COVID-19 Prompts Charities to Shift Fundraising Efforts

Had it not been for COVID-19, hundreds of people would be enjoying some of Beverly Hills’ most gorgeous environs on Saturday, May 16, at the Virginia Robinson Gardens’ 2020 Garden Tour. The annual tour of private estates and a luxurious garden luncheon evocative of Gatsby is the major fundraiser for the historic Gardens, supporting restoration needs and children’s science programs. 

But like so many nonprofits which relied on in-person fundraising events to draw in needed donor dollars, the Friends of Robinson Gardens, the volunteer non- profit which supports the Gardens, will need to pivot their fundraising efforts this year. According to President of the Friends Patti Reinstein, Garden Tour plans are still evolving. 

“There’s definitely very real challenges that everyone is facing,” Tower Cancer Research Foundation Executive Director Linda David told the Courier. “Our gala is such an important fundraising opportunity for us.” 

Earlier this week, on May 12, the Beverly Hills-based foundation hosted its annual Tower of Hope Gala via Zoom, raising over $1 million. Unlike last year’s gala, which netted $1 million for Tower, there were virtually no expenses to hold this year’s “Stay Home Affair” and every dollar donated was 100 percent deductible. 

“We actually have the potential to do better this year,” David said. “There’s so many silver linings to this cloud for us. Having this kind of support really shows us that our mission resonates with our community.” 

The virtual gala itself included a Zoom call with scores of participants who toasted this year’s honorees, Dr. Barry Rosenbloom and Michele Kaplan. A virtual paddle raise on the day of the event, where a donor offered to match up to $100,000, kept funds coming in for research grants and patient support programs. In addition to the electronic fundraiser, Tower has also helped cancer patients and survivors by shoring up their online offerings, including posting classes online, free to its patient population. 

Even before the Stay at Home mandate was issued on March 19, UCLA Health Sciences began to take steps to shore up their digital offerings. In the days that followed, the organization created two COVID-19 funds to support UCLA Health’s immediate life-saving work, one devoted to research and education and the other focusing on patient care and healthcare provider protection. There’s also an opportunity for people to offer PPE and in-kind donations. 

For Giving Tuesday on May 5, UCLA Health allowed people to make online “Thank you” videos. And one family made a $250,000 donation to mark the day. The first two of three online lectures entitled “Your COVID-19 Questions Answered” each had over 500 people attend using Zoom and are now available online. 

“We started to really make strategies for how we would have engagement events, not knowing how long it will last,” Assistant Vice Chancellor of Development of UCLA Health Sciences Lindsay Williams told the Courier. The organization recently closed its $5 billion centennial campaign last December. “For us, we’ve been very engaged on how we engage our philanthropic community safely.” 

Before the pandemic began, the hospital’s board met just a few times a week with UCLA Health’s leadership. Now, the two cohorts meet weekly online. 

“This really gave us an opportunity for our board members and volunteers to engage directly with our leaders [and] provided us an opportunity for high engagement,” Williams said. No decision has yet been reached as to what will happen to the organization’s two major fundraisers this year. 

“The challenges are the challenges facing our nation. Both the physical distancing and the ways we conducted our engagement have to change,” she said. “People of all different wealths are feeling they want to contribute in some meaningful way. We as an organization really need to be able to accept philanthropy in all forms.” 

On May 2, at the start of Mental Health Awareness month, the Southern California Counseling Center (SCCC) held a virtual fundraiser to support affordable mental healthcare, bringing in over $100,000. The hour-long “e-vent” included entertainment, a silent auction, and a live comments feed. Michelle Becker, director of advancement for the organization, said that over 400 people watched the livestream on YouTube. 

“It’s a critical time for quality mental healthcare and people mobilized,” she told the Courier. “We were proud to have so many loyal friends tune into SCCC’s first virtual fundraising event. We really are like a family.” 

Last month the Women’s Guild Cedars- Sinai marshaled its board members to participate in the Women’s Guild Covid-19 Gift Card Relief Fund Campaign, raising over $100,000 over the course of two weeks. Shelley Cooper, president of the Women’s Guild, said the Guild would soon be distributing 4,500 $25 gift cards to the 4,300 hospital employees. 

“We are so proud and happy that we could give back to the hospital in this way. We’re not resting on our laurels, that’s for sure,” she told the Courier. “With their compassion, these frontline heroes continue to make Cedars-Sinai a pillar of hope by providing healthcare to all in need.” 

Through the Guild, a bevy of additional donations have come to Cedars-Sinai during this time, including 500 Velvet t-shirts for nurses, 1,100 Bandolier cross body cellphone cases, and 7,800 hot meals for frontline employees from Barbara Thornhhill. The Women’s Guild Simulation Center for Advanced Clinical Skills is proving particularly helpful during this time, with over 2,300 professionals having used the simulation center to deal with the pandemic. 

The Guild elected to postpone this year’s annual gala, which would have taken place on May 5. Plans for its upcoming Women’s Guild luncheon in the fall are still in abeyance. 

“It’s very difficult to plan anything, as Dr. (Anthony) Fauci has so eloquently put it every day,” Cooper said. 


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