From closing their offices to transitioning to constant video conference meetings, local nonprofits have had to adjust on the fly during the COVID-19 quarantine. These social services have also suffered with the devastating loss of public fundraising events. 

However, with financial instability comes the opportunity to try out new methods of creating revenue. Some of the nonprofits in our area have maneuvered in ways they haven’t needed to before the pandemic and based on initial successes might carry on some of those practices post-COVID-19.

The question now stands: after seeing how effective online fundraising can be with virtually no cost, will nonprofits pivot to creating revenue through the forces of the internet?

The answer is complicated due to the unprecedented circumstances we are operating under with the coronavirus pandemic. But the topic is on the table.

Kira Robson, executive director at Animal Care League, hinted on May 12 that due to the success ACL had online through adoptions and donations that there are certain aspects of online fundraising that ACL might keep post-pandemic.

“We are definitely looking at things differently,” said Robson in an interview with Wednesday Journal on May 9. “It’s interesting how [the coronavirus pandemic] pushed all of us into the future in some ways. We saw donations flood in like we haven’t seen before and the traffic on our website is through the roof right now.”

Not every organization in the area has had to rely on online donations.

Sarah’s Inn, a nonprofit dedicated to help fight domestic violence, has raised over $50,000 in general donations during a time where it saw the number of people calling in for help increase by 20 to 25 percent. However, Sarah’s Inn executive director, Carol Gall, doesn’t think the pandemic had an impact on the nonprofit’s online fundraising numbers since it has been adapting to fit the modern mold of handling online donations in recent years.

“Over the last few years, we have relied on online fundraising more and more,” said Gall. “We live in a world now that emphasizes technology so it’s natural that we have gone that route.

“But I think what people really appreciated in particular in the health crisis was the opportunity for things to be easy for them to be able to say, ‘OK, I know that this organization needs something and I can make a donation online that’s gonna help them get that need met.'”

Places like Madison Street Theater, which has only had nonprofit status for close to a year, have been hurt by the global outbreak of COVID-19 as they try to build a bigger connection with the community.

The timing of the pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time. Madison Street Theater was about to hold its first fundraiser on March 12 when it had to cancel it due to safety concerns.

“The timing was definitely unfortunate since this was going to be our first fundraiser as a new board,” said Kara Keller, a board member. “We immediately had to find a way to pivot. Ovation [Academy] really helped out by creating online classes and gatherings that have helped make things work.”

Madison Street Theater didn’t disclose how much money it has raised but it’s trying to focus on how to build up its online fundraising presence. It is renting out its space while also trying to fund a capital improvement project after missing out on the first round of PPP.

“Right now, we are working behind the scenes to make our donation page look more robust,” said Keller. “We have some capital improvement needs that are immediate, and so how we approach the public, whether it’s allowing people to donate specific items for the space or saying that your contribution will go to these specific things, is a work in progress. We feel like we have hit the ground running.”

Technology can only supplement face-to-face connection to a certain extent.

For the Day Nursery, which has served families in the area since 1912, having to use Zoom video conferencing to communicate with the children and trying to find ways to fundraise has been difficult.

“The dynamic has changed since each classroom has its own way of communicating,” said Cari Christoff, executive director. “Teachers are working full time remotely, providing resources and activities through Zoom with 10 or 12 five-year-olds.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, the nursery held a virtual fundraising event that raised $20,000 which two donors matched. Along with being included in the first round of PPP, the Day Nursery has maintained its staff and has kept everything afloat. However, the pandemic has made the nonprofit rethink how it will create revenue in the future.

“I think this has been an opportunity for us to connect and expand our presence within the community,” said Christoff. “Especially now where, like all nonprofits, we’re struggling. Our sources of income are basically non-existent and we’re in a very wonderfully philanthropic community. But we’re all asking for support and help. So we are looking to expand our presence and it’s been an opportunity to show people what we do.”

Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation helps out nonprofits

Since nonprofits came calling for help, the Community Foundation has raised over $850,000 through the Rapid Response and Recovery fund.

“We have been mobilizing probably every aspect of traditional fundraising to online fundraising to partnerships such as with the Journal to get the word out,” said Tony Martinez, president and CEO.

“The need is there and it is increasing. We’re still in the middle of the pandemic. And you know, there are still nonprofits that are experiencing some financial hardships. Many of them had to cancel their annual fundraising events, which in many times equals more than 30 to 40 percent of their annual budget. We are thrilled by how much we have raised but we still have work to do.”

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