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Sarasota Monday, Sep. 6, 2021 3 months ago

Nonprofits look ahead to uncertain season

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Changing pandemic landscape makes planning difficult for event organizers.
by: Harry Sayer Staff Writer

This story has been updated from its originally posted version, now pointing out that Girls Inc. has cancelled its Sept. 22 celebration dinner.

Brian Lipton, director of AJC West Coast Florida, has been looking forward to his organization's first in-person philanthropic event since the pandemic started, planned now for Nov. 18.

Early in 2021, putting on the Civic Achievement Awards dinner looked to be a sure bet. COVID cases were dropping and vaccine demand was high.  But the emergence of the Delta variant this summer has put that all into question.

“Vaccinations started in January, and it’s September,” Lipton said. “Who would have thought we’d still be so concerned about hospitalization rates?”

Lipton is not alone navigating with little in the way of forward visibility while  attempting to return to a normal fundraising season.

“It’s like navigating a ship where the sea keeps changing,” Lipton said. “You’ll find out there’s a new booster shot being offered and everyone gets excited. But then you find out there’s a new variant that’s more dangerous. Everyone has different opinions on what’s happening, so you just have to stay focused.”

Beyond the glamour,  the events have an important function — supplying a sizable monetary boost to nonprofits’ budgets and services.

As opposed to last season — where groups largely pivoted to virtual formats or delayed to the 2021 season — the closest thing to a uniting consensus on how to proceed is to monitor local positivity rates, follow CDC guidelines and stay flexible.

 “We’re set to go, people have already responded (to attend the awards dinner),” Lipton said. “(We’re) staying informed, staying hopeful and staying flexible. If things change a month before the event or ten days before the event, we’re going to remain flexible and maintain the safety of our community.”

Lipton has been at work with staff planning the Civic Achievement Award Dinner for Nov. 18 at Michael's On East. The dinner will offer indoor and outdoor seating. Food and drinks will be brought to tables by staff. The event is expected to host more than 100 people indoors and more outdoors. 

The organization said in its announcement email for dinner that it was extending the invitation to vaccinated individuals, but Lipton declined to say exactly how the organization selected that audience.

Some organizations with closer dates have again canceled events.

Jarred Wilson, senior director of philanthropy at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said the group’s Rosé for Reproductive Rights party planned for late September won't happen. 

“Rosé is relatively small event for us,” Wilson said. “It’s a fundraiser certainly but not our marquee event. It made sense for us, instead to try to re-envision it or move it around the calendar, to just cancel it,” Wilson said. 

The organization has a larger fall luncheon typically held in November but Wilson said they’re just unsure if they’ll be able to host it in person. 

The Girls Inc. of Sarasota nonprofit, which helps local girls ages 5 to 18 through social and educational programs, had its celebration dinner planned Sept. 22 but had to recently cancel as well. 

Jennifer Rominiecki, CEO of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, has time before deciding on what to do for her group’s signature Orchid Ball in February. She has reasons to be confident about managing the current conditions, between the event being held in an outdoor setting and the organization having already put on an adapted fundraiser last year.

She said it’s early to be deciding on what the spring event structure will be. Where in the past events had seating arrangements and logistics figured out even a year in advance, Rominiecki now says she and staff have to be adept at finalizing details on a shorter timeframe.

“In this environment, everyone has to be nimble and flexible and ready to make adjustments,” Rominiecki said. 

Correction: This article originally stated Girls Inc. of Sarasota was moving forward with its celebration dinner event in September. The nonprofit recently made the decision to cancel the event. 

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