Tough 2 years for most non-profits despite rise in giving

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 7:12 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, people generously gave to non-profits, but that giving was not spread around equally.

Giving Tuesday, an organization that started the “Giving Tuesday” holiday in 2012 to help non-profits compete with the consumer holidays around Thanksgiving, did an analysis of giving in 2020. It found overall giving increased, but the money went largely to organizations that were directly helping with pandemic-related causes, like health and human services charities. Religious organizations had steady giving, but all other categories of non-profits actually saw losses in donations.

It was a trend reflected in at least some of the non-profits in the Wausau area.

“Our business was just incredibly in flux and we didn’t know what was coming next,” Olivia Hill, the executive director of the Wausau Conservatory of Music described the organization’s 2020 experience. “When you’re trying to fundraise, not knowing what’s coming next is incredibly difficult because fundraising takes a lot of time and strategy.”

“We not only had to shut down for a good amount of time, but every event canceled,” Diane Abitz, the founder and executive director of Stable Hands Equine Therapy explained. “That was really frightening, to be honest with you.”

Their organizations’ missions were not top of mind for many donors in 2020, who looked for ways to give that would address the pandemic directly.

“We do understand that there’s a health crisis going on, so what is the strategy for asking for continued support when there are other health and human services who really need support as well.”

Looking at another analysis halfway through 2021, Giving Tuesday found giving kept up with the 2020 high early in the year, but that giving is starting to go back to pre-pandemic levels. However, it is showing so far that the cause the organization impacts seems to matter less than it did last year and the size of the impact may matter more. Though, it also notes that there was a 230% increase in organizations not reporting data in quarter 2, “increasing confidence that there are true long-term impacts of fundraising operations post-2020, on top of the slow data reporting,” the analysis noted.

Both directors say events are their primary way to fundraise because it helps to build relationships with donors and show them the impact their services provide. Without the ability to hold events, “it took some real brainstorming to just literally get through it,” Abitz noted. “We’ve just been careful on our spending, held back on any big projects,” which she added they were about to campaign for some big needs, like a new stable just as the pandemic hit.

Hill said they were able to maintain some individual giving, but saw business donations especially down. The fundraising strategy also has changed, going from a three-month campaign to more like a six-month campaign.

“Government grants have been really floating our organization, in particular, to make it through so we can come back stronger and then, hopefully, be ready when people are ready to start thinking about what does the conservatory and other organizations mean in their community.”

Events have begun to pick up for both organizations. The conservatory is hosting a Christmas for Kids event on Dec. 12 featuring activities and performances throughout the facility. Jan. 21, 2022, Stable Hands will be holding its Snowshoe Hike and Wine Flight at the farm.

Both organizations, the conservatory with more than 40 years of service and Stable Hands with 30 years of therapy in 2022, have plans to add to the programming and services they offer, but it will all depend upon the community’s support.

“We hope people recognize and remember that we’ve been here a long time,” Abitz said. “We have staying power and we plan on being around a long time and the best is yet to come.”

To learn more about the Wausau Conservatory of Music, click here. To learn more about Stable Hands Equine Therapy, click here.

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