Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:
Year 2 of virtual fundraising: A lot of nonprofits in the villages were in full invention mode a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic came to town and, among its many intrusions, landed square in the spring gala fundraising season.
So nonprofits saw huge spikes in demands for their services at the moment when a critical fundraising tool — the in-person, swanky, silent auction, dress-up gala — was made impossible.
Improvisation followed. We reported on 5K walks around donor’s backyards, great kids auctioning art or making cookbooks, and the virtue of the straight-up ask. “We are in a crisis. We need your donation. Now.” And it largely worked.
It worked for the Journal: A year ago this week, Wednesday Journal, newly part of our Growing Community Media nonprofit, figured out how to physically make a newspaper when no one was in our Oak Park Avenue offices. That Tuesday afternoon I wrote a letter to all of our digital readers explaining what we had accomplished, how it would shape our coverage going forward and how deeply we expected our ad revenues to fall.
I made the ask and the response was immediate and gratifying. Within 10 days we were gifted with $44,000 from hundreds of readers.
Asking works if your cause resonates with the community. Since then, Growing Community Media has reached more than 1,600 donors. And we are on the path to inventing a sustainable community newsroom that relies, as we have for 41 years, on advertising, on print subscribers, and, now, on reader donations, larger donors and foundations.
There are a lot of people in community journalism watching closely to see our progress. There are only a handful of legacy for-profit newspapers making this leap. We were the first in Chicago.
Next week, we launch our spring campaign with the theme of “Campaign for Democracy.” It is tied to the local elections coming in April and the truth that all democracy is local and that elemental to democracy is a free and thriving press.
Get ready. The ask is coming. Prepare to be beseeched.
Drawing a crowd on Zoom: Part of our Campaign for Democracy is hosting virtual forums for the presidential candidates in both Oak Park and River Forest. Last week, in partnership with the Business and Civic Council, we welcomed Cate Readling and Vicki Scaman for a 90-minute conversation that was civil while direct.
Here’s what amazed me. During the live event, we collected well over 300 viewers on Zoom and Facebook Live. Pretty good, we thought. But it was delayed viewing that stuns. As of the weekend more than 4,500 people had seen all or part of the forum.
Our conversation with Cathy Adduci and Patty Henek, candidates for River Forest president, will be on March 17.
No more endorsements: A point I made during the forum and want to make again is that one of the notable outcomes of Wednesday Journal converting to a nonprofit is that we are now prohibited from making political endorsements. That’s under IRS regs which make perfect sense.
But it is a shift. We’ve been endorsing candidates for four decades. Now admittedly, in the early years our endorsements came to be seen as the kiss of death for candidates. To which we replied, “We’re not making predictions, we’re endorsing the best candidates.” Oddly, in our final endorsements two years ago, just about everyone we endorsed won. You’re welcome.
Meanwhile back to the galas: Housing Forward, a nonprofit that has blown up and remade its model of care responding to the pandemic, announced its Have a Heart Virtual Gala on Feb. 27 brought together more than 300 people, 28 sponsors and raised $212,000. That number exceeded their goal.
And not just nonprofits: Turns out you don’t have to be a nonprofit to touch the generous hearts of villagers. The Book Table has raised considerable and necessary funds by turning twice to their loyal customers. Pumpkin Moon on North Boulevard is seeking support right now. And as we report today, Spilt Milk, the bakery flooded out of its space on Oak Park Avenue, has already raised $39,000 from donors to fuel their relocation to a larger space on South Boulevard. Let’s hear it for the Svec sisters and the power of connection.