Chicago nonprofits hold fundraisers online amid pandemic

This year virtual fundraisers are being held by some of the city’s major organizations like PAWS Chicago.

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Chicago nonprofits have shifted fundraising events online to keep donations coming in during the pandemic, which forced organizations to cancel in-person gatherings that bring in crucial revenue.

PAWS Chicago, the city’s largest no-kill animal shelter, usually holds its annual Fur Ball fundraiser at elegant venues. But this year, the fundraiser was a virtual experience. The November event had catered delivery, an online auction and small remote gatherings.

Donors paid at least $400 a plate to attend last year’s Fur Ball, which raised $1.2 million, or about 10% of PAWS’ annual operating budget.

The nonprofit depends on fundraising for its $12 million annual operating budget, said Paula Fasseas, who founded the group in 1997.

Fasseas said the nonprofit’s biggest fundraising event is projected to fall about $500,000 short of last year’s total.

“We’ll be down at least $1.5 million at the end of the year,” Fasseas said. “It’ll be our first time in the history of PAWS that we didn’t meet our budget in 23 years.”

Fasseas said the organization plans to tap its cash reserves to make up for the difference and ramp up fundraising efforts after the pandemic.

The YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago had its annual leader luncheon November 19 on Zoom, rather than at Hyatt Regency as planned. The event usually attracts about 1,200 people and raises $750,000 to $800,000, said Molly Silverman, who manages marketing and development.

Silverman said the luncheon is on track to match last year’s revenue through corporate sponsorships, and that lower expenses might make it more profitable.

She said they’ll save the most on the venue, a $100,000 bill.

Last year, sponsorships started at $5,000 for a table of 10, with some individual tickets selling for $300. But this year, Silverman said, anyone with a YWCA membership can be part of the luncheon. Memberships start at $25.

Still, registrations are lagging, Silverman said. They hoped to have thousands of people to raise more donations.

“I think people are getting to the point of Zoom fatigue,” Silverman said.

Rick Cohen, spokesman for the National Council of Nonprofits, said the council is concerned about the viability of lots of organizations.

“We’re seeing a lot of nonprofits running into this place where the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) money has run out, the rainy day fund has run out and the people who usually donate to them aren’t able to,” Cohen said.

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