Long Island Nonprofits Reimagine Fundraising Amid Pandemic

Charitable organizations are getting creative with socially distant fundraisers and donation drives. (Getty Images)

The Long Island Insurance Community, a nonprofit that brings together insurance industry leaders to give back to the community and to those less fortunate, holds a big, annual fundraiser for the United Way of Long Island attended by hundreds. That was pre-pandemic.

Unable to unite this year, LIIC instead launched a virtual text-a-thon, sending a barrage of texts and live streaming an event to benefit the United Way of Long Island’s COVID-19 response fund. The group raised $96,000 — half the amount in prior years, but not bad for a fundraiser that, otherwise, would have been canceled. It announced raffle winners and presented messages from LIIC cochairs, United Way partners, executives and people benefiting from services.

“You used to have 300 people in a room,” said Gloria Gargano, LIIC cochair and a United Way of Long Island board member. “We were able to come up with something that kept people engaged and allowed us to raise money.”

While many businesses figure out how to transform with the times, nonprofits facing challenges are reinventing fundraising. 

“We had to shift gears and create a vision that was able to engage long-term contributors and new contributors,” Gargano said. “And trying to maintain COVID safety.”

Nothing beats being there and events remain effective ways to raise money, but groups have often gone virtual.

“COVID-19 took all of us by surprise,” said Susan Munro, assistant vice president of constituency programs for the Northwell Health Foundation. “We were concerned about how we would sustain our fundraising efforts.”

Northwell adapted, creating a COVID-19 Emergency Fund, raising $34.5 million from 17,000 donors and helping to secure small and larger contributions.

“Northwell completely transitioned all of our events to virtual settings in almost record time,” Munro added. “We were doing things we never did before.” 

The organization transitioned its Northwell Health Walk to a virtual fundraiser, raising more than $1 million for its COVID-19 Emergency Fund. 

Rather than canceling the Feinstein Summer Concert, Katz Luncheon and Fashion Event, and Constellation Gala, Northwell “evolved all of them into high-end video productions that raised significant support for Northwell,” Munro continued. 

The system even transitioned its Ladies’ Day Out shopping event into a virtual shopping week with a percentage of proceeds benefiting Northwell’s women’s health initiatives.

Family and Children’s Association (FCA), one of the largest and oldest health and human services agencies on Long Island, based in Mineola, sharpened the focus of fundraising.

“We had to be very specific and targeted in our ask,” said Dana Jarrett, FCA development associate. “Before, we could be general.”

FCA, through its COVID assistance fund, raised money for items like Google Chromebooks for children in homeless shelters. 

“We sent pictures to the donors of the kids who got the Chromebooks,” Jarrett added.

FCA transformed its scholarship appeal event from a breakfast to a campaign, including a Zoom call where donors met recipients who obtained $2,500 college scholarships. It transformed its pre-Thanksgiving Fall Harvest Celebration gala into a Gifts of Gratitude Campaign, raising more than $100,000 to date. 

Island Harvest Food Bank developed a taste for tech, shifting its Taste of the Harvest to a virtual event with three chefs  — David Burke, Claudia Fleming, and Guy Reuge  — slated to teach cooking online Dec. 9.

“The food and ingredients for preparation of the meal will be delivered to event participants,” according to the group. “From the comfort of their own home, they will have the opportunity to prepare a three-course meal with the help of each of the talented chefs.”

While groups got innovative, golf didn’t go away. Northwell held two golf events with COVID-19 safety protocols, no dinners or gatherings, and FCA held one with 32 foursomes, grossing $117,000. 

“Everybody wore their masks. We had a way to do social distancing,” Jarrett said. “One person in a golf cart. People had to bring their clubs.”

The Over 50 Fair, run by Barbara Kaplan, went virtual in September, raising $3,100 to benefit the Interfaith Nutrition Network.

“They’ve been doing food and fund drives at the Over 50 Fair since 2012, as well as some of the All Kids Fairs,” Kaplan said.

Meanwhile, the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington got a $50,000 National Endowment for the Arts CARES grant and planned an online fundraiser with movie star Elliott Gould.

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