Local not-for-profits struggle to stay viable

Many were counting on fundraisers they had to cancel

From left: preparator Judy Frauenholtz, executive director Sean Ulmer and associate curator Kate Kunau work together Jan
From left: preparator Judy Frauenholtz, executive director Sean Ulmer and associate curator Kate Kunau work together Jan. 17 to hang artwork for the “Across the Atlantic: American Impressionism through the French Lens” exhibit at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. The exhibit, kicking off the not-for-profit museum’s 125th anniversary, was to have run though Sunday. But the museum has had to close because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Local not-for-profit organizations have been pushed to create on the fly and figure out how to move forward with events and fundraisers built around eating, drinking and socializing in large groups — gatherings not permitted during the coronavirus pandemic.

Most are facing the “uncertainty of events, and the financial stress is widespread,” said Les Garner Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. “And as time goes on, the worse it will get. Things are tough now.”

Some organizations typically have their biggest fundraising events in the March and April, Garner said. At this point, it’s difficult to reschedule or plan because nobody knows when it will be safe to have large events again. And some of the smaller organizations don’t have the technology to pull together a virtual event or other activities.

The foundation suspended its regular grant cycle and started soliciting grant applications from nonprofit organizations to sustain essential functions and provide a “safety net” for vulnerable populations.

The fund received 83 applications by the April 15 deadline, seeking $1.9 million in grants. That shows the great need in the community, Garner said, but the foundation will not be able to fund all the applicants.

A grant committee will be going through those this week to decide which organizations receive grants.

Many of the not-for-profits in Linn County have canceled or postponed events scheduled this summer and as few in the fall, and are trying to find creative ways to keep their services going.


Melissa Carlson, executive director of Families Helping Families, which has supported children living in foster care or adopted from foster care since 2004, said everything is “on hold” until restrictions are lifted.

The organization usually provides vouchers for shoes and haircuts and awards activity scholarships to the kids. But the shoe vouchers are for Kohl’s, which is temporarily closed; and the haircut vouchers and scholarships for camp or other programs are also not viable because of closures or restrictions on gatherings.

Carlson said Families Helping Families had to close its clothing closet March 20. It still has clothes available and can provide those by appointment only. But at some point, the organization could run out of clothes to provide, since it also can’t accept clothing donations during the pandemic.

When the crisis is over, Carlson predicts, the organization will be “slammed” with needs.

The number of child abuse reports are down because children aren’t in school and don’t have contact with mandatory reporters. But once kids are back in the classrooms and visiting others outside the home, there will an increase in reports again, leading to more kids needing foster care, Carlson noted.

The organization’s only fundraising event is Taste of the Corridor, a winery and brewery event on June 12. But it may be postponed.

Tisha Ritter, director of development for Young Parents Network, which nurtures parents and children to develop healthy family dynamics, said the organization had to cancel its one and only fundraiser this year. Calling off “Broadway Maybies, a variety show and raffle earlier this month, resulted in about a $10,000 loss. It was able to put together a video of highlights from the last 30 years of the event and collected more than $500 in donations.

The organization, which serves parents 13-27 with children 5 years old and under, switched all its programming to virtual groups. Clients miss out on the social aspect and some of the one-on-one support, but still get education classes that address different development stages.


The network has a partnership with Eastern Iowa Diaper Bank, which now has a drive-through service at the Young Parents Network building at 420 Sixth St. SE in Cedar Rapids. The bank provides free diapers and wipes and is open 1-5 p, m, Mondays and 2:30-5:30 p.m. Thursdays.

Since March 23, the bank has provided over 51,600 diapers and 824 packages of wipes to about 370 families in the area. In comparison, last year about 15,000 diapers were distributed in a typical month, Ritter said.

“We are just trying to find ways to help and let people know we are still here,” Ritter said. “This is the time for the nonprofits to shine by continuing to help their clients and also others in the community who didn’t need help in the past.”

Kelsey Steines, development and community manager with the Catherine McAuley Center, said its annual fundraiser, Catherine’s Tea, which had been set for Sunday, was canceled.

The center had a goal of raising $20,000, which would be used for programs and services for the nonprofit that helps those in need of transitional housing, women experiencing trauma and crisis and resettled of immigrants and refugees.

Steines said organizers of the now canceled event are sending out packages of the tea and scone mix to thank patrons for their donations. They also are sharing videos of their clients’ stories on the website that would have been heard at the tea event.

The center is in the midst of renovating the former UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital’s Living Center East building at 1220 Fifth Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids for its new facility. It has reached about 75 percent of the $5.5 million capital campaign and is planning to move in August, Steines said.

The center has suspended some of its programs because of social distancing restrictions — such as training volunteer tutors and adult education classes — and has moved the programs for the clients to video so they can stay connected.


Theatre Cedar Rapids had to close the rest of the season but officials are hoping to still bring in “Kinky Boots” and “Mama Mia” some point, said Katie Hallman, executive director.

“That was an astronomical loss for us — hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Hallman said. “It’s a unique time and we’re just focusing on how to stay in service and find ways to keep TCR alive and provide that important quality of life. We had a stable year and great community support.”

Hallman said the organization also has postponed its 16th Annual Ladies Luncheon, which would have been in May. Plans are still “shifting” for the next season.

The group applied for a small business loan and has had to cut staff.

Sean Ulmer, executive director with the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, said the facility has had to close during a major traveling exhibit, “Across the Atlantic: Impressionism through the French Lens,” which kicked off the museum’s 125 year anniversary.

He hopes the museum might get to extend the exhibit from the Reading Public Museum in Pennsylvania, once the facility does reopen.

“We’re trying to find other ways to share the museum on social media, videos and blogs posted on the website,” Ulmer said. “It has allowed us to share with a wider audience.”

The museum may also have to cancel or change the way it does its annual Art GALA on Nov. 6. It usually has food, drinks and a silent and live auction, which wouldn’t be allowed if large gatherings are still restricted.

Ulmer said the museum has always been supported by the community. An example of the generosity, he said, came from a young woman who called to say she was dividing her government stimulus check among local not-for-profits, and the museum was one of them.

“I received her check — it was very sweet,” he said.

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