By Cynthia Schuster Eakin
Many benefit events and nonprofit budgets have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, where there is a will, there is a way. Here are how some Northeast Ohio non-profit organizations have addressed fundraising obstacles.
This year, Dunham Tavern Museum replaced its annual “Summer Soiree” benefit with a drive-in style event dubbed, “Drive-In & Dine.”
“We decided to cancel our yearly ‘Summer Soiree,’ always held the first Saturday in June. We took a few weeks to imagine what kind of event we could devise instead, when we realized that a fundraiser of any kind was very much needed,” said Lauren Hansgen, Dunham Tavern Museum executive director. “We contemplated a fully virtual or a hybrid event and opted for an in-person event on Aug. 22, paired with an online auction running through Sept. 30.”
“The in-person event, ‘Drive-In & Dine’, was a drive-in style, socially distanced event. Guests pulled up to the barn to receive their individually boxed meals and beverages and were then guided to a parking space on the large western lawn. The food was fried chicken and sides, summer fare provided in part by support from our neighbors at Dave’s Supermarkets,” she noted. “Guests remained in their car or opted to bring lawn chairs or a blanket to sit outside the car within their designated space. Masks were worn when leaving the space. Portable restrooms were set up. Complimentary masks and hand sanitizer packs were provided.” Hansgen said state guidelines against mass gatherings limited guests to 100 attendees.
“Entertainment was on a large outdoor stage and featured two musical acts, including two members of the Cleveland Orchestra accompanying a dance video presentation. Our landscape architect, Chris Merritt of Merritt Chase, presented a draft of our master plan, one of our biggest ongoing projects. He talked through the project up to this point and shared some visuals on the big screen,” she said.
“We hoped to raise $10,000 from the in-person event. The online auction is a chance to add to that and drastically increase what we raise yearly at ‘Summer Soiree,” between $15,000 and $20,000. Because the auction is online, we have many more items and bidding is spread out over a number of weeks. You didn’t need to attend the event in-person in order to bid. It will take longer than usual to calculate funds raised as we wait for the auction to close on Sept. 30,” Hansgen explained. “Funds raised are critical to our operations and the maintenance of the museum. Our budget has been impacted by COVID-19, particularly with the loss of barn income for private events, and there are a number of pressing maintenance projects we are facing.”
BAYarts in Bay Village went virtual with a “Moondance 2020…At Home” fundraiser held on Sept. 12.
“In March, when we got the directive from the state about no large gatherings, we knew we could not have an event with the usual thousand-plus guests. We were also aware that many of the restaurants that support the event year after year are struggling,” BAYarts Director Nancy Heaton said. “Aside from ‘Moondance’, the majority of our income is earned through education programming, rentals and artist support, cut by about 50 percent this year, so we needed to make up the difference.”
The “Moondance 2020…at Home” package included everything guests needed for a BAYarts party at home, including a party box of artisan fare from Well Done Catering, a bottle of red or white wine from Euro Fine Wines, a hands-on art project and a link to 15 years of BAYarts “Moondance” bands and summer concert hits. Ticket buyers had an option to participate in a raffle for a $1,000 Vivid Diamonds & Design gift certificate.
Heaton said response from sponsors and attendees was amazing. “Our regular sponsors signed on and we got a few new ones. This has been very encouraging to have local businesses show their support at this time. We found that people are looking for new ways to connect, so we are supplying everything for a way to do that, safe at home, while also supporting our organization,” she noted.
BAYarts expects to raise about $50,000 from this year’s fundraiser, compared to $70,000 to $80,000 in the past. “The upside is that we didn’t have big expenses like tents and event staff,” Heaton added. “Our ‘Moondance’ funds are always for operations like keeping the lights on, grounds upkeep and staff.”
Cleveland Play House (CPH) also opted for virtual fundraisers this year starting with an event titled, “CLUEbaret” on Oct. 10. The cast of the CPH box office hit, “Clue: A New Comedy” will reunite in a live musical broadcast.
“The Cleveland Play House benefit committee decided to postpone the annual benefit until we are able to safely gather together in the Allen Theatre and lobby spaces,” said Bev Gans, CPH director of development. “Until then, we will produce a series of virtual fundraising events, like ‘CLUEbaret: A Comedic Musical Cabaret.”
“At this time, we are not operating in our performance venues at Playhouse Square. We are looking forward to working with our partners at Playhouse Square to learn the next steps on safety protocols for our patrons, artists and staff,” she added.
“Many of our annual benefit sponsors are committed to waiting for an in-person opportunity, but a few have pivoted their support to help Cleveland Play House produce artistic content virtually. Our fundraising goal has been $500,000 net for the past several years. We are still in the virtual event planning process, learning as we go, so our fundraising goal for events this season has not been set. All proceeds will support our artistic and educational programming,” Gans said.
Nonprofits address fundraising challenges during COVID-19
By Cynthia Schuster Eakin