top of page

With events shut down, nonprofit organizations forced to think of new ways to raise funds

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

This article was written by Sandra Pennecke for Inside Business.

Nonprofits rely on fundraisers as life support for their organizations, but in the time of coronavirus it has become vital to find other ways to raise money.

Kelsey Mohring, vice president corporate social responsibility and marketing for the United Way of South Hampton Roads, said a survey showed that all of the respondents expect funding disruptions. “71% are losing revenue due to canceled fundraisers and 23% expect disruptions in government funding,” Mohring said. “And over half anticipate extra costs due to their agency’s response to the crisis.”

Here’s a look at how a few nonprofits have found ways to think outside the box. FORKIDS

It had occurred to ForKids chief executive officer Thaler McCormick that there was a lot of “event risk” to its auction night fund-raiser.

Then COVID-19 confirmed it. ForKids has been working to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty for families and children for 32 years.

As the coronavirus spread and measures to counter it crippled the economy, the number of calls on its crisis hotline exploded. The ForKids annual art auction, which raises 30% of the contributions it needs every year, was right around the corner.

“This is our heart-stopping must-happen event,” she said.

Instead of canceling, the organization pushed it from March 28 to April 4 and made it a fully virtual event.

Many nonprofits have switched to electronic bidding for their auctions, but ForKids was still an old-fashioned paddle-raising auction, McCormick said.

Ten days before the event, the wheels were set in motion to go from old-school to high-tech.

McCormick was worried about losing the atmosphere of a gathering that usually draws more than 600 people. “You don’t have the music playing, the excitement of the crowd bidding against each other, and a tremendous sense of goodwill in the room,” McCormick said.

ForKids started an influencers’ video campaign on Facebook to showcase this year’s theme, Abracadabra: Let the Magic Begin, and the event was broadcast on Facebook Live.

More than 200 donors and approximately 400 people participated, and organizers were please to find people from around the country joining in.

The auction included 22 pieces of art created by children in ForKids’ programs and signature art packages.

Many of the framed pieces – done in collaboration with local artists from the Chrysler Museum and the Perry Glass Studio – are more than just your “typical refrigerator art,” McCormick said.

A reverse auction enabled people to bid — from $100 to $25,000 in this case — for specific services by the organization, such as tutoring, sending a child to camp and paying for two nights of shelter.

A reverse auction enabled people to bid — from $100 to $25,000 in this case — for specific services by the organization, such as tutoring, sending a child to camp and paying for two nights of shelter.

“That is about half of the proceeds that are raised the night of,” McCormick said. “Last year we raised $350,000 in the reverse auction and a total of $1.145 million.”

This year’s event raised $982,740.

McCormick said it was a challenge to generate the same kind of excitement as when people are together, but it was nice to see that the virtual event cost $65,000 less to put on.

“Everybody here is pleased,” she said. “Canceling for us was simply not an option; it’s too important and funds direct services at ForKids.”


Girls on the Run Hampton Roads teaches girls how to take conflict and face it head on.

Naturally, executive director Ellen Carver said she wasn’t about to let COVID-19 stop her nonprofit from holding its annual 5K.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to provide opportunities for girls to be physically active and emotionally healthy,” Carver said.

Girls on the Run has local councils in all 50 states that help girls ages 8 to 13 develop social, emotional, physical and behavioral skills.

As Virginians live with a shelter-at-home mandate and closed schools, the organization has rolled out fun and engaging activities and exercises designed to battle isolation and sedentary behaviors.

Carver also decided to move the program’s celebratory 5K event online on May 17. “Our organization had already come up with a little bit of a contingency plan in terms of taking our after school-lessons to the home instead of mailing them home,” she said. “We encouraged the girls to keep up with their training and fitness programs at home and for their families to get the exercise alongside them.”

The proceeds from the Virtual Mermaid 5K help Girls on the Run with its work in Hampton Roads communities.

“We’ve been putting on large-scale 5K events for about 2,000 plus runners for 10 years,” she said.

Although not technically a fundraiser, the event does pay for itself, and the merchandise sold brings in additional much-needed funds.

The organization plans to offer items for sale online. Participants of all ages can register for $25 at Each runner chooses the time and location to walk or run 3.1 miles and will receive a T-shirt, souvenir bag and a medal.

“We’re keeping it as an opportunity for our girls and their families to stay upbeat and have something that’s activity-based to work towards,” she said. “We think it’s even more urgent they do it now and try to stay fit because there’s so much time at home.”


The Christian-based rescue mission that aids the needy and provides shelter to homeless men on the Peninsula has been forced to close its thrift store temporarily.

Paul Speight, Peninsula Rescue Mission’s director of development, said his group will nonetheless remain focused on its mission.

The store brings in about 20% of the ministry’s income every month and provides a work program for men enrolled in its overcomers program.

The mission continues to serve the 34 men at the shelter who were checked in at the start of the pandemic, and they have extended the typical seven- to 10-night stay for each man indefinitely until it is safe.

Funding is still urgently needed to provide shelter, two meals day, warm showers, and laundry services.

“The people who rely on PRM still have needs to be met,” Speight said. “It’s a full operation even with all the stuff that’s going on around us.”

Not content with the status quo, PRM signed up for #GiveFromHomeDay, a national fundraising drive that supports nonprofits registered on the site, on April 21. PRM’s initial funding came in at $3,250, Speight said.


bottom of page