Fundraising Goes Creative in Pandemic

by Jeff Lytle

With the peak social season upon us, vital nonprofit organizations wrestle with raising money for great causes without the full lineup of crowded charity balls and dinners.

The stakes are high for the community.

How are the nonprofits coping? Susan Suarez, president and CEO at the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida, plans to go virtual with a December 10 fundraiser showcasing the story of an El Salvador diplomat credited with protecting up to 40,000 European Jews amid World War II. The survivors included ancestors of a museum board member.

Learning must go on at Pathways in Immokalee. (Courtesy of Pathways.)

Though there is no charge for the presentation on the museum’s website, sponsorships of up to $10,000 are available. Otherwise, Suarez reports, museum leaders are spending more time these days trying to personally connect with our major donors via phone and email.

“The Museum created greeting cards from artwork students made last winter related to what they learned about the 75th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps, which we sent to many of our donors as a way to stay in touch,” she says.“ We have also received nice sponsorships for our Zoom programs, especially our series called ‘Movies That Matter.’”

David Lawrence Center was planning to proceed with a fundraiser event postponed in April as the virus ramped up. The Sound Minds luncheon was slated for November, with social distancing seating at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort and a creative twist – virtual tickets for watching online.

Keynote speaker, Patrick J Kennedy, was modifying his presentation to include the mental health impacts of COVID-19.

Education builds strong foundations at Pathways in Immokalee. (Courtesy of Pathways.)

Trista Meister at Mindful Marketing reports another of her clients, Home Base, helping Veterans and their families, conducted a virtual raffle in conjunction with a golf outing and got donations from a volunteer running in a virtual Boston Marathon.

Another group served by Meister, Naples Therapeutic Riding Center, had to convert its main fundraiser, the Bootstrap Boogie Barn Dance, to a virtual appeal.

“They did keep a live element, Pony Pie Bingo that will be announced via video on Facebook,” she says.

Rev. Lisa Lefkow, CEO of Habitat for Humanity in Collier County, tells of a different approach.

“We have been using this time to prioritize persona; conversations with donors,” she says. “Our team has been spending many hours on the phone and writing notes since we have been unable to connect in person.

“In addition, we have been creating video content, from closings on homes with the new homeowners, to virtual tours of homes and neighborhoods.

“We are not an event driven organization,” Lefkow explains. “We’ve never had a gala or big fundraiser (which I have always been thankful for and now am especially relieved!). I’d rather take a donor to coffee and share with them the life changing benefits of a home and come away with a sponsorship than to try to dig up auction items all season!”

The local chapter of the American Cancer Society was going online in a big way. Two examples: The annual Cattle Baron’s Balla nd auction November 14 was going virtual; tickets, including dinner from Ruth’s Chris Steak House, were optional.

Lessons in safety are routine at Pathways in Immokalee. (Courtesy of Pathways.)

The society’s Bark for Life fundraiser was using its website and Facebook page for pet photo contests in October and November.

The Community Foundation of Collier County says one established online fundraiser is now more vital than ever — Give Where You Live Collier, which supports 40 basic needs and education local nonprofits.

“This event is going to be a lifeline to these nonprofits this year, many of whom have had to cancel their in-person fundraising events,” says the foundation’s Cindi Withorn. “We have set a date for the 2021 event for Noon on February 10 through Noon February 11. Last year we broke our record by raising $5.68 million.

The seventh annual event will be hosted live at and is sponsored by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation.”

Brandon Dowdy, director of development for Pathways Early Education Center in Immokalee, says technology is working for his non-profit too.

“I am excited to say we have developed a virtual tour for prospective students as well as donors that is part recorded and part live video of our center. We have had good success with those tours,” he reports. “We have also started a new program for families who cannot come in person. We call it Virtual Pre-Kindergarten. We also have a virtual training program for our students’ volunteer mentors.”

Naples Art’ is the centerpiece of the new PR
push for the former Naples Art Association.

The former NaplesArt Association, now streamlined to NaplesArt, is trying to make lemonade.

“People have gone indoors and gone online. So, we made our website more informative and engaging. We increased our presence on social media, not only to talk about our own Naples Art programs but to share news and information about art all over the world,” says Julie Koester, president of the group’s PR firm, Dragon Horse. “We created a series of very cool online classes with a broad appeal to artists, would-be artists, and people who want to try something completely new,” such as special-effects movie makeup and how to make watercolor paints.

She adds Naples Art is preparing to launch its first series of online art classes in Spanish.

Plus, Naples Art has rolled out a new ad campaign – featuring a character named Art.

“He’ll be all over town — visiting businesses, downtown gathering places, Naples Art’s events, greeting people, posing for photos, talking about what’s new at Naples Art, making people smile,” Koester says. “We believe this is particularly important in these challenging times.”

The big annual dinner dance for the Naples Senior Center is going virtual January 9, 2021 with pleas for bids to support vital services and a concert by a to-be-announced star booked through the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The center was working with Scott Robertson, a pioneer in the emerging form of auctioneering.

Shy Wolf Sanctuary was reimagining its November fundraiser, WolfStock, as a hybrid online concert with an interactive online auction.

“There is an exclusive opportunity for a limited number of sponsors to attend in person,with live music, craft brews, gourmet food trucks and a private visit with the Sanctuary’s resident animals,” Shy Wolf announced.

NCH Healthcare System, whose resources have been stretched by the pandemic, outlined a big picture going forward.

Troy Munn, associate chief development officer, explains:

“We are fortunate and proud to sponsor Naples’s oldest annual charity event, the NCH Hospital Ball, which generates $1 million, but that is only one component of overall donor support. The majority of gift revenue comes through the NCH Medical Diplomats Council, grateful patient fundraising and individual philanthropy, including generous legacy gifts that donors provide through their estates.

“NCH is still strategizing if and how to virtualize events, including our Hospital Ball. We are still developing creative methods of securing sponsorships for the event and identifying meaningful ways to recognize those sponsors and other donors to try to at least raise a fraction of what we typically do. One series of events that NCH has found to be productive and that the community is finding valuable, are virtual town halls hosted by NCH president and CEO Paul Hiltz, in which we can educate the community and our donors in the latest on COVID-19 at the local and state level and how NCH is providing prevention and care now and preparing to do likewise in the future. These town halls are not fundraising in nature, but do allow NCH to educate and steward our community and donors.”

Jennifer Reed, editorial director at Naples Botanical Garden, said the kickoff to the social season, Hats in the Garden, was salvaged creatively as a virtual fundraiser November 11 with all the “fun and flair of the original — in the socially distanced safety of attendees’ gardens, pool decks or living rooms.

It included a photo montage and contest of hatted attendees and an online raffle for a set of three rings donated by New York jewelry designer Guita Mortinger of Guita M Fine Jewels and Naples’ Marissa Collections.

“Here is the year we can really make more Garden friends and get the message out to a much bigger group,” says Rhea Merrill, the Garden’s philanthropy and corporate relations officer. “I think the Sustaining Leadership Council’s ability to adapt every year and embrace change and look around and say ‘How can we do Hats differently?’ has been the key to its success.”

This is only a sample of worthy community non-profits. Please go online to check the status of fundraising events – and see how you can help.

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