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Facing budget challenges, nonprofits get creative to raise money during pandemic

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YMCA of Dane County staff pack party boxes for virtual fundraiser

MADISON (WKOW) -- The pandemic has changed just about everything in our lives this year, and as local organizations work to help people who are struggling, they're running into their own trouble.

Nonprofits have had to cancel programs and fundraising events throughout 2020, leaving them with budget shortages. But at the same time, many have added services to help people.

Just like many others, the YMCA of Dane County closed down in March, but quickly adapted to our new pandemic world.

"We've had to make so many adjustments so quickly," said CEO Mark Westover. "What we've done is we've taken existing programs that we had in the Y, in the pandemic we saw that we are going to have to shut down. We said okay, what are our areas of strength in the community and how do we leverage that to support the community."

The YMCA added and adjusted services, like emergency child care for health care workers and a food pantry partnership with Second Harvest. They've been able to help more people, but it comes with a cost.

Between a drop in membership and programming, along with a more than $500,000 investment in emergency response, the organization expects revenue will be down by about $1 million for 2020.

"We have a lot of ground to make up," Westover said.

The Y is not alone. Organizations across Wisconsin are facing similar budgetary challenges.

A survey released in May found 46.9% of Wisconsin organizations reported reductions in programming after the pandemic.

11% of organizations that responded reported pivots in programming to address an increase in basic needs in the community for things like food, financial resources, transportation and mental health.

"We saw the community and nonprofit sector step up immediately with creative strategies through mutual aid networks, through new funding opportunities, through outreach to people who were stuck at home when the schools and the public health officials couldn't necessarily reach them," said Mary Beth Collins, executive director of UW-Madison's Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies.

Collins says that creativity has kept many organizations going, along with special grants and CARES Act funding. But the longer the pandemic continues, the harder it may be to stay afloat for some types of nonprofits.

"Organizations that rely on large, group gatherings like arts organizations that rely on theater performances, like youth programs that want to be able to get kids together. Those kinds of entities, regardless of relief funding and regardless of the way their donors will support them, if they can't keep doing their activities the way that they're used to, that's going to continue to be a big threat," Collins said.

The YMCA has taken on that creativity. After canceling and postponing all major fundraising events, this week staff members are getting ready to move one of the biggest money makers online.

Party with a Purpose is normally a get-together for supporters, involving food, fun and fundraising. This year, the Y is encouraging people to still celebrate at home.

Donors will get special party boxes at their houses, with gift cards for local restaurants, drinks and other treats. They're asked to celebrate with a small group, safely at home. Money raised this year will help offset the costs of emergency pandemic programming.

"All of the involvement that we have is really bittersweet," Westover said. "We wish that we didn't have to provide these services, but we're really thrilled that we're able to help the community and support them in so many different ways."

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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