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Sarasota Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 1 year ago

Nonprofits pivot to online fundraisers

Several nonprofits have turned to online events in lieu of in-person fundraisers.
by: Harry Sayer Staff Writer

Countless industries have adapted to the new conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic but few have faced as stark a change as the philanthropic events industry. What would typically be a bustling season where local nonprofits and organizations raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through colorful and festive events has become a veritable ghost town.

Several nonprofits have decided to wait out the pandemic and fundraise through different means, but many others have attempted something else — keeping continuity by hosting online fundraiser events. 

Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida: The group typically hosts a handful of dinners and events in the fall but decided to roll them up together into an online "Connect For Care: Find Your Superpower" event on Oct. 23. 

The event's program featured speakers Valerie Jarett, Soledad O'Brien, and more. The most taxing part was the technology, said Arlene Feddo, VP of philanthropy. 

"In some ways it was a little easier because you're not dealing with a venue, you're not dealing with meals," she said. "But on the flip side, you're always worried about if the technology works ... it kind of balanced out it was a new set of pros and also a new set of cons."

Feddo says the organization typically raises $400,000 with its fall luncheons and that so far "Connect for Care" has pulled in about the same. 

SRclue, SPARCC: Rather than re-create its Amazing Raise fall fundraiser,  SPARCC Director of Development Mary Ellen Mancini thought up a different event — SRclue, an online scavenger hunt  on Oct. 24. 

More than 50 teams completed an online scavenger hunt that featured puzzles spread out over an online map of Sarasota. Beyond the challenge itself, the program had a Zoom party space with a DJ playing music and a digital photo booth. Several participants received a package meal from Michael's On East. 

SPARCC's in-person fundraisers bring in around $200,000 while the virtual event netted close to $75,000. Mancini said it was good to keep SPARCC on the minds of people in the community as SPARCC looks to the spring for hosting in-person fundraisers.

Foodlosophy, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: Christian Hershman has been involved with the St. Jude Presents: Foodlosophy fundraiser each year. In that time, the chair has prided himself on working with various chefs and culinary creatives to prepare intricate meals and menus. 

Where he was once jostling with several other culinary talents as a chef, this year's Foodlosophy fundraiser on Oct. 21 had Hershman as more of an online administrator. Hershman was involved early in online meetings and brainstorming sessions to make the online event a reality. Beyond learning about the St. Jude mission, guests learned how to make their own fine cuisine. 

Last year’s event raised around $200,000  — this year brought in slightly over $65,000. "When we're all live and everyone's had a few drinks ... the competition in human nature starts to kind of kick in,” Hershman said. “You can start to really get price discovery and really drive prices up on these auction items."



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Harry Sayer is the Black Tie Reporter for the Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida and previously worked the Black Tie beat for the Observer newspaper in Winter Park and Maitland. You can catch him at one of Sarasota's fundraisers and shindigs. 

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