The COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainties for organizations of all sizes and industries, including the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit agencies in the Sioux Falls area have had to pivot quickly to adjust their operational models this year while still fulfilling their missions.
Challenges include creating new avenues for volunteer engagement, finding new ways to connect with individual and corporate donors at a time when in person meetings and events are not happening, and projecting future needs in spite of constantly changing variables.
The Sioux Empire United Way, which raises money for more than 80 programs at 40 local nonprofit agencies, has launched its annual fall campaign season after making a few adjustments to their normal process.
“We recognize these are fluid times with many uncertainties due to the pandemic. As such, we anticipate there will be additional funding needs that will become more apparent in 2021 and beyond for our community,” said 2021 campaign chair Joel Sylvester. “As a proactive measure, an additional $200,000 is included in our campaign goal to address longer-term needs as they become clearer.”
The United Way campaign relies on 600 volunteers, and Sylvester said their roles will look a little different this year. Volunteer trainings will be held online, and each volunteer will need to work within their own company’s safety guidelines. Campaign leadership is also encouraging volunteers to share ideas about activities and incentives that can be used to run a corporate campaign for remote employees.
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sioux Falls is another agency that relies heavily on volunteers. Community Engagement Director Justine Murtha said that they were forced to freeze volunteer work temporarily in the spring and are now trying to make up for lost time in constructing their 2020 goal of eight homes in the Sioux Falls area.
“Some of our traditional business teams cannot volunteer this year due to corporate guidelines. We completely respect that and we look forward to their return in the future,” she said. Habitat for Humanity is seeking more volunteers for the fall and extra measures have been put in place for safety, including smaller volunteer groups that do not mix and job site tools that are used by only one person.
“We’ve learned a lot of new ways to keep volunteers safe,” said Murtha. “We’ve always been vigilant about safety precautions anyway – so implementing additional precautions in light of COVID was actually one of the easier challenges for us.”
Habitat for Humanity had to close their ReStore retail space in the spring as well. Upon reopening in June, they have seen strong activity in the store – something Murtha attributes to an increase in people staying at home and doing home improvement projects. “In that sense, we have been a resource for people in the community, and they in turn are supporting our mission. We are very grateful for that.”
Many nonprofit agencies depend on large events to raise a significant portion of their funding for the year. As large, in-person gatherings were cancelled this spring, nonprofit executives had to find new ways to raise the money their agencies need to provide services to the community.
Carol Woltjer, director of development for Family Visitation Center, said her agency had to cancel their two largest fundraising events of the year. In addition, a couple of smaller event fundraisers that had been in development with local business partners are now on hold, though Woltjer is optimistic that they may come to fruition in the future.
For now, Family Visitation Center is focusing on outreach to past donors and conducting a direct mail campaign. “We are doing everything we can to maintain and strengthen our existing donor relationships, and just conveying to people that the needs in the community are still there,” Woltjer said.
Agencies that are funded by the Sioux Empire United Way typically observe a “blackout period” in the fall during which they pause their own fundraising efforts in support of the United Way campaign. Marie Fredrickson, Sioux Empire United Way Board Chair, said that this year the board of directors considered and approved several requests by funded agencies to hold events in the fall that had been canceled in the spring due to the pandemic.
“The Sioux Empire United Way mission of funding our non-profit partner agencies remains consistent and readily able to appropriately shift according to the needs in our community. A successful 2021 Campaign will ensure that these much-needed programs continue to serve our community,” Fredrickson said.