116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Most Iowa not-for-profits were in “survival mode” in 2020 but found creative ways to keep doing their jobs, raise funds and keep their supporters engaged, even when they couldn’t see each other in-person.
Many businesses closed their doors or cut back during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
But not-for-profits had to find ways to operate because Iowans needed their help — for food, clothing, housing and other essential services, according to Patti Kunz, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Eastern Iowa chapter.
Many of the organizations, she added, came up with creative ways to raise funds and keep people engaged.
And all of the organizations, she said, experienced “overwhelming generosity” from their communities.
In a time when many people didn’t have much to give, businesses, communities and individuals found ways to support the different nonprofit missions, whether it was for essential needs or for arts and culture, she said.
Tyler Timko, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Central Iowa chapter, said 2020’s fundraising may be below a typical year for most, but, overall, the data doesn’t look bad.
Most people, he said, reevaluated their charities during the pandemic, with corporate and foundation giving shifting to coronavirus-related and equity-related issues.
And then there are the arts.
Hannah Brewer, development director for Theatre Cedar Rapids in Cedar Rapids, said she saw the pandemic as “an opportunity to flex our creative muscles.”
Brewer said TCR still was producing theater, just in a different way, through virtual performances and programming.
The theater slowly restarted live performances with “Little Women,” a world premiere of a new adaptation, at Brucemore’s outdoor theater in mid-May.
Carrie Walker, not-for-profit network manager with the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, agreed it was an opportunity to “reinvent what we do.”
“Fear is the unknown,” Walker said. “It was the first time for many to try virtual events or programs, but it was the only option to keep people engaged and safe.”
Many organizations have moved to hybrid events — in-person but also with an online option — as more patrons are vaccinated and want to go to events.
Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity found success with two events it may never have attempted before the pandemic.
Galen Hawthorne, the not-for-profit’s communications manager, said Habitat’s first trivia night in January saw about 18 attend in person and 60 on Zoom. Through ticket sales and sponsorships, Habitat raised $10,500.
Its annual Heels and Hammer event slated for April 2020 had to be canceled. Instead, a virtual whiskey tasting was held later in the year.
More than 100 people attended, with money raised through ticket sales, sponsors and a silent auction, Hawthorne said. Because it was online, the event — which raised $17,500 — attracted participants from out of state.
Hawthorne said the biggest challenge for Habitat — which builds homes for low-income families — has been the “skyrocketing” prices for lumber and building materials, which have doubled in cost. It’s also been hard to get materials because the pandemic disrupted supply chains.
Still, Habitat was able to complete one home in Fairfax and start four homes in the Oak Hill Jackson neighborhood in Cedar Rapids last year. Of those four, two were completed at the end of 2020, and families moved into those in January. The two other homes will be completed this year.
Hawthorne said Habitat also started rehabbing a home last year that will be completed this year and broke ground this summer for another house.
At the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, all of the center’s programs and events moved online during the pandemic. The annual Monarch Fest was a hybrid event this summer for the first time.
“As the weather gets warmer, more people will come out to the center,” said John Myers, the center’s executive director. “Our earned revenue was down 65 percent (in 2020) compared to 2019. We had a significant loss of participation when our other events and programming went online.”
The center, he said, had success putting its urban chicken workshops online, which allowed people to watch when they had time, he said.
The center’s plant and art sale in April was again held online, just like last April’s sale. People ordered online and then picked up their items at a drive-through.
This year’s sales brought in $45,000, a 16 percent decrease from 2020 when more people were stuck at home and focused on gardening.
Myers said the center also had an online marketing event tied to Earth and Arbor days in April, which raised more than $8,000 from many small donations.
“People continue to support organizations that are directly tied to their mission,” Myers said. “I think the giving is more thoughtful and targeted now. They are not giving without being asked.”
Trees Forever, an environmental organization headquartered in Marion covering Iowa and Illinois, also saw a spike in giving after the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho devastated tree canopies in Iowa, particularly in the Cedar Rapids metro area.
Kiley Miller, executive director of Trees Forever, said immediately after the storm, the not-for-profit started receiving donations from all over Iowa.
“We were so appreciative of people who continued to provide their time and money to Trees Forever,” Miller said.
The organization was able to host events during which 6,329 trees were “adopted” in Linn County.
Altogether, 26,470 trees, seedlings and shrubs were planted in 2020, according to the Trees Forever annual report.
The organization also created a new fund in 2020 — Planting Hope — which has helped individuals and communities plant trees, with the first round of grants going to tree planting and distribution projects.
It took some creativity to get through the pandemic, added Annie Vander Werff, coordinator with Cedar Valley Nonprofit Association in Cedar Falls.
One such effort was a virtual butterfly release by Cedar Valley Hospice.
The event, sponsored by a local news station and others, was recorded. with people calling in or going online to “purchase” a butterfly for someone they had lost — just like a telethon.
Singer Maddie Poppe, of Clarksville, who won the “American Idol” television competition in 2018, performed at the event.
Food banks across the state report a spike in donations throughout the pandemic.
“It was a year of change and uncertainty,” recalled Bergetta Beardsley, vice president of philanthropy with Iowa Food Bank of Des Moines. “But the silver lining was it brought awareness to food insecurity. We just had to react quickly, be nimble and look for new partners.”
Kim Guardado, food reservoir director for HACAP in Cedar Rapids, agreed.
New partners and donors were vital, she said, along with regular communication to keep them informed about what was needed.
While HACAP appreciates food donations, the nonprofit can stretch a financial donation and get more food wholesale.
“Everyone wants to support food — a universal cause,” Guardado said.
“There were people asking for help last year for the first time,” she said. “We saw a huge increase right away. It has leveled off now as our partners (area food pantries) have stepped up.”
Beardsley, in Des Moines, said donations have been generous and people were creative in their support. Children set up lemonade stands, others designed T-shirts and had holiday lights shows to raise funds for food organizations.
Many not-for-profits had difficulty keeping volunteers during the pandemic, but food bank officials said they continued to experience “overwhelming” help, all while maintaining social distancing and observing other health protocols.
Companies that typically brought in volunteers couldn’t do that during the pandemic, but individuals from those companies started coming in, one at a time, to help, Beardsley said.
In 2020, the food bank, which has distribution and volunteer sites in Des Moines and Ottumwa, logged 30,050 volunteer hours for 7,861 volunteers, which included mobile sites.
Guardado said lifetime donor value — the amount of money given over a donor’s lifetime — has doubled since 2019. The average giving and repeat giving increased and retention of new donors is 70 percent.
HACAP provided food free of charge to other area pantries from April of last year to this April, Guardado said.
Guardado and Beardsley both pointed out food insecurity levels won’t recover for several years. The overall need hasn’t lessened.
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