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Pandemic sends nonprofits into scramble mode

Most years, fall is a prime fundraising season for nonprofits, with the bulk of all donations coming between now and the holidays.

This, of course, isn’t most years. Since mid-March and the start of Covid-related stay-at-home orders, pretty much any gathering without the word “virtual” in front of it has been banned or at least unfeasible.

So, for Orange County nonprofits, the next few weeks figure to be critical in two ways:

On one side, the pandemic means need in the community — everything from housing to food — is only growing. On the other, in the year of Covid, a lot of nonprofits might be facing their own demise.

Creativity is key

Whatever galas and fundraisers that local nonprofits do roll out over the next three months won’t (for the most part) be in-person happenings.

But they will be creative. And if they throw an event that looks vaguely pre-Covid — say, a charitable golf tournament — it’ll take place under stringent health and safety protocols.



Take some of the measures that Tilly’s Life Center, an empowerment program for teens, will put in place for its Sept. 21 Till & Ed’s Excellent Golf Adventure fundraiser: Supporters will undergo mandatory temperature checks before being allowed to tee off Monday at Aliso Viejo Country Club. If the charity golfers are among the first-come, first-served to snag one of 20 golf carts — outfitted with acrylic partitions to separate riders — they have to sign a liability waiver to double up in a cart. Otherwise, social distancing is required.

And in October, when Tilly’s holds its annual I Am Giving gala (this year’s theme is “Growing Beyond Limits”), the virtual experience will include dinner and drinks delivered directly to gala participants’ homes.

The extreme efforts taken by Tilly’s reflect how nonprofits are finding ways to stay alive.

The question is, can they keep it up?

“The challenges are enormous and still developing,” said Shelley Hoss, president of Orange County Community Foundation, a nexus for more than 590 charitable funds that connect donors to local nonprofit organizations and causes.

But, Hoss added this: “We’re seeing a lot of evidence that is encouraging. Orange County nonprofits are really adapting in much quicker, more creative, and, thankfully, successful ways.”

Picture this

One of the most eye-catching money raising ventures will benefit Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County. It’s coming from the largesse of Harald Herrmann, the organization’s chief executive officer.

Herrmann rose from humble beginnings in Johannesburg, South Africa, to become a successful restaurateur before taking over the helm of Orange County’s largest food bank in February 2019. To help the food bank, Hermann will auction off his collection of Pablo Picasso prints.

Herrmann had been building the collection for more than 20 years, as an investment, and decided recently to part with 30 pieces. They’ll be auctioned this month by Christie’s, in New York. In addition to whatever money the prints bring, Herrmann said Christie’s has offered to donate half its commission to the food bank.

“I hope we do well,” Herrmann said. “I’d love nothing more than to be able to write a check to Second Harvest for six figures.”

Herrmann said one piece in particular, Frugal Meal, put the idea in his head. He believes the pandemic means the food bank is going to have to help a lot of people deal with long-term food insecurity.

“Some say we’re already on the other side. I don’t see that.”

The pandemic hasn’t been easy for nonprofits. The federal Paycheck Protection Program helped some meet payroll early on so they could continue providing services, Hoss said. Likewise, some landlords deferred work-space payments.

In response, nonprofits rolled up their sleeves.

“I have not seen one shred of evidence of mission creep,” Hoss said. “They are tightening up, but staying true to their core mission.”


Smaller charities with the thinnest margins are the most at risk of going under.

But that’s not the norm — for now.

“We’re not hearing about closures,” said Taryn Palumbo, executive director of OC Grantmakers. “But we think we’ll start to see the loss of some nonprofits in the next couple of months.”

More nonprofits, Palumbo added, have managed to re-imagine how to deliver services. They’re trying online programming or platform learning, and also working together in partnerships.

Zoot Velasco, director of the Gianneschi Center for Nonprofit Research at Cal State Fullerton, said it’s too soon to tell how many local nonprofits won’t survive. Some groups with deep community ties are drawing on loyal support — financial or in-kind — as well as their own creative capabilities.

Velasco’s gut tells him charities with a steady, single source of income, such as an endowment or a dedicated donor, will be relatively unaffected. He also anticipates that a successful switch to virtual fundraising may prompt some surviving nonprofits to reconsider the time, effort and overhead that come with big in-person shindigs.

“That’s been a good pivot for some,” Velasco said.

But others, he added, were caught flat-footed in the middle of their fundraising efforts.

“They just canceled (live gatherings) entirely and lost the money.”

In the earliest days of the pandemic, leaders in robust philanthropic circles put together a multi-million dollar emergency response called the “Orange County Community Resilience Fund.” The collective leadership involved St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund, Orange County Community Foundation, Charitable Ventures, and OC Grantmakers.

The focus: Help social service-oriented nonprofits get food to Orange County residents who had lost their jobs, or give them assistance with housing so they wouldn’t end up homeless. Through a series of grants, the Resilience Fund collected and distributed $4.3 million to 164 organizations into June.

Long-time philanthropists with deep pockets dug a little deeper to support the Resilience Fund and the other groups they’ve supported for years.

“Folks really stepped up their giving,” Hoss said. “We just saw that huge heart.”

And, she added, as the pandemic continues, “I do not see any donor fatigue.”

This year turned out to be the most successful yet for the themed “Giving Days” that Orange County Community Foundation began hosting a few years ago. A group of nonprofits that serve a particular sector — such as the elderly, military veterans, or homeless people — collectively hold a 24-hour online fundraiser, using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media.

Of the eight Giving Days held since February, only two fell short of their fundraising goals and the rest exceeded expectations. The homeless Giving Day, for example, had a goal of raising $700,000; it reached $1.7 million.

Big hearts

Old-fashioned word of mouth served the charity Pathways to Independence well when it needed someone to headline a benefit concert and auction that will be livestreamed on Oct. 2. Pathways works with young women from impoverished and often abusive home environments, helping them transform their lives by offering housing, therapy, mentoring and other services.

Fund developer Lisa Mais was looking for what she called a “hometown hero” to help her reach an audience of donors who could support three locations in Huntington Beach, places where more than 30 of the organization’s young clients reside. “I know surfers that are famous,” Mais said. “But we needed someone that could entertain.”

So she asked members of the organization’s steering committee if they knew anyone who knew country singer Brett Young, who was raised in Orange County. Someone learned that Young’s father was senior pastor at a church in Garden Grove. Letters soon were sent to the pastor and to his son.

The answer thrilled Mais.

“Two weeks later, Brett’s manager reached out and let us know that Brett would be happy to help us!”

Source: Orange County Register

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