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Coronavirus Hits Nonprofits At Height Of Fundraising Season, Need For Services Grows

A man speaks to a crowd sitting at tables in an elegant ballroom
Cliff Roles
Blue Ties and Butterflies, the signature fundraiser for Child Protection Center of Sarasota is one of dozens of fundraisers cancelled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, non-profits have taken a financial hit in the heart of fundraising season.

Over the past three weeks, dozens of non-profits have had to cancel or postpone annual charity events, possibly missing out on millions of dollars.

Blue Ties and Butterflies, the signature fundraiser for Child Protection Centerin Sarasota and DeSoto counties, was supposed to take place April 1.  Executive Director Douglas Staley says, in recent years, the event has netted between $325,000 to $375,000.

Now the organization is trying to pivot to keep funds coming in. He says most of the event’s sponsors have allowed CPC to keep their sponsorship money. They’ve also been granted an initial $30,000 challenge match from Sarasota philanthropist Keith D. Monda and are doing an online campaign to try to raise an additional $200,000.

“Our messaging is, if you are in a position to financially help, we would greatly appreciate your partnership,” said Staley.

“It is important to know that we expect child abuse cases to increase the longer that this pandemic lasts,” he said. “Nationally, child abuse spiked during the recession of 2008-2009. We want to try to avoid repeating this. The coronavirus has placed the most vulnerable children of our community at greater risk than ever.”

Over the last five years, Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center in Sarasota has raised an average of $230,000 at its annual spring gala to support services for survivors of domestic assault and sexual violence.

“We have licensed therapists and attorneys on site to help with restraining orders for survivors,” said Mary Ellen Mancini, development director for SPARCC. “We also have our shelter operating 24 hours a day. We meet with survivors in all the local hospitals to be there as an advocate for them. It’s really comprehensive.”    

This year, the organization was supposed to celebrate their 40th anniversary gala on Friday. Instead, they are hosting a virtual party.

Mary Ellen Mancini and Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center's President & CEO, Jessica Hays at the nonprofit's 2019 fundraiser.

The interactive event and auction will be livestreamed on Facebook and Instagram.

“We will be sharing the impact video that we were going to show during the gala,” said Mancini. “We’ll also share survivor stories and we can answer questions on chat.”

Additionally, the California-based auctioneer scheduled to handle bids on donated items will teleconference into the livestream.

"We don't really know what to expect,” said Mancini. “We're just going to be really humble and organic and just kind of go for it. It can't hurt, and anything that we bring in will certainly help."

Elsewhere around the region,Meals on Wheels PLUSin Manatee County had to postpone its lucrative fundraiser, "Tropical Nights." Originally scheduled for March 28, the event will take place at the end of June -- but food needs don’t wait for fundraising dollars to come in.

State College of Florida Foundation had to cancel two fundraising events which will impact what they provide for low income students to attend SCF.

Susie Bowie of the Manatee Community Foundation says her organization is encouraging donors to donate their fundraiser tickets and sponsorships for cancelled events back to the nonprofits and to sustain giving at their previous commitment levels or increase support if they can afford to do so.

MCF has opened a Manatee County COVID-19 Community Response Fund with an initial gift of $500,000 from an anonymous donor to provide support to health and human service organizations. The Manatee Matches Giving Circle is also providing matching dollars, up to $100,000 to the new fund.

Several other groups have launched initiatives to support needs in the wake of Covid-19.

Season of Sharing has been reactivated by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and the Herald-Tribune Media Group. The annual campaign is typically held during the holiday season to support low-income residents in Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties by matching them within a network of more than 60 human service agencies.

“The purpose of the fund is to ensure people can remain in their homes when they hit a bump in the road,” said Roxie Jerde, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. “Well we’ve just hit a mountain in the road here for so many people. We know that we’re going to have increased demand. A lot of people are going to be scrambling with rent, or a car payment, or in need of child care and these funds could tide them over right now.”    

Season of Sharing has received an initial $500,000 for COVID-19 response by The Patterson Foundation and the organization will match it with an additional $500,000.

“This region is fortunate to have time-tested, sustainable models to connect with and build upon when people, organizations and communities are faced with a crisis,” said Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of The Patterson Foundation. 

And while foundations have considerable leverage in raising and distributing money, the magnitude of the pandemic is troubling for those in the nonprofit world.

Our nonprofit partners count on us, especially in times of unforeseen challenge. We are counting on our donors to lean in right now.

Mark Pritchett, President and CEO of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, said he has heard from many business owners forced to lay off hundreds of workers because they can no longer operate. He also knows of first responders who are scrambling to place their own children in safe care.

“Philanthropy must be a leader in complementing governmental responses to this crisis,” he said. “Our nonprofit partners count on us, especially in times of unforeseen challenge, and we are counting on our donors to lean in right now too.”

For those reasons and more, Pritchett said the best thing donors can do to support organizations is to provide flexible operating dollars to keep services going. For those who can, he urges them to double down on contributions even though financial portfolios have declined.

To that end, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation has partnered with the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundationto launch its own COVID-19 Response Initiative.

“These investments are funding relief for critical health and human-service providers and supporting their capacity to handle the rise in clients,” said Teri Hansen, president and CEO of the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, which committed $500,000 to the initiative.

“These grants are quick hits. They remedy immediate needs in front-line healthcare, employment, housing, and food security.”

Hansen says the Barancik Foundation has also identified partner organizations that are critical to the foundation’s work in education, early-childhood development, and mental health.

“We know this crisis will have short and long-term effects,” she said. “We changed our regular grant cycle process to ensure our partners come out at the end of this. We’re working with them to provide more significant grants that will support the organization’s infrastructure for at least another 30 days or more. We know we won’t be able to float every organization, but we can buy them time to make smarter choices rather than snap decisions.”

So not only has the pandemic impacted fundraising, it's also testing the long-term sustainability of individual nonprofits.

“In many cases, they’re doing the best they can to retain their staff, but for many it’s just not feasible,” said Hansen. “For the human services organizations, it’s a compounding problem. Not only have they lost funding sources and employee capacity, but the need of their clients are exacerbated as well. Clients need their services more than ever.”

Non-profits are also looking ahead to the end of April when organizations will see an influx of support with  The Giving Challenge, an annual 24-hour on-line fundraiser.

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