Charities and not-for-profits often turn to the public in their fundraiser efforts. From walks and runs to barbecues, these events are major revenue sources to fund their organizations.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that, with public health measures limiting, or forcing, the cancellation of established fundraisers.
Muscular Dystrophy Canada (MDC), which does not receive any government funding, reported a decrease in donations last year and in the first quarter of 2021.
“We rely on donor dollars,” said MDC CEO Stacey Lintern.
MDC’s signature event is the annual Walk for MD, held in many communities across the country, including Regina and Saskatoon.
Lintern said the walk typically pulls in $1.3 million annually for its programs, services, research and advocacy work.
When last year’s walk was cancelled, the charity had to shift and pivot.
“The initial reaction from the public was obviously some disappointment. We weren’t sure how we were going to bring people together in a meaningful way — in a virtual, meaningful way,” Lintern said.
“Safety was our number one concern, so we knew that we needed to pull together a virtual walk that was flexible, that is accessible.
“So it was kind of wide open. We said to all of our participants, ‘Do anything that is safe for you to do so.’”
Lintern said the charity did quite well with its first virtual walk, raising $850,000.
The goal is slightly higher for MDC’s 2021 virtual walk — $870,000 — taking place on June 19.
The annual firefighters Fill the Boot campaign and stair climb for MDC were also cancelled, which Lintern said had “a significant impact for our organization.”
Both events became virtual.
“We did an online boot drive, so we were able to have an online drive that went really well. We also have a stair climb … and we did that virtually as well last year.”
“So we’ve really shifted more to this virtual model.”
Small organizations also felt the brunt of the pandemic on their operating expenses.
The Saskatchewan Aviation Museum relies on admission fees, ground schools, a school program and barbecues for the majority of its annual income.
That all came to a stop in March 2020.
Steve Molinelli, the museum’s assistant manager, said it does not receive any government funding and had to start thinking “outside the box” to raise revenue “to sustain our existence.”
“For example, we did our first 50/50 draw. That was something that was available to non-profit organizations through Sask. Lotteries that was able to be done online,” he said.
“It was contactless and people could buy a ticket and have a chance to win 50 per cent of the pot.”
The museum also raffled off an airplane ride in its 1942 de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane, a Second World War trainer.
“Lots of people see it fly over the city and we raffled off a ride that worked really, really well.”
However, it has not helped the museum’s bottom line.
“We’re certainly still in red, but those are little things that we had to implement to survive,” Molinelli said.
Community hall rentals, ski-doo rallies, Kaiser nights and Rider game nights were key fundraisers for the Asquith Elks Lodge to support local sports and charities, including the Saskatchewan Pediatric Auditory Rehabilitation Centre.
Darcy Stack, the local secretary of the lodge, said a halt on those events put it up against a wall. Then a member came up with the idea of holding a Chase the Ace lottery.
“So we decided, let’s try it,” he said.
Stack said the lodge contacted Saskatchewan Lotteries to find out how to go about running the lottery and launched it in January.
“It’s been really great. The community that we have here has been rallying right around us,” he said.
“It’s all been done basically old-style: sell the tickets and then put them in a drum and draw. We got a lot of support from these local businesses around us, so that’s great.”
The road ahead
The road forward is promising for the organizations as restrictions lift, allowing a return to previous fundraising models.
However, the last 16 months have shown them other ways to hold fundraisers as they plan future events.
A hybrid model for future walks is in MDC’s plan.
“Wellness, safety will be our number one priority,” Lintern said. “But as restrictions start to lift, we are looking at more of a hybrid model.”
“If the restrictions (lift) and it’s safe to do so, people can get back to their local communities. We can kind of facilitate that, but also have an inclusive event by using a virtual model as well.”
The Saskatchewan Aviation Museum has plans for June 25, including a barbecue and engine run-up, as Saskatchewan moves to Step 2 of its reopening roadmap on June 20.
“Traditionally, those are always a good event. But we’ve kind of amped it up this year because it’s our first one since COVID,” Molinelli said.
A de Havilland Tracker water bomber will be fired up and Molinelli said guest aircraft will be present, including a Boeing Stearman biplane that will be offering rides.
“It’s going to be a very important event for us to kind of turn the needle on the finances here.”
Molinelli said funding initiatives from the past year will continue.
“They’ve proven themselves to be successful and why wouldn’t we?”
“It’s very tough for us to rely on single revenue streams to stay afloat, so we definitely have to diversify those things. There are still more plans in the works to continue to diversify and increase revenue.”
As for the Elks, while they look forward to returning to their more traditional events and having people back at the hall, it doesn’t mean the end to new fundraising ideas.
“We’ll probably continue with (the Chase the Ace) at least till the end of the year for sure, and then get other things rolling,” Stack said.
“But once you learn how to do something, it’s just like now it’s an old trick.
“Maybe we’ll continue doing it because it’s worked so well.”