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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 26, 2020 6 months ago

COVID-19 fundraiser cancellations cause nonprofits to lose millions in donations

Fundraiser cancellations send organizations scrambling to help residents now while also plotting replacement events online or in the future.
by: Brynn Mechem, Staff reporter and Harry Sayer, Black Tie Editor

After federal and state agencies recommended against gathering in groups of more than 10, nonprofits almost immediately took financial hits in the heart of fundraising season.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, more than 20 fundraisers have been canceled or postponed, which has caused local nonprofits to miss out on millions. Several organizations rely on large fundraisers in March and April, which begins the last quarter of the fiscal year for many nonprofits.

Cherie Gorenstein and Sherry Chapman at the 2019 Blue Ties & Butterflies.

One such organization is Child Protection Center, Inc., which canceled its annual Blue Ties and Butterflies fundraiser, scheduled for April 1.

“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year,” Executive Director Douglas Staley said. “This event is heavily depended on to balance our budgets and set us up for the next fiscal year, so this will be a big miss for us as an organization.”

However, Staley said several donors and sponsors have allowed the organization to keep their sponsorship money despite the cancellation, and the group plans to host a virtual giving challenge.

Without the money from its largest fundraiser of the year, which typically nets between $350,000 and $400,0000, Staley said the organization could have a difficult time bringing in its $1.1 million annual operating budget.

Kesha performs at the 2019 Firefly Gala.

Another organization that may be affected by short term losses is Children First, which provides childhood education and family services to those in need. The organization’s Fairytale Ball, scheduled for April 4, was postponed until Oct. 3.

Last year, the ball raised $440,000, and although Vice President for Philanthropy Jessica Rogers said the organization would be able to raise money before its fiscal year ends in December,  the funds could have helped provide family services during the coronavirus shutdowns now.

“We know that our families are always hurt first, and they are hurt the worst,” Rogers said. “The average income of our families is about $14,000. Missing a paycheck or an extra shift will be catastrophic.”

For now, Rogers said Children First will shift from fundraising to provide the necessary care to families, but as time goes on, it will have to work to ensure revenue is strong so the agency doesn’t lose stability in delivering its mission.

Likewise, Forty Carrots Family Center’s  Firefly Gala grand finale complete with a performance by Pitbull was bumped from March 28 to a date to be determined. The center has around 48 employees on its payroll with an annual operating budget of $2.7 million.

Executive Director Michelle Kapreilian says more than half of the staff works at the center’s preschool with the remainder traveling to different locations as part of its mental health services and parenting programs. Although they would first plan to cut expenses and rely on community support, she worries about how staff cuts could affect the families for which they care.

“Absence of funds clearly goes directly to our staff, paying our staff who are carrying out the services,” Kapreilian said. “That is key and when we need them. They’re very specially trained individuals, and so keeping them working is also really important.”

And while many nonprofits find themselves in similar situations, several are making attempts to raise the money they have lost from event cancellations.

Alex Knight and Dylan Shytle at SPARCCle in the City: "A Black & White Ball" in 2019.

One such nonprofit is Safe Place And Rape Crisis Center, which is hosting a virtual auction April 3 in place of its 40th Anniversary Ruby Celebration Gala to both raise money and maintain a sense of community and continuity for its supporters.

“We thought it might be fun that you could be in your own home and have a cocktail and interact with other viewers,” Director of Development Mary Ellen Mancini said. “We’re all in this time of feeling separated. This allows us a time to come back together as a community.”

The auction will be live streamed on Facebook Live and Instagram from 7:30-10 p.m. Auction prizes include a golf excursion and local dinner parties. Mancini said staff hoped to raise around $200,000 at SPARCCle in the City.

Other nonprofits are looking forward to The Giving Challenge on April 28 and 29, a 24-hour event that brings funds to more than 700 local organizations.

One such organization is Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson’s, which had to cancel its annual Cause for Hope Gala, the single largest income source for Neuro Challenge annually. The gala raises 30% of the organization’s annual income of $1 million, CEO Robyn Faucy-Washington said. The group has been able to retain just under $200,000 of its planned $300,000 event income.

The Neuro Challenge has built up a reserve, so it’s not in immediate danger, but the group is looking at other sources of revenue, such as sponsorships for online programs and possible funds from The Giving Challenge to help raise the $100,000 it will miss.

“At this time more than ever we need to be able to continue providing our very important programs and services to people with Parkinson’s and their families,” Faucy-Washington said. “We are not relying on The Giving Challenge as our only means of recuperating, but it is definitely a great added opportunity.”

Staley said that although several organizations are receiving “incredible support” from the community, it might take longer than a few months to overcome the losses because larger organizations that provide grants to smaller nonprofits also are experiencing losses.

“It’s a domino effect,” he said.

However, some larger organizations are looking to shore up support for the community.

The Patterson Foundation is committing up to a $500,000 match in gift opportunities as part of the Season of Sharing campaign.

The Louis and Gloria Flanzer Philanthropic Trust is offering a two-to-one match on gifts up to $500 supporting JFCS of the Suncoast.

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation have recently partnered on a response initiative providing $1.5 million to health, human-service and safety organizations expecting greater demand and strain from the coronavirus.

“When these not-for-profit agencies are working on, ‘I need it yesterday,’ we will have the funding today,” Gulf Coast Community Foundation Senior Vice President Jon Thaxton said.

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