With significant attention being paid to pandemic-related restaurant and venue closings, it’s easy for small, grassroots and donation-dependent organizations to fall by the wayside during discussions about COVID-19’s impact. Like for-profit businesses, community groups and nonprofits that rely on in-person fundraising and live events to pay the bills and continue services have found ways of adapting their efforts to online platforms, but nonetheless find themselves struggling with some hard truths. Perhaps unsurprisingly, two area groups have found that with decreased opportunities to safely raise money in traditional face-to-face settings comes a significant decrease in overall contributions.
Asheville Cat Weirdos — which focuses on “pet retention,” the concept of helping people keep and properly care for the animals they already have over the more familiar animal adoption advocacy — has been helping cat owners with pet food, medication and veterinary bills since 2016. With future fundraising plans and events on hold, ACW has been forced to cut portions of its pantry service — most notably its distribution of flea medicine — but has been able to retain most other facets of the organization through online promotions like “$5 Friday.”
“We put a cute picture out, and we say ‘It’s Friday, donate $5,’” says ACW President Veronica Coit. “That’s it — and it gets a good amount.” These small, individual donations are key to sustaining services while overall donation levels are down during the pandemic. The all-volunteer group has remained positive and active due in no small part to the support — financial and otherwise — it gets from its more than 13,000 members.
“A lot of our funds came from direct donations, but we had a lot of events,” Coit says. “They always brought in a lot of money. People bought the merch and made donations while they were there.”
Traditionally, Coit partners with local bars and restaurants to offer discounts or “pint nights” to help bring in funds. “There would be a drink special we’d get a cut of, or there would be a special beer with a special glass. There was always something,” she says. “Now people aren’t really leaving their houses.”
While ACW has so far been able to scrape by with the help of its large, dedicated community, Girls Rock Asheville was forced to cancel its one-week summer camp and annual showcase altogether — the sum of which constitutes a large chunk of its funding.
“We’re all about empowerment through music and team building among girls, nonbinary and trans people,” says Girls Rock Asheville founder and board member Erin Kinard. “Campers ages 8-16 will form a band, choose an instrument, learn the basics of that instrument, write a song with their band, attend workshops — [including] Activism 101 and Music Her-Story — and perform at the end of the week.”
She continues, “As a nonprofit, we’re working on a really small scale. We usually have several camp sponsors that help make camp happen for us. Then we have fundraising campaigns with smaller donations like Giving Tuesday that helps get us up to the starting line of camp. But the showcase is really our big push.”
Kinard and her GRAVL colleagues haven’t attempted any fundraising since the pandemic’s onset but are hoping that their Giving Tuesday event — held online the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and meant as a charitable alternative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday — along with the continued contributions of their regular sponsors will ensure that their 2021 camp will proceed with as much normalcy as permitted by whatever recommended safety policies are in place at the time.
In the meantime, GRAVL has a slate of online offerings planned for winter break that will operate on either a donation or sliding-scale basis. “We already had a list of accepted campers for camp this summer, so we had to take that list and be like, ‘Well, what could we give them?’” Kinard says. “We’re looking at having a set of workshops for our campers and our camper families, and a series for the larger community of people who are interested in our mission.” However, these workshops are not meant as a replacement for traditional fundraising, but rather as a way to keep campers and their families involved and active in the community while everyone navigates an uncertain future.
Despite diminished funds, the leaders of ACW and GRAVL remain hopeful about their respective futures. Both groups have vowed to continue with their stated missions regardless of donation levels, while conceding that the size and scope of available services may change as time goes on. Whether scaling back will be due to a lack of funds or to COVID-related restrictions remains to be seen, but optimism is high, and with the relative ease of online content creation and connection, neither group sees themselves going anywhere anytime soon.