When the pandemic first hit, we were struggling to recreate ways to fundraise and provide social services for our patients at the Michigan Chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. With everything moving virtual, we had to rethink the way we operate, and while there has been some trial and error, we have found a lot of success also. Over the summer, we were able to have our virtual walk, and that was wildly successful.
With the virtual aspect, we are able to connect with each other in a new way, and with our organization being a national one, we were also able to virtually reach people beyond our physical location in Southeast Michigan. We also had a virtual camp that took place in July. When you hear camp and the word virtual, you wonder how in the world something like that can happen, but we had almost 150 kids come together for a week of activity. They would normally do this in person, but what I thought was tremendous this year is that the online aspect opened the doors for kids to participate who may never have done so in the past.
Our traditional format was a sleep-away camp, and many kids are afraid to go away from home for the first time, especially when they have a disease like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. It’s tough to be away and out of your normal environment. We were able to give the kids who may be interested in the opportunity to come out and see what camp is about, and the response was great. Everyone involved really seemed to enjoy it.
We also were able to involve parents for the first time — normally, they don’t get to talk to Mom and Dad unless there’s an emergency. Before, we saw it as an opportunity for kids to blossom and grow. This year we had parents attend their own support group and education sessions and created a whole new experience. We hope we can consider keeping some of those components moving forward, even if we return to a full residential camp next year.
In addition to camp, we host education events where patients and caregivers join us in person to hear physicians speak on various topics, visit vendor booths to learn about new products, and much more. We will move these events online, but getting people to log in after sitting at a computer working, and being away from their families is difficult. We’re trying to make these really interactive, fun, and engaging so people will want to come back to their computer after a long day.
Our largest fundraisers are large dinner on both sides of the state — one in Grand Rapids and one in Detroit — and at these dinners, there’s typically drinks, dinner, and entertainment along with silent and live auctions, and raffles. This year we have combined those two dinners into one statewide event, which I think is an interesting concept because we are bringing the entire IBD community together in Michigan.
There will be entertainment from the Gin Blossoms and a local magician, Jasen Magic, who will perform virtually for our donors and attendees. We’ve taken what we feel to be the best formula — we’re providing entertainment, providing mission information, and keeping it short, but impactful. We would much rather be in person and mixing and mingling with our valued volunteers and donors, but this is the best option for many reasons. We’re still able to raise money, and we are giving people a great experience the only way we know how to right now.
Overall, we see this virtual arena as a benefit. We have learned to look at these virtual opportunities like we never would have before. We have never asked somebody to support financially or volunteer with us through a computer before. It felt impersonal because donor interaction and in-person connection are the basics of fundraising — you want to get to know your donor and your constituents, as best as possible through coffee, lunches, or one on one meetings.
Because that’s unsafe, we’ve had to completely change the way we think and move these meaningful conversations to a computer screen. Our mission hasn’t stopped because of the pandemic. Our fundraising and engagement efforts can’t either.
Melissa Greer is the Executive Director of the Michigan Chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. This entry is part of our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector--and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.