Just the day before the auction, word got out that the game had been cancelled.
Although COVID-19 may also affect some other auction items, the Advancement Office is set to fulfill each prize even if that means tweaking the details of the prize or, worst case scenario, refunding the gift.
Though the adjustments in response to the pandemic changed Cashbah quite a bit, some positives came about. No ticket was required for purchase this year, and that allowed for over double the amount of potential bidders. In the end, 1,821 people registered, a noteworthy increase from last year’s attendance of 760.
“For the first time, everyone in the SLUH community--current parents, past parents, alumni, friends of SLUH—all those different populations were invited to register, and by the end of Saturday we had over 1,800 people register, so the reach to the community was huge,” said McArthur.
That larger number of registrations allowed for an audience of people spread out all across the world.
“One of the best outcomes of this unexpected mode of Cashbah, was that it provided an opportunity to meaningfully engage alumni and friends of SLUH from around the United States, North America and the World,” said Carruthers in an email to the Prep News. “I think one of our greatest takeaways will be in retrospect, that it was at this point that Cashbah became more than simply a local ‘in person’ event and became a cornerstone to our engagement with our increasingly widespread and caring alumni.”
The generosity and compassion of the would-have-been Cashbah goers was revealed when many still paid their admission ticket as a way of making a donation, according to Penilla. A lot of members of the SLUH community also reached out to him to let him know they were thinking about him through the tough times.
“I think what this all boils down to is people want to support guys like you and your classmates, and I think if they didn’t think it was a good cause we would not have a good auction and would not have made it for 51 years,” said Penilla. “When we put out the cry for help at the 11th hour that we’re going online, people do step up and want to support the school.”