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Not-For-Profit & Higher Education

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The summer and fall months typically present many not-for-profit organizations with ample opportunities for fund-raising activities. Golf outings, galas, concerts, 5K runs, casino nights, and auctions are just some of the common events held annually by not-for-profits and the funds provided by these events are much needed by these organizations to continue their missions. However, in the age of coronavirus, these historically reliable events may no longer be possible and not-for-profits must adapt their strategies in order to preserve funding.

When the first lockdown orders were initiated across the United States in mid-March in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, widely repeated slogans such as, “two weeks to slow the spread,” failed to capture the severity of the situation. Many not-for-profits would not have suspected that their events planned for the summer and fall months would fall victim to sustained shutdowns and bans on large gatherings.

Some not-for-profit organizations are adapting their traditional in-person fund-raising events to comply with health guidelines. For instance, the annual Art for AIDS fundraiser by the AIDS Connecticut organization is typically held in a crowded indoor gallery with finger food and drinks available buffet-style while donors peruse the art.

This year, the event moved to a larger space to facilitate social distancing and will admit only 20 ticket holders into the facility at a time for 30 minutes each. The food provided will be pre-packaged and the wine will be pre-poured. Masks are required and the facility will be sanitized between each 30-minute session.

Another approach taken by not-for-profit organizations is to postpone existing events to later dates while largely preserving their original plans. According to the Daily News, Montcalm County Michigan’s Habitat for Humanity moved a number of events originally scheduled for the spring to the end of September. The organization, which helps families build and improve places to call home, is billing the rescheduled events as a weekend celebration and includes a golf outing, a bike ride, and a fun run and walk. The events will include measures to comply with health guidelines, such as limiting the attendance for the golf event.

Adapting, postponing and rescheduling existing in-person events has pros and cons. While Montcalm County’s Habitat for Humanity plans to hold events closely resembling their original plans – events the organization’s community was likely already familiar with and supportive of in previous years – the organization also takes the risk of lockdown measures being extended or re-enacted. For a not-for-profit that has already delayed an event by six months or more, this could result in cancellations of events altogether and leave the organizations without needed funding. Many potential donors may also be fearful of attending in-person events, regardless of the health and safety measures in place.

Many not-for-profit organizations are responding to this risk by reimagining events in a virtual setting. For example, FrontStream partnered with Chicago-based health activation and engagement company MoveSpring to hold a “virtual fitness fundraiser” for the American Cancer Society. Branded as the Fit2Be Cancer Free 2020 Challenge, the event asks participants to connect to a wearable device, such as a smart watch, to log their progress in nine physical fitness challenges. The participants are also able to engage with friends and run charitable campaigns, such as asking their friends to sponsor their workouts.

These virtual events not only mitigate the risk of event cancellations due to lockdown measures and poor attendance due to public health fears, they also encourage event participants to actively promote the cause or mission on their personal social media platforms. These events also open an organization’s fund-raising efforts beyond its home community or physical footprint, enabling an organization to reach potential donors globally.

Virtual events may be more accessible to not-for-profit organizations than it first appears. Even experiences which have historically been limited to in-person events have been cleverly reimagined as online experiences. For instance, the Oregon Wine Experience’s annual Grand Tasting and Miracle Auction events typically attract large crowds and raise significant funds; in 2019, the events raised $1.7 million for the Children’s Miracle Network.

The Oregon Wine Experience found a way to take the wine-tasting experience virtual. One event sees sponsors receive a, “celebration in a box,” including award-winning wines and culinary creations to enjoy at home while watching a livestream. The organization also took its auctions online and adapted select in-person experiences to adhere to health guidelines; the organization’s top-tier sponsor package includes an in-person multi-course dinner in small gatherings.

All not-for-profit organizations will be forced to adapt their fund-raising efforts in response to the efforts to contain the coronavirus. Adapting events to conform to health and safety regulations, postponing events to later dates, and taking events to virtual spaces will be critical to the ability of not-for-profit organizations to continue their missions. Not-for-profit organizations must also be wary of the budgeting and accounting impact of changes to their fund-raising events and recognize revenue appropriately according to generally accepted accounting principles.

Our not-for-profit professionals are available to consult and assist you with development and fundraising issues.

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