Fundraisers in the Age of COVID
Whether it is a black-tie gala, a race or relay, or perhaps a mass-plunge into icy waters, in-person fundraising events are critical revenue sources that allow many non-profits to fulfill their missions. Unfortunately, the onset of the Covid pandemic last year required many in the non-profit sector, including faith-based organizations, to cancel key fundraising events. As a result, non-profits were forced to scramble to find ways to raise critical funds without the standard, tried-and-true fundraising events in their tool box.
At my parish, St. Joseph Catholic Community in Sykesville, this included the cancelling of the annual rummage sale, which is the biggest fundraiser for our local court of the Catholic Daughters. Our Knights of Columbus council was not able to have their annual golf outing, either. Across the diocese, our parishes found themselves having to deal with lost revenue, often at the expense of outreach services or evangelization efforts.
Since 2009, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has held its own signature fundraising event; the Annual Archdiocesan Gala. This event has raised critical tuition assistance funds that support students and the Catholic schools they attend. By May of last year, we knew that we would not be holding our annual black-tie soiree in September. At the same time, we knew that demand for tuition assistance was only going to increase – and that many of our schools would be facing stressful enrollment issues. So, our team of volunteers and staff decided to ask people to sponsor our ‘non-Gala’ anyway. We also came up with a fun way to say thank you to those that supported the effort. In the end, we were delighted that our friends, partners and supporters stepped up to help. We were able to raise enough to create more than 220 new tuition assistance scholarships.
But what made our effort work?
As I look back (and look forward to this year’s non-Gala), I realized that our success hinged on three things:
1. Don’t dwell on a cancelled event, but connect with the mission. For us, it was telling the story of our schools and the students they were serving at a critical time and in an engaging way. We were able to put together a brief video that was easily shared virtually.
2. Recognize and thank people. We created a ‘Gala-in-a-Box’ that contained some fun goodies and a QR coded note that allowed recipients to watch a couple brief videos (on their own time) that talked about the mission and thanked the sponsors. The most effective part of this was that each box was hand-delivered by a member of our team (not mailed!) who was able to look each recipient in the eye and say THANK YOU. People were blown away by this simple act.
3. Make. The. Ask. Ok, so you can’t have your event. Don’t apologize for this. People will understand and will probably support you regardless – as long as you ask them to! A silver lining may be that you don’t have to expend as much time, energy or resources in the planning and executing of an event. At the Archdiocese, our non-Gala netted 90% of what we raised. That rate is double what we do in a regular Gala year.
We are a social people. Fundraising events are successful because we love gathering and being together – especially if it is to support or celebrate a common cause. And I am sure that we will get back to doing this in the near future. In the meantime, we have to do everything we can to make sure the important work of our parish communities do not erode. Stay connected with each other. Invite participation. And have a big party when we are finally able.