Nonprofits explore new fundraising territory

COVID-19 restrictions lead to unusual options for traditional events.

Wildwoods Executive Director Jessica LaBumbard (left) and other volunteers assemble face shields for Ecolibrium3 Friday, May 29. Ecolibrium3 AIMS to make a total of 36,000 face shields during 60 sessions, with a local nonprofit or charity receiving $1,000 for each four-hour session. (File / News Tribune)

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing local nonprofits to think outside the box for fundraising options.

Big events like the Humane Society of Douglas County’s Paws for Love, the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse’s (CASDA) Socks for Survivors golf scramble and the annual 5K walk/run held by Harbor House Crisis Shelters have been shelved this year due to social distancing requirements

In their place have risen virtual runs, no-bake bake sales, face shield production and community outreach efforts.

Virtual 5Ks

Harbor House is hosting its first ever virtual 5K race July 19-25. People sign up online ahead of time, then come up with a race plan that completes the 5K within the one-week time frame. Any movement option is on the table, from swimming and rollerblading to water-skiing and walking. Participants are encouraged to take a picture of themselves going the distance and share it on social media.

“Not only do we hope to raise money for Harbor House Crisis Shelters so that we can continue to provide services to the homeless, but we also hope this can add something fun for the families, friends, co-workers and groups who want to do something different and fun this summer after being cooped up these past few months,” said Kathy Thompson, Harbor House program coordinator.


No-bake bake sale

The Humane Society of Douglas County gets the majority of its income from fundraisers, and Paws for Love is its biggest event, according to Shelter Director Sheila Keup. Board members plan to meet this week to discuss what precautions might need to be taken to hold their other big event, a 5K walk/run fundraiser in September.

“We still have animals coming in with huge medical needs,” Keup said. “That kind of thing never stops.”

To keep meeting animals' needs, the nonprofit has started alternative fundraising measures. On June 6, a group of 30 volunteers made face shields for Ecolibrium3 at the Heritage Sports Center in Duluth. In addition to raising $1,000 for the humane society, they broke the record for the most face shields made in 15 minutes with 800. University of Minnesota-Duluth students also held a virtual art gallery for the nonprofit this spring, with shirts and mugs for sale.

The organization currently has a no-bake bake sale going on, said Cheri Fitch, fundraising and events coordinator. Instead of baking items to be sold, folks are asked to send a check to the humane society for the “dough” they would have spent on ingredients.

The humane society is also part of the AmazonSmile program. Amazon customers can sign up to have a portion of their purchases go to the nonprofit.

Virtual concerts

Solon Springs Forward, a nonprofit based out of the old village hall, has made the move to virtual concerts to raise funds and continue its role as a community hub. The latest, featuring One Less Guest, was streamed live June 13 with a donation link included. The organization will split the proceeds with the band, which has also suffered financially due to COVID-19, said Mark Stensvold, Solon Springs Forward Treasurer.


CASDA announced the cancellation of its golf outing last week. The fundraiser typically brings in $5,000, according to Jill Hinners, community engagement coordinator. That may sound low, but it doesn’t take into account the financial support of corporate sponsors, who make special events and services possible, she said.

“To understand the potential impact of losing one event, you have to consider the bigger picture,” Hinners said.


Major corporate sponsors are contributing approximately $40,000 to CASDA’s budget this year. Event proceeds supplement that amount; they also allow CASDA to publicly recognize sponsors and build awareness of the nonprofit’s role in the community.

"We have been fortunate, thus far. Our major sponsors haven't rolled back their support in light of this one cancellation. They believe in our services and want them to continue," Hinners said.

The organization also canceled its spring donation drive for shelter supplies, but it’s not planning any virtual events. Community members have responded to the organization's calls for items, Hinners said.

Golf outings

Although some organizations and nonprofits have canceled their annual summer golf scrambles, others are playing the long game.

“We are offering a virtual golf tournament,” said Nemadji Golf Course General Manager Tom Beaudry.

Participants can block tee times instead of the traditional shotgun start, and a live scoreboard function lets everyone see the scores online. On-course competitions like closest to the pins are done virtually with cell phone snapshots.

The annual Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce tournament will be held over a week, Beaudry said. Everyone who signs up will get a certificate to play their round, with a virtual event in the works to wrap up the tournament.

As with the nonprofits, he said, “We are adjusting and making do.”


Virtual volunteering

Even volunteering is going virtual. The Head of the Lakes United Way is hosting a virtual day of caring Wednesday, June 17. Instead of gathering volunteers to work on projects around the region, the United Way is encouraging people to do solo projects and share their pictures and stories on social media.

They offered eight options to jump-start the day: pick up trash outside, gather non-perishable food from your pantry for a food shelf, create projects at home for shelters or other organizations, create signs and window art to thank frontline workers, create homemade cards and donate them to a neighborhood senior center or a senior citizen in the neighborhood, collect clothing items for donation, or paint rocks with positive messages and leave them along walking trails for others to find.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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