Funding streams, camaraderie missed during pandemic
By Ashley Lodato
Among other events notably absent from the past year are the auctions: annual fundraising events that keep nonprofit organizations in the valley afloat.
The auctions generate funds for scholarships, counseling, coaching, extracurricular activities, sports and recreation infrastructure, and general operating support.
Even more, the auctions provide a means for the community to gather in support of vital and beloved institutions such as Kiwanis, Little Star Montessori School, Room One and many others.
COVID, of course, pushed the pause button on the traditional Methow Valley nonprofit auction, which typically involves the Winthrop Barn, hundreds of guests, food, drink, dancing, and getting right up in each other’s faces to share stories over the happy sounds of music, conversation, and laughter.
COVID didn’t, however, end the need for these nonprofit organizations. In fact, most organizations say that the need for their services increased due to the pandemic, putting them in the position of needing to raise more funds than ever, without access to the traditional means of doing so.
Straddling the March 2020 pandemic closures were events hosted by two Methow Valley mainstay nonprofits: Room One and Winthrop Kiwanis. Room One’s first “Big Event,” which replaced the decade-old and beloved Soup Dinner fundraiser, was held on Feb. 29, 2020, with great success. COVID was in the news, but distantly. Guests mingled, hugged, shared food and donated.
“The results were amazing,” said Room One Interim Director Kelly Edwards.
Two weeks after the Room One event, after significant debate and with tremendous regret, Kiwanis decided to cancel that year’s Bite of the Methow — their biggest fundraiser of the year — because COVID was no longer a distant concern but instead a pandemic underway.
Now, it’s the time in the Kiwanis fundraising cycle to hold a large fundraiser, but COVID concerns and restrictions still preclude a large gathering. So Kiwanis is going virtual with its fundraising, with an online auction scheduled to run from June 4-13.
On June 19, Kiwanis will host an event at the Winthrop Barn for auction item and pickup, food, and a picnic. Proceeds from the online auction will support projects that align with the Kiwanis mission, providing direct funding “to help the kids and community of the Methow Valley” (visit winthropkiwanis.com).
Adapting to COVID
Room One’s successful Big Event in 2020 gave the organization some breathing room, as its board had very recently voted to “move to an alternating year model of the live event, with a mailed appeal in alternate years,” Edwards said. (Little Star follows this same alternating year model; Room One’s schedule was designed to alternate with the Montessori school’s.)
For Room One, 2021 fundraising will look as planned, with a mailed annual appeal in late April. The organization also hosted a virtual open house in late February, which was “more fun than I had anticipated!” Edwards said.
“Despite Zoom fatigue many are feeling at this point in the pandemic and shutdowns, the virtual open house was a lovely opportunity to see people we don’t normally get to see during in-person events,” Edwards said. “We may plan another virtual open house in the fall, more focused around a particular theme of interest so we can do a deeper dive into issues that are impacting many people in our community.”
Little Star Montessori School, on the other hand, had the opposite experience. Little Star had no large fundraising event in 2020 to be canceled due to the pandemic, but continued restrictions in 2021 have resulted in the decision to postpone the biennial Little Star Auction, which is legendary for its theme-based decorations and outrageous costumes.
“It was an easy decision for us,” said School Director Dani Reynaud of the choice to postpone the auction until 2022. “We’re definitely not forgoing the in-person bash though; we’re just asking folks to hold their party hats one year.”
In its place, said Reynaud, Little Star will be hosting a smaller virtual auction from May 3-6, 2021, with a goal of raising “one-fourth of what we typically raise at our biennial auction, which usually supports two years of operating and financial aid funds.”
Instead of soliciting auction items from local businesses, said Reynaud, Little Star is reaching out to parents, board members, and staff to donate goods and services. “We know it’s been a tough year on our local businesses, so we wanted to hold off on making the ask. We’re hoping that they will support our in-person auction next year.”
Little Star’s online auction will conclude with a Zoom event that will include a short video of Little Star students, a pitch for the financial aid program, a door prize drawing, and a celebration of early childhood education. Mostly, said Reynaud, it will give participants “a chance to come together as a community,” which is an objective the biennial auction always accomplishes (visit www.littlestarschool.org).
Room One, too, is sensitive about the amount of pressure it is putting on the community.
“We are dedicated to making space for so many other organizations who were so generous in taking a back seat in 2020 when they recognized that crisis response and basic needs were so critical,” Edwards said.
The need for donations to support social services, however, remains.
“We are essentially out of our Community COVID Emergency Support, which donors created last year,” Edwards said. “Our community very much still needs the support” that Room One offers: mental health, food access, aging services, youth and family support, domestic violence prevention (visit www.roomone.org).
Other nonprofit organizations familiar with the online auction model pivoted easily to transform fundraising events that are typically held in person to online events. Methow Valley Nordic, for example, held a Zoom event in November 2020 instead of the intimate Donor Dinner that usually takes place at Arrowleaf Bistro for about 40 guests. The online event featured a presentation about the organization’s programs, some filmed interviews with current and alumni skiers, and an auction consisting of “Ski Dream” packages donated by ski team members. Methow Valley Nordic also held its usual online auction of goods and services like ski apparel, ski waxing and grinding, and other goods and services.
The Methow Conservancy, too, which offers a small auction fundraiser every three years, was able to shift the 2021 auction’s format from being a combined live and virtual event to being solely online.
In a typical year the auction items would be available online for a week and a live social gathering would cap the auction; this year the live event was eliminated. Still, the Conservancy retained its focus on strengthening people’s connection to the valley through its auction, with items donated by staff and board members consisting of quintessential Methow Valley experiences, goods, and services.
Methow Valley Fly Fishers experienced “a warming surprise” when they shifted their usual Christmas dinner and auction to a Zoom format, said past president Larry Riggins. “Once you subtract the expense of presenting these live events, such as the dinner expense,” he said, “the numbers show that we met our net goal.”
A valuable component of the Fly Fishers group, though, Riggins said, is the socializing, which is tricky in the Zoom format.
“We’re not just about fishing,” Riggins said. “Members look forward to gathering in person again.”
In the meantime, members are busying themselves with a number of community projects, including installing informational signs at fishing locations and sponsoring a college scholarship for a Liberty Bell High School senior.
But some nonprofits’ major fundraisers rely on an in-person attendance, because the program itself is a huge draw and doesn’t translate well to a virtual format. For Confluence Gallery and Art Center, “not hosting the Trashion Show and other major donor events presents an operational gap of approximately $50,000,” said new Executive Director Kaileah Akker.
“The money raised at these events directly supports our other programs, such as Make Art Work and summer camps [for kids],” she said. “Beyond that, the Trashion Show presents an unmatched opportunity for all facets of our community to congregate, and we feel this social void as well.”
Confluence Gallery’s board has created a special sub-committee specifically focused on pivoting toward an online fundraising event later in 2021.
“We look forward to celebrating the Trashion Show’s 10th anniversary and embracing all of the investment in and excitement for this community-wide program,” Akker said.
Throughout the pandemic, nonprofit directors agree, the Methow Valley community and its chief supporters have rallied to keep treasured organizations thriving. In Edwards’ words, “We really felt our larger community generosity.”