Groups get original with fundraising




Major annual fundraisers such as auctions and musicals have been reimagined by local groups this year as gathering in-person remains difficult during the pandemic and fundraising stays a vital part of many organizations’ viability.

The Winona ORC was not able to hold its annual recognition banquet, golf tournament or Starlight Stroll 5K, and the organization is experiencing a loss of about $40,000 currently, Winona ORC Fund Development Coordinator Stephanie Reed explained.

“We have a sponsorship program where people can sponsor the banquet, the tournament, the Starlight Stroll … and those just aren’t coming in with changes” due to the pandemic, Reed noted.

The organization is continuing to put out information about the sponsorship program, as well as highlighting the work the Winona ORC does and ways to donate to the group through its Facebook page, website and newsletter.

“We are still trying to fundraise because that is a portion of the budget,” Reed said. “We depend upon fundraisers to help us meet budgetary needs. Without them, it puts us at a loss for the year. It’s also very hard not being able to recognize the individuals with disabilities who we employ to give them our years of service certificate and see the smiles on their faces. That’s a huge piece that’s missing for all of us.” The ORC hopes to be able to reschedule the events, she added.

Across the Winona region, organizations and nonprofits that rely on big summer fundraisers to get by are struggling to find new ways to garner community financial support. “These organizations rely heavily on event income for operations,” wrote Winona Community Foundation President/CEO Nancy Brown in a letter calling on community members to support local not-for-profit organizations. “I heard from 15 organizations this week, and seven of them would have been in fundraising mode right now. Instead, they are in survival mode.” The Winona Community Foundation has established a grant program aimed at assisting with local nonprofits’ operational needs during the COVID-19 pandemic; the second cycle of the grant program calls for applications by August 1. Find out more about the grants, and how to donate, at

Rather than an in-person, live event where donors peek at gift baskets and big-ticket items, Cotter Schools held its annual auction online this year. “For one thing, we did receive something from almost every business in town, whether it was a gift certificate or a Sea-Doo vehicle,” Cotter Schools President Sister Judith Schaefer said. “That’s the part to me that’s so heartening — it wasn’t only all Cotter people giving; it was the community … There was a lot of community support, so that I’m very grateful for.”

People could donate to three projects: scholarships for students, furniture for classrooms and a bus for transporting students to special activities. There were also 150 items on which individuals could bid.

Cotter alumni living outside Winona were able to participate in the auction, which has been more difficult to accommodate in the past when the auction was held on site, Sister Schaefer explained.

Not having the opportunity to see one another in person was difficult as well, Schaefer noted. “This was our 41st auction, so for 40 years, people have looked forward to coming together,” Schaefer said. “We didn’t have that.”

The Advocacy Center of Winona also held an online auction this year. Connected with the online auction was a livestreamed beer tasting with Island City Brewing Company and speciality pizza demonstration with Blooming Grounds so attendees could enjoy the same food and drink together virtually. The center’s largest fundraiser annually is usually a gala which includes a silent auction, live auction, live music and formal dinner for those who purchase a ticket.

Advocacy Center Executive Director Crystal Hegge shared that the online auction allowed the center to use donations it had received for the gala, reconnect with its supporters and “build community through this time where everyone feels so disconnected.”

The center is starting to develop its budget for the next fiscal year, and possibilities for future fundraisers may be discussed, Hegge stated.

“We have been really grateful to donors and people who have supported our organization,” Hegge noted. “We’ve done a lot of individual connecting with some of them and sending letters and updating them on some of the changes that have been happening. So right now, that’s been the main way of recouping some funds.”

It is still too early to tell whether the financial gap resulting from the pandemic will be closed for the center, Hegge noted, but because of supporters and relief funding, the organization is “not in a dire situation,” she said.

Home and Community Options’ annual musical was postponed to 2021. A number of individuals who have been part of past musicals were interviewed instead. The interviews were then posted on Facebook and the organization’s website so supporters could get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on the productions, Home and Community Options Communication Coordinator Ashly Wiczek Bissen said.

“I think one of the bigger challenges is our agency has always been committed to bringing people together, and with the nature of COVID-19, it’s very much a reversal of that,” Wiczek Bissen stated. “So, finding ways for us to still be connecting and engaging with the community, just from afar, has been challenging but fun.”

A fundraiser is posted on the organization’s Facebook page. Community members may also donate through the organization’s website or by mail. The organization is working to gain funding such as grants to help with covering unfunded costs associated with COVID-19 as well.

“We’re just appreciative of the support the community gives us at any level,” Wiczek Bissen shared. “We’ve always had such a good partnership with businesses and community members, so we just feel really blessed.”

With Goodview Days cancelled this year, the annual Goodview Gallop will take place virtually. Proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society. Participants will run or walk between August 22 and August 30 and provide their times online.

Learn more about how to support the ORC at

More information about Cotter Schools is available at

Find out more about the Advocacy Center of Winona at

More information about Home and Community Options may be found at

Details about the Goodview Gallop may be found at


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