As pandemic cancels in-person fundraisers, nonprofits must pivot to survive

From virtual rides to online streaming of concerts, nonprofit organizations are tackling the reality that economic and social effects of the pandemic will have on their ability to raise money.

BOSTON — Nonprofit organizations find themselves in an extremely difficult fundraising environment and must get creative to survive, two experts told Boston 25 News as the global pandemic’s economic impacts worsen.

Stay-at-home advisories have forced the cancellation of major fundraising events, job losses have hurt individuals’ ability to donate, and large donors’ capacity for giving has been hurt by poor stock market performance.

“We have definitely been affected by the crisis, as you can imagine,” said Allyce Najimy, CEO of The Foundation To Be Named Later, the charitable foundation of Paul Epstein and former Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein.

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The Foundation To Be Named Later, which runs the annual Hot Stove Cool Music fundraising concert each year in Boston and Chicago, will need to think outside the box to run fundraising events that normally rely on large, in-person gatherings that are not possible right now during the age of social distancing and stay-at-home advisories, Najimy said.

“We’re trying to be really creative and innovative and figure out how we can raise money because the need doesn’t go away,” she said. “The need increases.”

Her recommendations to fellow nonprofit organization leaders:

  • Take a close look at best practices
  • Leverage virtual opportunities
  • Think about what your organization has in its circle of resources that can be repurposed in different ways to raise funds
  • Ask for grants from regional philanthropic groups, like The Boston Foundation and Philanthropy Massachusetts
  • Focus on micro-fundraising, rather than only on big donors

The ALS Therapy Development Institute, a 36-scientist biotechnology nonprofit based in Cambridge, is already pivoting its fundraising efforts to keep donations coming, said Carol Hamilton, the senior director of development.

“The mission of the ALS Therapy Development Institute is to develop effective treatments for ALS as quickly as possible,” Hamilton said. "Whatever [fundraising] doesn’t happen will affect the pace of research and that’s what’s really scary.”

ALS TDI has embraced virtual fundraising by hosting a weekly trivia game, with a $5 donation to play. The nonprofit has had to cancel its signature Tri-State Trek fundraising bicycle ride from Boston College to Greenwich, Conn., but Hamilton said ALS TDI is now hosting a virtual My-State Trek that challenges people to ride those miles — or fewer ― locally, while still raising money.

That creativity, she said, could only help.

“We can now welcome people at every level to support ALS research.”

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