Non-Profits Look for Ways to Fundraise During Pandemic

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Lauren Lamson

MIDDLETON–This fall, nonprofit organizations are remembering the times “before COVID-19” with a bit of sadness. How they are able to serve and reach out to the community has changed dramatically since February, and while some are receiving the support they need from the community, others are struggling to make themselves known without large fundraisers and in-person events.

Sixty percent of nonprofits nationwide are expecting significant decreases in their ability to fundraise this year as a result of COVID-19, according to the Stanford Social Innovation Podcast recorded on July 15, entitled “The Current and Potential Impact of COVID-19 on Nonprofits.”

In the Times-Tribune reading area some nonprofits are struggling to scrape together the funds to keep running. Fundraising is critical to their efforts and requires community investment.

Middleton Outreach Ministry

Middleton Outreach Ministry (MOM) has been extremely grateful to receive generous support from the community during the last six months. According to MOM Executive Director Ellen Carlson. So many people are reaching out, eager to volunteer, that MOM has had a surplus of volunteers as they are forced to reduce volunteer opportunities to allow for social distancing within their food pantry.

MOM fulfills a vital need in the community, one that Carlson says is hitting closer to home than ever. “Hunger and housing instability have always been around,” she explained. “Something like this exposes how close anyone in our community is to needing that help.”

That help comes as free food distribution, which is now a drive-up service. Before COVID-19, the food pantry was set up like a grocery store with aisles and the flexibility to choose items. Now, clients fill out menus in the drive-up line and volunteers hand out boxes of food, supplemented by items from MOM’s Top 10 list such as laundry detergent, personal care items, hand sanitizer, masks, and even earbuds for working and learning from home.

MOM also has a small delivery program supported by volunteers for clients who are exceptionally high-risk, rely on public transportation or have COVID-19. 

Volunteers and donations have been plentiful for MOM this year. Even without fundraising events like Canstruction they’ve been able to fundraise with the restaurant Stamm House and plan on holding their annual holiday art fair virtually.

“So many people right now are looking to find ways that they can do something meaningful to help other people,” Carlson said. Those people are often looking to MOM.

Gilda’s Club

Gilda’s Club provides programming and support for people and families going through a cancer diagnosis, focusing on “the emotional side of cancer,” explained Executive Director Lannia Stenz.

Before COVID-19, members gathered in the Gilda’s Club clubhouse in Middleton. There were lots of hugs, handshakes, and conversations. People sat in the living rooms and talked over coffee, took yoga and tai chi classes and attended various programming. Since March, all programming at Gilda’s has been virtual and will be until January of 2021 at the earliest. 

Gilda’s had to cancel both of their summer fundraisers: the June Backyard BBQ event and Over the Edge, an urban rappelling event that usually takes place in July. Their biggest fundraiser of the year, the Red Doors Golf Tournament, carried on in September but had fewer golfers thian previous years.

The Gilda’s Club 5k run/2-mile walk is going virtual this year from October 1-11. Only 450 participants were registered last week, less than the usual 600 at this time in previous years, and still much less than the usual 1000 total participants. Stenz said she understands that many runners have already participated in virtual races this year, but she hopes they will still consider signing up for the Gilda’s Club event.

Runners fundraise for Gilda’s after registering, and fewer runners means less money. This worries Stenz. “I certainly am concerned,” she said. “We lowered our goal for what we would raise for this event from $95,000-$45,000.” 

Funding for nonprofits is more than just money. “Making sure that we continue to serve people requires that we raise dollars,” she explained. Stenz, who found Gilda’s Club nine years ago when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, knows that the support Gilda’s provides makes a difference and changes lives. 

“Every person is going to be touched by cancer in their lifetime…I want to make sure Gilda’s Club is here for decades to come,” Stenz said. 

Right now, in order for Gilda’s Club to continue all their programming into the new year, they need the community to help them fundraise. People can look on their website and on social media to find information about the virtual run/walk in October and future events, such as virtual trivia in November. 

Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy

Going out in nature “has been a respite and a stress reducer,” according to Lois Sater, Chair of Development and Marketing for the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. 

The Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy (FOPBC) work on prairie and watershed restoration in the Pheasant Branch Conservancy, which is maintained by the City of Middleton and Dane County. 

During the pandemic volunteers have been able to continue collecting seeds, pulling invasives, and cutting branches and brush while social-distancing, and visitors to the conservancy have been able to appreciate the beauty of the restored prairie as a result of the Friends’ efforts. 

Though FOPBC Co-President Pam Shannon reports full parking lots and more people on the trails, the Friends have had decreased membership this year. Usership of the conservancy has experienced a sustained increase in the past six months, especially among families. 

Sater explained that the Friends are looking to expand their membership to younger families. Right now, she said, most members are 50 and older. 

But this year, retaining interest among current members will be the main focus. The Friends are reaching out to members who haven’t renewed their memberships and are including brochures with info about the Friends on the conservancy trails. 

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. The Friends were excited for the chance to make themselves known through many events to celebrate, but most events have been delayed to a time when it is possible to gather in large groups. One event that can still take place is the Nature Writing Project, which is an ongoing series of online writing workshops for people of all ages that participants have enjoyed thus far. The Friends cover the cost, and community members can sign up on the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy website. 

The main fundraiser the Friends are putting on right now is their Seed the Need campaign. They are trying to raise $100,000 to restore a 160-acre prairie and wetlands expansion to the conservancy.

The Friends know this is a big ask, but they also say they know that Middleton will pull through. They want the community to join them in their work. Pheasant Branch Conservancy “is an effort that the whole community can be proud of,” Shannon said. “We fervently hope that people know about it, appreciate it, support it, and use it.”

9 Lives Rescue

9 Lives Rescue is a foster-based cat rescue and adoption organization that was first established in Middleton and is made up of fosters in Middleton and the surrounding area. It has also canceled fundraising this year, and at a time when it has taken on more cats due to more surrenders. 

Director Janell Moody says adoptions have also been increasing, but 9 Lives Rescue could use more fosters. Volunteers from the Madison-area can foster cats, transport cats, make blankets, or donate supplies. 

Moody is grateful for the generous donations 9 Lives Rescue has continued to receive throughout the pandemic. “Animal lovers are consistent with their donations,” she said, pausing before she continued. “Maybe more so because [animals] touch their hearts so much.”

Nonprofits in our area depend on the support of the community. With fewer publicized events this year, community members must be more intentional about giving than ever.

But the relationship between the community and nonprofits isn’t one-sided. Carlson explained it best: “Nonprofits rely on the community. And part of our mission is to bring the community together.” 

Now, in a time when we are more divided than ever–ideologically, politically, and even by physical distance–we can’t forget the people and organizations that are bringing people together to work towards shared goals for the benefit of our community.

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