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Nonprofits 2020: A year of innovation and survival – The Daily Breeze

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Last year was a year of struggle and innovation for California’s nonprofit sector, as many were forced to furlough staff or downsize, while others closed their doors.

And although donations have fallen, the decline hasn’t been nearly as deep as some might have predicted, according to Christina Dragonetti, outreach and communications coordinator for CalNonprofits, a statewide alliance of more than 10,000 nonprofits.

“Thirty-seven percent of the donations to nonprofits in California come from ticket sales to live events like wine tastings or galas and everyone had to cancel those events,” she said.

As COVID-19 ramped up, there were winners and losers.

Organizations geared toward disaster relief and social services saw an influx in funding, while those in the arts and culture space struggled financially due to shutdowns and event cancellations.

The pandemic forced many nonprofits to reimagine how they engage with donors.

Donella Wilson, president and chief philanthropy officer for GHJ Foundation, has observed the transformation first-hand. The foundation is the philanthropic arm of GHJ, an accounting and advisory firm based in Downtown Los Angeles.

GHJ Foundation’s grant committee is made up of employees from the foundation’s corporate parent. The committee has two grant cycles per year when it selects areas of need.

Grant recipients

Recent GHJ grant recipients include Covenant House California, a homeless shelter for youths; Pet Adoption Fund; and Food Forward, a North Hollywood-based nonprofit that’s looking to reduce food waste and increase access to healthy fruits and vegetables. 

The foundation distributed about $100,000 in grants in 2020.

Wilson said arts and culture nonprofits have learned to pivot amid the health crisis.

“These changes fueled the adoption of new technologies and strategies for fundraising and innovative ways to deliver programming,” she said. “This year will be a continuation of novel approaches to engaging donors and the community.”

A virtual tour

She cited the Petersen Automotive Museum as a prime example.

“Museums are challenged because they’ve been closed,” Wilson said. “But last year the Petersen museum launched a free, full-scale, virtual museum tour that takes viewers through the entire building from the top floor down to the basement. As a result, they’ve seen their viewership expand beyond previous geographies.”

Michael Bodell, the museum’s chief operating officer, said the facility is preparing to reopen Thursday, March 25 at 25% capacity. Social distancing will be in effect and attendees will undergo temperature checks when entering the museum. Visitors will also use a stylus to push elevator and parking buttons, making for a contactless experience.

“We had to close in mid-March of last year and were able to reopen for 10 days in June before the county told us to close back down when COVID-19 began surging again,” he said.

15 million views

Bodell said the Petersen’s virtual tour has logged about 15 million views.

“We really didn’t have a YouTube presence before this,” he said. “Fortunately, our core constituents have stepped up and we didn’t lose any donors. We’ve been very fortunate.”

The museum had to lay off a significant number of part-time workers, Bodell said, but most full-time employees have been kept on, with some being reassigned to other roles.

Wilson expects 2021 to bring an increased focus on individual giving vs. foundation funding.

“Foundation funding is always a goal because the dollars are generally larger from foundations, but it’s not always going to be there year after year,” she said.

Targeting individual donors means leveraging the human element when promoting fundraising events, Wilson said, adding that virtual programs allow nonprofits to engage with potential donors nationally — or even globally.

From in-person to virtual

GHJ Foundation matched Donella’s personal contribution to Downtown Women’s Center, a Los Angeles facility that provides medical and mental health services to low-income and homeless women.

Last year the center converted its largest fundraising event, an in-person gala, to a virtual, three-week campaign dubbed “Together Housed.” The program enabled donors and volunteers to leverage their personal and professional networks to secure funding.

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