Last year, a research group called Candid, alongside the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, claimed that one in three nonprofits across the country experienced operation-undercutting financial losses thanks to the pandemic. Locally, in 2020 alone, according to the Chattanooga Nonprofit Alliance, more than 43% of local nonprofits showed revenue losses of 30% or less, while roughly one in four experienced revenue drops of more than 30%. While budgets were getting waylaid, many organizations were being called on more than ever before for assistance.
Now that the world is starting to look a little more normal, many organizations have been able to return to their pre-pandemic operations, and for nonprofits all across our area, that means the ability to host in-person events. This is a big reason to celebrate.
The FUN in Fundraising
One of the most impressive variables in the “Chattanooga Way” is the long roster of philanthropic organizations working to lift up our city and the people who call it home. Yet, for each of those groups, raising valuable funds to help them achieve their mission is an unrelenting chore.
Of all the ways to ask for financial support, arguably the most enjoyable way to do so (for the asker and the asked) is through a fundraiser. Of course, as you’re likely aware, there is a long list of fundraising events in Chattanooga. From small weeknight gatherings to splashy galas, the Scenic City has no shortage of fundraising events.
“We host events to express gratitude, match passion with mission, fundraise and raise awareness,” says Jennifer Fritts, Director of Community Engagement, Chattanooga Area Food Bank.
During the pandemic, the Food Bank was forced to move its biggest fundraiser, Hullabaloo, online. The nonprofit moved what in-person events they were able to salvage to an outdoor setting while trimming attendance numbers in an effort to accommodate social distancing.
Cempa Community Care, recipients of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Award (nonprofit), also experienced similar circumstances.
The first fundraising casualty the community healthcare organization experienced was its 25th annual Strides of March celebration. Since March 2020, Cempa has yet to host a single in-person fundraiser aside from last year’s Dining Out for Life event when Covid case numbers plummeted before Delta and Omicron variants pushed those counts higher again.
“When we can’t host fundraisers, it hurts the whole organization,” says Shannon Stephenson, CEO, Cempa. “One of the strongest pillars supporting any nonprofit organization is its community of backers, and when we can’t foster a sense of community among our staff and supporters, the entire organization is missing a key ingredient.”
And that key ingredient is felt more broadly than in the organization’s bottom line.
Experience the Mission
For the Food Bank, Fritts says that in addition to raising valuable funds, in-person events are incredibly important for people to see and experience the work done at their locations.
The events open lines of revenue, yes, but oftentimes getting people to a fundraiser might be the only time a nonprofit has the chance to capture people’s attention and vividly display the important work they do for the people and communities they serve. They also offer opportunities to bond the for-profit sector with the nonprofit world in the form of sponsorships, volunteerism and simply exposing employees to great causes.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re so excited to host events again,” says Stephenson. “Take, for example, Strides of March. Though we’re celebrating the strides we’ve achieved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, it’s also the only time some of our new supporters have the chance to meet with survivors to hear their stories, or talk with families who’ve lost loved ones to the disease. Without those moments, it’s more difficult to showcase the value of some of the work we do.”
Fritts echoes that, saying that “having people in our space, seeing the magnitude of our work,” helps bring the point home that we are lifting a massive load on behalf of the entire community.
Let’s Get Together, In-person
Both Cempa Community Care and the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, as well as seemingly countless organizations around the city, are hosting events throughout the rest of 2022.
This Saturday, March 26, Cempa will be hosting its first Strides of March event since 2019 and the Food Bank is slated to put on 15 events by the close of the year, including Fork it Over, the Celebrity Chef Cookoff, and a 50th anniversary celebration.
“I encourage everyone to find events hosted by nonprofits that do work that they value across our area, and bring multiple friends with them. We’ve got a lot of ground to make up, so let’s get together, in-person, soon,” says Stephenson.
Learn more about Strides of March Chattanooga by visiting the website, here.
David Martin is a co-founder of Heed Public Relations.