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Here's how to help local charities amid fundraiser cancellations due to COVID-19

Non-profit Upaya Social Ventures turned a fundraiser cancellation into a virtual surprising virtual success{ } KOMO photo{ }{p}{/p}{p}{/p}
Non-profit Upaya Social Ventures turned a fundraiser cancellation into a virtual surprising virtual success KOMO photo

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The month of March traditionally marks the beginning of the all-important spring fundraising season for many charities in our community. But right now, local charities face losing hundreds of thousands of dollars because of COVID-19 cancellations. Here's how you can help, with a virtual fundraising success story that your favorite charity just might want to model if they have to cancel their event.

Donations raised through fundraising breakfasts, lunches and evening galas often sustain local charities for the rest of the year.

Having to cancel can literally mean no more help for children, teens, seniors, and families who face all sorts of challenges.

"This is huge for us." said Patti Skelton-McGougan is the CEO of Youth Eastside Services in Bellevue.

The non-profit provides critical mental health screening, counseling and treatment support to young people and their families. The YES Fundraising Breakfast is held every March. 1,000 people attend and donate money. The goal this year: $800,000.

Skelton-McGougan says the money already spent to secure the venue, pay for catering, hire a photographer and related expenses cannot be recovered.

"I don't want to downplay what is going on with this coronavirus because that's serious! And it's horrible! But we already had a fundraising issue going on in our business." Skelton-McGougan explained.

"There are some (charities) that are shutting their doors because they can't afford to keep providing service. How are we going to keep going forward if we can't make up for that loss?"

Skelton-McGougan and other non-profit leaders say the lack of mental health funding in our community was a dire threat for many organizations before the virus hit.

For some groups, having to cancel the only fundraiser of the year could mean reduced services, or worse- unless people who would have donated- still follow through.

"We have a huge hole to fill. And we're trying to scramble to figure out how we're gong to do that."

Skelton-McGougan's call to action?

"For all non-profits, I think, going to their websites, figuring out what you care about and supporting them right now is really important. We all need to help each other through this crisis. It's terrible what's going on. And we have places like us that have kids that are already struggling with depression and anxiety and suicide that we still need to support too. So,reaching out and giving, as much as you can to support the non-profit agencies in your community will go a long way in helping our community get through this."

The request is simple - if you agreed to attend a charity fundraising event that has been canceled - visit that charity's website and consider making the same contribution you would have made in person. If you haven't attended a fundraiser before- consider supporting a reputable charity that supports a cause you care about

Virtual Fundraising Strategies: A surprise story

The team at Seattle-based charity Upaya Social Ventures made a bold decision when COVID-19 concerns forced them to cancel their annual gala scheduled for the night of Friday, March 6th.

On March 2nd, with 225 people registered to attend, they cancelled the event. CEO Kate Cochran, her staff and board of directors got creative and literally threw together a 4-day virtual gala- with results beyond their wildest dreams.

"And I have to be honest, that that was really scary." said Cochran.

Following their event program, they had everyone on the program record and send in their presentations by cell phone, dressed for the occasion, including their tuxedo-clad auctioneer.

"We had a message that went out every day for the 4 days of the virtual gala." Cochran explained.

Each email message, always at noon, included one of the videos and updates on how things were going donation wise, saving a big finish for the last day.

"I really thought 200 thousand dollars was going to be a stretch. And by the end of the day on Friday we had raised 295 thousand dollars!" Cochran exclaimed.

It was the most successful gala Upaya has ever had. So here are key points from their virtual fundraiser action plan:

  • Plan a firm start and end date
  • Contact your key supporters first- to get the donations started
  • Post the virtual details on your organization's website
  • Create different videos with speakers, and client success stories- Make them engaging and fun when appropriate
  • Email different videos daily with updates
  • Meet every morning to assess progress and adapt as needed

Cochran shares more specifics and video of Upaya's "seat of the pants" strategy in her latest blog entry- "Virtual Reality: Making An Online Fundraiser Connect With Donors"

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"You know, people were sitting in their living rooms because they've been told to stay at home, but this was a way that they could engage with the community and feel like they were really making a difference." Cochran said.

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