The COVID-19 pandemic has scrambled plans for Second Helpings Inc.’s largest annual fundraiser—just as the not-for-profit hunger relief organization is seeing demand for its services soar.
Second Helpings usually nets nearly $250,000 from Corks & Forks, which was to have taken place this week at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis. The ticketed event traditionally includes food tastings from local chefs and an auction.
But because coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings made the original plan impossible, Second Helpings pivoted to an online-only event that launched Tuesday, the same day the event would have been held. The online auction runs through 9 p.m. Saturday. Additionally, Second Helpings has been posting online videos and Facebook Live events, such as cooking classes.
Second Helpings has done online fundraising for years, said CEO Jennifer Vigran, but the pandemic has forced the organization to step up its efforts, particularly on Facebook.
“We’re just having to do it on a whole different level right now,” she said.
It’s too early to know whether the online event will bring in as much money as the live event has done in the past, but Vigran is hopeful. No supporters have backed out, she said, including title sponsor Kroger.
“Our sponsors and our ticket purchasers were very generous,” Vigran said. “No one asked for a refund, though we offered them to everyone.”
As for the auction, some items still had not received bids Friday morning, but others—particularly gift cards—had bids exceeding the items’ face value.
Second Helpings says it needs whatever money it can generate now more than ever.
In a typical week, the Indianapolis-based organization makes close to 25,000 hot meals for distribution to social service agencies that provide them to those in need. But, over the last few weeks, Second Helpings has ramped up to more than 50,000 meals to meet demand.
Some of those meals are coming from the organization’s own facilities, while others are coming from satellite kitchens that have opened in recent weeks at Sahm’s Cafeteria in the OneAmerica building downtown, The Alexander hotel and the Cunningham Restaurant Group’s restaurant, Mesh.
Second Helpings’ cash expenses, which usually run around $225,000 a month, have skyrocketed. The group is spending an additional $100,000 each week to cover the extra food, labor, packaging and delivery costs.
“There’s a major additional expense involved in stepping up to the challenges that we have in the community today,” Vigran said.
One local philanthropy expert said many donors seem to be sticking with their original commitments at this point, even if fundraising events they support has been reimagined, postponed or canceled.
“We have not heard yet of anybody who wanted their money back,” said Dave Sternberg, a partner at Indianapolis-based Loring Sternberg & Associates, which provides consulting services for not-for-profit groups.
But, he said, “the unknown is: What does that event look like next year?”
In order to retain donor support, Sternberg said, organizations should consider providing future event sponsors with extra perks to make up for this year’s disruption. An organization hosting a fundraising dinner next year, for instance, might offer sponsors an extra table at the event for no additional cost.
Looking ahead, Vigran said the COVID-19 disruptions will likely have a lasting impact on Second Helpings’ online presence.
The organization is producing more videos, social media posting and blogging than it had in the past, and some of those practices are likely to continue, she said. “I don’t think there’s any question about it. It will absolutely inform what we do in the future.”
The pandemic could bring similar shifts to other organizations, Sternberg said.
“It may lend itself for a brand-new way for non-profits to interact with their constituents,” he said. “I think there are some positives that can come out of all of this.”