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Getting creative to serve during the pandemic: FDL nonprofits band together to raise funds

Posted on: Apr 29th, 2020

Sarah Razner Fond du Lac Reporter

Fond du Lac BlueLine is one of the city's nonprofit organization's taking part in the Together FDL-Giving Tuesday Now initiative. The effort is bringing together local nonprofits to raise money and awareness during the coronavirus.
Fond du Lac BlueLine is one of the city’s nonprofit organization’s taking par in the Together FDL-Giving Tuesday Now initiative. The effort is bringing together local nonprofits to raise money and awareness during the coronavirus. Courtesy of Together FDL

FOND DU LAC – For the first time, local nonprofits are joining forces to share their stories and raise funds through the initiative Together FDL.

The group’s efforts are centered around Giving Tuesday Now, a nationwide event encouraging people to give back to their communities. Taking place Tuesday, the day is in addition to the day of giving held following Thanksgiving known as Giving Tuesday.

Sharing ideas and struggles during the pandemic

The collaboration began when the Sophia Transformative Leadership Partners Board noticed that, like themselves, many nonprofits had closed their facilities, canceled programs and events, and had to postpone or cancel fundraisers, all the while “experiencing a high demand for programs and services,” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Executive Director Christa Williams said.

Seeking to find a way to serve the community during the coronavirus, the board decided to invite 38 local nonprofit executives to a Zoom meeting. The goal: to encourage conversation between nonprofits and discussion on forming a network of organizations and beginning a fundraising initiative. 

In the past, executives had talked of meeting, but there had never been consistency, she said, making April 20’s online gathering a first for the community. Now was an opportune time to begin such a “peer-to-peer” group.

While some organizations are connected to a large national network with whom they can share ideas, others are smaller and may consist of only a couple of employees, offering few opportunities to reach out as they weather the pandemic. The purpose of the network, Williams said, is “to strengthen and support each organization and each other through the communication of ideas, inspiration and resources.”

Nonprofits adjust to meet pandemic challenges

Nonprofits have had to get creative in the midst of the pandemic to continue to serve the community, Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac Executive Andrea Welsch said.

Prior, the museum welcomed youth and their families for mentally stimulating play, classes and parties. Now, staff have posted videos to social media, and now have moved to mailing out art projects to members, like “paper cutout dolls,” Welsch said. After children decorate the items, families mail them back, and the museum creates collaborative art pieces, beautifying the museum’s windows.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Fond du Lac County, which creates mentor relationships between children and adults, has moved its staff to work out of the office. With its “consistent contacts” between Bigs and Littles at stake, staff are working to help the pairs connect in various ways remotely, Executive Director Tammy Young said. Despite the pandemic, the organization is recruiting adult mentors to match with their more than 100 children on its waiting list, conducting interviews over FaceTime and Zoom.

“While we have changed the way we do business for the moment, we are still doing business,” Young said. “We will continue to grow the number of new matches and help local children.”

Set to begin its first program as part of the Goebel Family Foundation this spring, The Women’s Empowerment Series moved online to host a nine-class mini-series on Facebook Live. The mini-series covers information to help women during the pandemic, such as maintaining wellness and calm at home, as well as communicating while social distancing, according to the organization.

At Habitat for Humanity of Fond du Lac, pandemic guidelines put in place by Habitat International mean they cannot use volunteers or open their ReStore, Executive Director Katie Karls. That leaves only paid staff to finish its Habitat home in Malone, raising project costs. When it can reopen, Habitat for Humanity is developing “new COVID-19 policy and procedures,” to have a smooth transition, and is determining new dates for “revitalization projects” put who on hold.

“It is difficult dealing with the pandemic but it is something we need to do,” Karls said. “Keeping God at the center of Habitat for Humanity’s mission gives us the inspiration and ambition to keep our sights on helping those in need.”

Nonprofits in need of support, too

To help raise awareness about the issues facing nonprofits right now, as well as money to fund their work, Welsch, along with wisnet’s Joe Truesdale, told meeting participants about a proposed Together FDL-Giving Tuesday Now Initiative.

While typically Giving Tuesday is held during the holiday season, the pandemic inspired organizers to plan a second day on May 5 to encourage people to give back in any way they can.

For the museum, this means giving out garden club kits to members who would typically take part in the gardening program from May to September and plant a garden at the museum. The kits will allow members to plant at their own homes, and remain connected to the community and mentally engaged, Welsch said.

Children's Museum of Fond du Lac participants decorated paper dolls sent by the museum to members during the pandemic to keep them connected and engaged.
Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac participants decorated paper dolls sent by the museum to members during the pandemic to keep them connected and engaged. Courtesy of Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac

For the public, this can mean a financial gift, as they might do on November’s Giving Tuesday. In years past, the holiday event has had a large impact. In 2019, the day raised more than $500 million online in the United States and nearly $2 billion between online and offline donations, according to its site.

