Illuminations, Woofstock to add drive- through options

Christel Deskins

When COVID-19 reached Wichita in mid-March, the pandemic flatlined what is typically a busy spring fundraising season. Nonprofits across the region postponed events they’d been planning for months, hoping that by summer they could reschedule. As public safety concerns continued to limit group sizes, many organizations further pushed off the […]

When COVID-19 reached Wichita in mid-March, the pandemic flatlined what is typically a busy spring fundraising season. Nonprofits across the region postponed events they’d been planning for months, hoping that by summer they could reschedule. As public safety concerns continued to limit group sizes, many organizations further pushed off the decisions.

In the past month, we reached a critical juncture and the fate of those postponed spring and summer events, along with fundraisers that usually happen each fall and winter, had to be decided: cancel for this year, make it a virtual affair or go forward with plans, adapting logistics to meet today’s restrictions and leaving room for alternate plans as the rules, risks and people’s comfort levels continue to shift.

“If a nonprofit organization leans heavily on one event, it’s very devastating for them to not be able to do that event,” said Cindy Miles, chief executive officer of the Nonprofit Chamber of Service based in Wichita and serving Kansas organizations. “Likewise, it’s a huge blow if they lean heavily on grants, and they lose grant funding because it’s being allocated, for example, to organizations doing specifically doing work related to COVID-19.”

Miles said that’s why she advises the mostly small to medium nonprofits she works with to diversify so their funding is coming evenly from events, grants, donations and, where applicable, paid services.

“Funding may be decreasing but in most cases the need for services that these organizations provide is increasing,” Miles said in general of the roughly 160 nonprofits who are members of her organization. “They’ll be lucky if they can serve the same number of people that they were able to serve before their funding was impacted.”

From social service agencies to nonprofits that contribute education and recreation opportunities to the community, a number of nonprofits have fundraisers scheduled during the next few months. See our compilation of charity events that range from drive-thru experiences to online auctions and streaming galas to an in-person opera ball and a restaurant week, all to raise money so the nonprofits can operate and offer services.

Wichita Festivals revenue down 90%

Zoobilee, a longstanding fundraiser that usually draws thousands of people to the Sedgwick County Zoo and netted $830,385 for the nonprofit in 2019, was set to wrap up its modified Zoobilee To Go virtual event this weekend.

Tuesday is the deadline to buy tickets for the Patron Patio Party-in-a-Box, which helps Wichita Festivals Inc. keep the annual Autumn & Art festival free to the public (it’s transformed into a virtual art show and sale Sept. 18-20). The not-for-profit corporation also runs Wichita’s largest community event of the year, Riverfest, which was reduced from a nine-day party to a virtual event with online activities at the end of May.

“In terms of marketing and recognition – people being aware of us – virtual Riverfest was a huge success,” said Teri Mott, director of marketing and communication for Wichita Festivals, Inc. “We reached hundreds of thousands of people on social media and that was valuable.”

However, that doesn’t pay the bills, she added.

“We are down 90% in revenue this year,” Mott said. “This upcoming year would have been our 50th Riverfest. We don’t want to see this go down after 50 years. We need people to support us.”

Mott said to watch for more news on Sept. 23 about Wichita Festivals Inc. events and fundraisers for the remainder of 2020.

Modified events might not bring in as many dollars but they will help pull supporters together or give the community a needed outlet, organizers said.

One of the first nonprofits to pivot an in-person event into a virtual event was Heartspring, which was in the final stages of organizing its Autism CARE Walk when the first stay-at-home orders were put in place for Kansans.

They opted to convert the event to a virtual format and go ahead with its early May date. They raised about $75,000, down about $30,000 compared to the same event held in-person a year ago. Where they usually engage nearly 3,000 people, about 1,000 signed up to participate in the online event.

Megan Schapaugh, special events coordinator for Heartspring, which serves children with special needs and disabilities, said they were “very happy” to collect about 75% of what they normally would have given it was their first virtual event and still early in the pandemic.

They used a similar format to host the 17th annual PedalFest virtually in August. Participation in the online bicycling event compared to 2019: from 700 participants to about 200 and from more than $80,000 raised to $58,000 for Heartspring’s pediatric services.

“We learned that we had a loyal group of supporters for each event even when we went virtual,” Schapaugh said. “There are those who will send you photos, make donations and they’ll still get a group together. It was great to see all that positivity despite a big change in the events.”

Last week, though, Heartspring made the decision to postpone its third and largest grossing annual fundraiser. The Light Your Heart gala, once scheduled for November, is rescheduled to February to give organizers more time to have alternatives in place and in hopes that by then they’ll be able to have the event in person.

Changes to Woofstock

A “furtual reality” version of the Kansas Humane Society’s popular Woofstock includes a chance to drive through Sedgwick County Park on Oct. 3 with your dog while getting treats and toys along the way. Woofstock’s published goal in 2019 was $285,000 while this year the organization’s website states a goal of $125,000 for the modified event.

The Humane Society relies on events, contributions, gifts and grants for most of its funding as it receives no federal, state or local tax dollars, nor support from the Humane Society of the United States or United Way.

Botanica still plans to pull off its largest fundraiser and community event, Illuminations, this winter. While the public-private gardens in Riverside operate through a partnership with the city of Wichita, 95% of the nonprofit’s budget comes from attendance, memberships, donations and events, said Jamee Ross, director of development for Botanica.

Most of Botanica’s events were canceled this season, from family activities like the Tulips, Fairies & Forts festival to the Tuesdays on the Terrace summer concert series. But the Botanica team couldn’t give up when it came to one of the most anticipated events of the holiday season.

“There are going to be so many things canceled leading up to the holiday season that we decided we had to figure out a way to give Illuminations to the community so there’s some joy during the holidays and a little bit of normalcy during this crazy pandemic situation,” Ross said.

Their plan is to have two modes for enjoying Illuminations: Do one, or experience both. A new drive-thru version set up in the gardens’ main parking lot will safeguard the event in case a Wichita outbreak would shut down the walk-through event, or for any folks not comfortable venturing out. It also offers a weather-proof option.

The walking route inside the gardens will change to one entrance, one-way traffic and using only major paths. Illuminations also will start earlier in the season (Nov. 14) and run later (Jan. 4 for the walk-through and Jan. 30 for the drive-thru). They’ll limit the number of guests each night by selling timed entry tickets and they’ll avoid long lines with advance ticket sales only.

Tickets are scheduled to go on sale Oct. 1; $20 per vehicle and $13 for adults or $9 for ages 3-12, military and Botanica members.

Because of the ticket limitations, 2020’s Illuminations won’t be able to match the nearly 93,000 visitors it brought to Botanica last year or the half a million dollars of revenue, almost a quarter of the gardens’ annual budget.

“In a year like this when attendance and memberships are down, coming out with your family is a win-win on a nice fall day or through one of these two options during Illuminations: You get to enjoy the beautiful gardens and we are supported through your admission or membership,” Ross said. “One thing about Botanica during the shutdown that not everyone realizes: We’re a living museum, we can’t just shut the doors and turn off the lights. Even when we were closed to the public, we still had to mow, plant, weed, water.”

Another struggle for the gardens has been losing volunteer manpower that assists the small staff on all aspects of operations, from plantings to the current project at hand: putting up holiday lights.

“You can wear masks but when you’re wrapping trees and things like that, you have to be in close proximity,” Ross said. “We would love to have family groups or work groups come out and help in a fun, safe way. In an average year, volunteers save us close to a million dollars if we had to pay someone to do all the work they do for Botanica. It’s a significant contribution.”

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