While the required safety protocols for COVID-19 have damaged the live entertainment event industry, an additional sector being affected is not-for-profit organizations. Mission-driven organizations often use live events to share and celebrate their impacts, foster a sense of community and, of course, raise the necessary funds to support their work.

Unlike for-profit businesses where needed work results in revenue, not-for-profits always carry the burden of two kinds of work: the core efforts to achieve a mission, and then additional work to bring in funds to support that work. That means nonprofit organizations are busier than ever trying to adapt two kinds of work to a COVID-19 environment instead of just one.

New Models for Mission-Driven Events

Losing the opportunity to host an outreach and fundraising event can mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars of needed funds to continue operations—and may represent the revenue source for an entire year, or even multi-year periods. Spring is a popular season for these events, and COVID curtailed these activities.

Local Whatcom County not-for-profits are responding in creative and innovative ways. A look at the rapid transition of in-person events to online events of just three (of many) local nonprofits paints a clear picture of reimagining, resilience, and courage.


Reimagining: Boys & Girls Club of Whatcom County. Online event June 5.

“As we continue to innovate and reinvent how we reach our most vulnerable young people, we’re inviting the community to reimagine with us how we raise funds to support these efforts,” says Sara L. Maloney, Chief Development Officer for the Boys & Girls Club of Whatcom County.

April 24 was the original date for an annual gala supporting the work of the Boys & Girls club, a date the organization hoped to shift to summer before it became apparent something else would have to be done.

“For us, canceling the event was simply not an option because kids and their families are relying on us,” Maloney says. “With schools closed, the access to food for children that qualify for free/reduced lunch is greatly impacted. Food scarcity for these families became an immediate and urgent challenge we could not ignore.”

The organization has been providing 1,800 Grab & Go meals per week and continuing to provide daycare to support essential workers. But it is perhaps the reinvention of a Virtual Club with online connection and enrichment activities that tracks most closely to a new model for their fundraising event.

The new, live streaming event is called Reimagine Higher Dreams and is scheduled for Friday, June 5 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. This in-home event offers attendees to connect with the same kinds of experiences they would at the in-person gala: a performance by kids, “Youth of the Year” speech, live and silent auction, and opportunities to sponsor a child through targeted donations. One attendance option involves a “Gala in a Box” delivered to attendees’ homes.

CEO Heather Powell shares a video message about the decision to change this event that supports 20% of their operating revenues.

Click here to register, watch the live stream, bid on auction items, and support the work of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County.

Boys & Girls Club of Whatcom County’s CEO Heather Powell posted this video on the night their gala was originally scheduled, switching gears from sequins to “stay-at-home” right before everyone’s eyes.

Resilience: Whatcom Land Trust. Online auction May 26–30; livestream May 29.

Our event is our one time of year that we get together and celebrate the mission,” says Jill Clark, Philanthropy Director, Whatcom Land Trust.

The funds normally coming from the live event support activities by Whatcom Land Trust to secure land into programs that protect, preserve, or restore it and its resources (such as salmon, farmland, or drinking water), and engages community members to understand and serve to continue the work. To date, WLT protects almost 25,000 acres of Whatcom County land, including 12,548 acres in the Lake Whatcom watershed. They share inspiration on their YouTube channel with a series on “Our Resilient Nature.

“We’ve transitioned the live, in-person event into three activities: personal outreach for what would have been “paddle raise” donations supported by a $50,000 matching gift opportunity, an online auction of experiential small group activities that support or are supported by our mission, and a thank you event sometime in the fall to celebrate our mission and all the people that supported it during this time,” Clark says.

Clark also stressed that every dollar given through this online effort will create $16 in new land protections in the coming year, so at the $150,000 goal that is $2.4M in outcome benefits. Paddle raise gifts are being accepted now, the auction begins May 26, and there will be a livestream message from Executive Director Gabe Epperstein on May 29. The activities will also include video storytelling set to music composed by Whatcom locals Lynne Givler and Keith Carpenter.

Another fun, new way to escape into the outdoors while connecting with WLT in this time is to take the Healthy Body Challenge and traverse 47 miles of terrain in Whatcom County in some way before June 15—and then share you story of what 47 miles means. Forty-seven miles is how much shoreline WLT protects in our county.

For more information or to donate contact Jill Clark at jill@whacomlandtrust.org.

Whatcom Land Trust extended a video series focusing on “Our Resilient Nature,” interviewing local supporters and showing local project areas. This video highlights their work and how it’s supported.

Courage: Animals as Natural Therapy. Online auction May 14–17; livestream benefit concert May 29.

Animals as Natural Therapy was an early adopter of changing the format of a fundraising event. They had to cancel their March 14 gala and changed it to a virtual event with literally a few days’ notice.

“I think that was a really important point in our organization’s history as it made me realize that…why we’re here—why we’ve been here for 21 years— is that we’re brave,” says Sonja Wingard, director and founder.

Bookkeeper Sue Swank described the experience of going virtual at the very beginning of the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, “It was much tougher in March,” she says. “People hadn’t been on Zoom before; everyone’s learning curve was high just to get people logged in. But it was really worthwhile.”

Wingard says the success of that early event was thanks to around six volunteers and the auctioneer, Manca Valum. “She was so brave,” says Wingard of the auctioneer who threw herself into an untested environment. “Manca said that her ego was not in it—that her goal was to raise money for an organization in the community that she cared deeply about, so if it didn’t work, there was nothing to lose.”

While Wingard calls that event a success for raising desperately needed funds, it only brought in about half of what they would normally expect from the live event. ANT is also tasked with coming up with new ways to continue their therapy work while not violating safety procedures, as connection is a big part of what they provide for those they serve.

“To found an organization and bring it though all kinds of times takes a lot of courage,” says Wingard.

ANT’s mission is “to strengthen our community by developing healthy, resilient individuals through animal-facilitated education, with special attention to at-risk youth.” Their work is often with those struggling with trauma, grief, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and anger and behavior management, and they use animals to reach and connect in a way that other approaches may not. You can see engaging videos about their work here.

May 14–17 is the live auction continuation of the event they had to reschedule in March. You can register in advance, and then start bidding on hundreds of diverse items after 5:00 p.m. on the first day. They’re also throwing a Virtual Garden Party & Benefit Concert, with music and poetry, on Zoom and Facebook Live, Friday, May 29 at 6:30 p.m. A project by a past ANT participant, this event offers art and engagement and welcomes donations to attend.

Animals as Natural Therapy founder Sonja Wingard talks about their programs and answers the question: “Why horses?” Their work with at-risk youth, veterans, and others focuses on human resilience with support from animals.

Featured photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County

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