There is nothing like a good old 100-year pandemic to get charities thinking differently.

In my more recent career as a fundraising consultant (as opposed to my 38 years at Opportunity Village), I now have the privilege of helping a diverse group of charitable organizations across the globe. Fundraising has never been for the faint of heart… even more so in these unusual times, and especially for a rare and fortunate nonprofit that has great visionary leaders at the helm.

It is these visionaries who are facing off against the dreaded COVID world and changing the paradigm in fundraising and nonprofit management while having great success in what could be considered the worst of times.

As the fundraising leader at the Village, I was able to turn a small mom and pop nonprofit operating out of an old downtown Las Vegas warehouse, into an organization featuring purpose-built campuses and programs that ultimately became respected around the world.

In my job there, I was able to create magnificent events and programs because of great leadership in place during my tenure. After leaving (I never planned to leave), I took with me carefully nurtured and honed practices in event management and donor engagement and set about reinventing myself as a nonprofit consultant who could help other deserving organizations think big.

The government is a bad business partner, and since necessity is the mother of invention, I was forced to create revenue streams that would sustain the Village in the worst of times. Endowments, spectacular public events, beloved donors, and stand-alone businesses helped us operate with little Government intervention. In a Pandemic world, we are left even more to our own resources.

It’s been fun helping nonprofit leaders understand that they deserve success, to be creative, put their hat on differently, and become partners with the community, its business leaders and constituents, and strive toward self-sufficiency. Here’s a secret…there is plenty of money out there, but donors want to know what we are doing to help ourselves. Donors want to know we are working hard to not just solve societal problems, but to solve our own solvency problems. We must consider social enterprise and provide and produce goods and services that will sustain us. We have had to go about the business of donor cultivation, and event production with an eye to make COVID a wakeup call and maybe even the silver lining to donor engagement.

In this holiday season newsletter, I am featuring three of my client organizations who have faced off against the pandemic, rolled up their sleeves and said… “we will be not lay down and die… we will take our events, our donors and bring our organization to even greater success.” While some organizations have canceled beloved long time fundraising traditions, others have changed them up and prospered.

In my fundraising job at Opportunity Village, I created incredible events like the Magical Forest, the BBQ at the Bitterroot Ranch and HallOVeen to name a few, each one becoming community traditions. In the COVID era, there is potential to make more money than ever before. Events should be creatively reimagined, while engaging donors and sponsors in meaningful ways. Why? Because we, the visionary leaders would present exciting can-do ways to operate.

Here’s a sample of three organizations who have made lemonade out of a pandemic:

Enchanted Forest at Noah Homes:

Noah Homes in San Diego created an Enchanted Forest at their campus two years ago, they wanted to provide a magical place for Southern Californians to visit, and I was poised to help them achieve their dream. This year’s event had to be rethought due to California attendance restrictions. Because they are not afraid to roll up their sleeves when the going gets tough, they changed up their event and made it a drive through experience. At the same time, they contacted all their donors and sponsors and asked them to double down. The result? the event has already made more money in sponsorships than prior years, a newly imagined event will take place in a few weeks and is on track through advance sales to beat prior year numbers. And, by working hard and not letting a pandemic kick them to the curb, they have taken an annual tradition and doubled the opportunity for years to come. In doing so, they met new donors (they recently received an unexpected $2 million gift because of their work ethic) Instead of canceling they created another event that will enable them to raise their annual budget this year and double their proceeds from this one event in future years.

Festival of Trees and Lights:

The Down syndrome Organization of Southern Nevada (DSOSN) and the Collaboration Center Disability Network (CCF) each reached out to me for help with their end-of-year events. Since the DSOSN has held their spectacular Festival event for 30-plus years, it made no sense to cancel… particularly when people are craving the holidays and normalcy even more. The CCF recently purchased a beautiful 5-acre ranch property where disability organizations will come together under one roof. DSOSN had an event, and CCF had the place, and because both organizations have visionary leaders in place, they have accomplished something that is rarely seen in the nonprofit world…collaborate and you will find strength in numbers!

Together these two organizations have created a unique way to hold onto a beloved tradition, engage donors from both organizations and put on a spectacular event. One donor was so intrigued by what might have been perceived as competing charities working together for the good of all that he has given a $50k sponsorship.

These are fine examples of ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ I am proud to help these organizations think differently, think big and kick pandemics to the curb.