In Fond du Lac, community members have “dipped their toes” in Giving Tuesday before with efforts ran in 2018 and 2019, but this time would be different. Rather than raising funds for one organization, Together FDL-Giving Tuesday Now asked nonprofits to join together to “tell a common story” and show how they are an “integral piece” in society, Ben Giles, a spokesperson for Together FDL, said.

“We’ve been hearing so much about everything going on with the pandemic and everyone’s needs that have been caused by COVID-19 and a lot of times, we forget about the nonprofits that are doing such great work in the community,” he said. “What a better way to help than bring them all together to tell a story and help rally support around (them).”

Using their social media channels, the nonprofits will promote the campaign. In turn, they will each receive an equal amount of the money raised from it, which, Together FDL Spokesperson Holly Brenner said, will allow the organization to continue to serve the community.

12 nonprofits. One purpose. 

ASTOP, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Fond du Lac County, Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac, Family Resource Center, Fond du Lac Area Women’s Fund, Fond du Lac BlueLine, Fond du Lac Literacy Services, Habitat for Humanity of Fond du Lac County, Save a Smile, Solutions Center, Sophia Transformative Leadership Partners and Women’s Empowerment Series are all collaborating for the initiative.

Each is focused on “improving people’s lives and making Fond du Lac a better place, through “supporting the labor market and spurring economic activities,” no matter their area of expertise, be it mental health or the arts, Giles said.

In total, the organizations serve more than 300,000 people, employ more than 90, and use more than 45,000 volunteer hours to meet needs. Just in the past weeks, the organizations have created over 15 new programs to adapt to the pandemic, Williams said.

“Through unprecedented times, the need for area nonprofits is more important now than ever before,” Young said. “We help feed, heal, shelter, educate, develop, nurture and inspire people of every age, gender, race and socioeconomic status right here in Fond du Lac County.”

Organizations will also need to think differently now, as the world will look “very different over the next to six to 18 months,” and Together FDL is a way of doing so while meeting needs and using the “power and efficiency” of collaboration, Karls said.

Through “standing together as a community,” organizations can become more confident and “stand behind a purpose,” Theresa Menting, Women’s Empowerment Series founder and executive director, said.

“Women’s Empowerment is excited to join a initiative that embodies what Women’s Empowerment Series is passionate about —supporting the community by providing resources, support and care,”  she said. 

Local businesses rally to support nonprofits

One local business has already jumped in to support the effort — wisnet has developed, a website that shares the stories of each of the non-profits and provides community members a way to donate to the group for Giving Tuesday Now.

The partnership came with the assistance of Truesdale and fellow wisnet employee Jenny Knuth, who serve on the boards of directors for Children’s Museum and Sophia Partners respectively. As wisnet sought ways to give back during the pandemic, the nonprofits reached out to see if wisnet could help, Truesdale said. The business said yes, and donated the creation and hosting of the site for a year, Williams said.  

The website is very simple to start, Truesdale said, and communicates how the nonprofits impact the Fond du Lac area as a collective. From there, people can make donations right on the site through May 15.

Logo Courtesy of Together FDL

When the world emerges from the pandemic, the website will continue to run as a “storytelling platform,” and provide an opportunity for the organizations to further collaborate. If other collaborative initiatives take place, it will reopen for donations, Williams said. 

Verve, a Credit Union, too, has also offered its support, matching up to $10,000 in donations. 

“These nonprofits are facing obstacles and disruptions to their missions, and in response, they have entered a collaboration to support the community as a whole. Their drive and quick response will help sustain the essential services provided by these nonprofits amid economic strain and increasing demand,” Verve, a Credit Union, CEO and President Kevin J. Ralofsky said.

The contribution is a “huge indicator” that people and businesses are “ready to donate” and “ready to hope,” Giles said.

Collaboration to continue into the future

Twelve local nonprofits are working together to raise money and awareness during the coronavirus pandemic with Together FDL.
Twelve local nonprofits are working together to raise money and awareness during the coronavirus pandemic with Together FDL. Courtesy of Christa Williams

Following Giving Tuesday Now, nonprofits will continue to work to spread their message and garner support in new ways.

While in the past, Destination Lake Winnebago Region has used its calendar to advertise events to draw tourists and community members. As tourism is not currently a focus, it is offering nonprofits the opportunity to use their website to notify the public of events that are canceled or rescheduled. This will also allow nonprofits to “stake their claim” on a date so they do not all reschedule their events on the same day, Destination Lake Winnebago Region Executive Director Craig Molitor said.

Even after the pandemic, nonprofits will have the ability to add events with the organization’s new website, Molitor said.

“There are so many organizations that do so many wonderful things which we don’t have insight into but we can assist in this one category,” he said. “It’s something that will be sustainable even after this crisis and a way for the visitor’s bureau to play a role in getting us back on track.”

Together FDL Spokeperson Holly Brenner hopes the collaboration between the organization also continues, and said the Together FDL effort has the potential to help the Fond du Lac community to “embrace a culture of philanthropy.”

“I think there’s the potential for true impact when like-minded people and organizations come together in the name of service,” she said.

Contact reporter Sarah Razner at 920-907-7909 or Follow her on Twitter @misssarahrazner.