Baton Rouge area nonprofit organizations are in uncharted waters as the coronavirus pandemic has forced fundraiser after fundraiser to be postponed or canceled.

To date, more than 20 galas, parties, performances and other events that had been scheduled for March through early May have been put on hold.

And that has those in charge worried.

For many organizations — whether it's one that works with disabled children or one that raises money to support the symphony — these events generate big dollars.

"Fundraising revenue is critical to the overall operation of nonprofit organizations," said René Taylor, executive director of Family Service of Greater Baton Rouge, which had to postpone its Sapphires 'n' Spurs event, a western-themed night complete with a petting zoo, pony rides, music, dancing and a silent auction that had been scheduled for March 21.

Proceeds from that event help the nonprofit offer a wide range of services to address teen pregnancy, school issues, child abuse or neglect, HIV/AIDS, depression and lots more.

It was "the only source of unrestricted revenue the agency receives to cover costs that many contracts don't cover," Taylor said. 

Anne Hise, executive director of the McMains Children’s Developmental Center, is hoping its Sips & Suds — an evening of food, drinks, live music and party games — will be able to take place on its rescheduled date, Oct. 1.

“The coronavirus is having a big impact on our funding model,” said Hise of the center, an outpatient therapy clinic that serves children with disabilities and developmental delays. “Not only have we had to postpone our biggest fundraiser, but we’re officially shut down, and, because we have no kids here, we’ve lost that revenue stream. We’re going to have to go back to relying on donor funding and grants.”

As bad as things were in the aftermath of the flood of 2016, there were options.

“There was always another place to go, and we got help from organizations and people in other locations,” said Hise. “This is the first time that there’s nowhere to turn for help. We’re in uncharted waters, but we’re all in it together.”

The Emerge Center, which works with autistic children, is counting on an all-clear signal to hold its annual gala on Aug. 22, postponed from the original May 9 date. 

“We’ve suspended all our fundraising — the annual giving campaign, donor solicitation, the capital campaign for our school,” said Shelton Jones, executive director of the Emerge Foundation. “We’re shifting our focus to pursue emergency funding to keep operating.”

Jones said the center needs community support, but added, "what does fundraising look like in this environment? How we fundraise may have to change … philanthropy is critical to Emerge. We’re not feeding people or sheltering people. We’re not on the front lines. But we do such innovative work with the children who need our services, and every day they’re not getting those services, they can slip backwards.”

Arts organizations

For the local arts organizations, canceled fundraisers could be disastrous.

“It’s so important for people to be aware that this can be devastating to smaller arts organizations," said Garland Goodwin Wilson, artistic director of the contemporary dance company Of Moving Colors, which had to postpone Bloom, its March 26 gala. "So many spring fundraisers are instrumental line items in a smaller organization’s budget.”

While the idea of social distancing is a foreign concept for dancers, Wilson said she and her staff are taking notes from others on ways to connect with the public.

“Professionals are offering free classes; organizations are streaming some of the most famous works in history. Lady Gaga is throwing online dance parties. The YouTube video ‘Green Table’ by Kurt Jooss literally demonstrates how this virus is affecting our community,” said Wilson. “Next week, Of Moving Colors will offer short combinations for dancers and non-dancers alike online. In May, we are hoping to publish a new online dance-work for our community.

"Our 2019-2020 season theme is ‘City Bound,’ and we haven’t wavered from our dedication to serving and spotlighting our incredible city," she said.

Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre also had to postpone a major fundraiser, Dancing at the Mansion, which was set for March 20 to Aug. 28.

“As you can imagine, especially with the additional costs we are already facing caused by the closing of the River Center Theater for renovations, these deficits will have to be met by cutting back on some programs unless additional funding can be found,” said Molly Buchmann, co-artistic director. "These cuts will impact our outreach programs as well as our day-to-day operations.”

She’s also worried about the emotional toll the cancellations and postponements are having on the staff and volunteers who have devoted untold hours to put on the fundraisers.

“We have the most wonderful volunteers and staff who have worked tirelessly over the last few months to make Dancing at the Mansion a successful event,” said Buchmann. “This was going to be an event to top any BRBT has ever done.

“Even more troubling is the impact this is having on our city's artists and, in our case, our dancers,” she continued. “We had planned an amazing concert celebrating women and the women's suffrage centennial for early May, and it doesn't look like that will happen. We commissioned several choreographers to create moving and meaningful new works for this event and were so excited to present these to the public. We’ll all get through this, but like everyone in similar shoes, our hearts are a little broken.”

The Baton Rouge Symphony League each year stages its Mad Hatter's Luncheon, where hundreds of women don their finest, big hats and all, to raise money for the symphony.

Originally set for March 19, the event was rescheduled to May 5, but under new guidelines issued this week, it looks like that date may not hold up either.

“There are so many moving pieces that have to align to make Mad Hatter’s happen,” said Chairwoman Charlotte Smith. “We’re still undecided what we’re going to do, but I suspect we’ll cancel for this year and hold a bigger, better Mad Hatter’s next spring. We may take the silent auction online, as well as the raffles.

“Regardless, we’ll make some kind of donation to the symphony,” she added. “It just won’t be as much as we’d like.”

If you bought a ticket to any of these events or are a sponsor, Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge Executive Director Renée Chatelain has a great idea: Instead of getting your money back, let your ticket be a donation.

“The arts speak to who we are as a city,” said Chatelain. "Spring is high festival season here in south Louisiana, and many of the artists who show and sell their pieces as well as the musicians who play at them are now out of a job."

To help mitigate some of the repercussions, the Arts Council is working with the office of Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Baton Rouge Area Foundation to provide resources for the arts community.

“I’ve been on the phone all week with the National Association of Arts Councils and state groups to see how they’re handling things,” said Chatelain. “We’re going to have to think differently — look at national grants and funding.”

The Arts Council, which has had to postpone the Ebb & Flow Festival scheduled for April 4-5, wants to offer online arts education for youngsters, and is putting the 100 entries in its Art Flow competition, part of the festival, online so the people can vote for their favorites.

“There’s cash prizes on the line, and it’s a fun way to stay involved,” said Chatelain, adding that the Arts Council will soon be sending out a survey to determine the immediate needs of its members, followed by an impact survey in the coming months.

“We really want to keep the arts and culture in the forefront,” she said.

Capital Area United Way is also conducting surveys of its member agencies.

“We’re in the information-gathering phase right now,” said CEO George Bell. “We’re having discussions internally on ways to help our funded partners — advancing some payments, relaxing some of the requirements that come attached to the grants … We’re continuing to direct people to call 211 for current updates on the coronavirus and community resources that are available.”

Aside from CAUW and the Arts Council, BRAF is taking action. As it did in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill and the flood of 2016, the foundation has activated its emergency relief fund and is accepting online donations at braf.org.

“We anticipate the greatest need during this pandemic will be feeding and caring for older people who can’t leave their homes during the virus outbreak or are quarantined because of it,” said BRAF President John G. Davies in a news release. “At the same time, the fund is flexible enough to pay for unexpected needs that arise during this public health emergency.”

"No one knows when we all start up again,” said Jones, of the Emerge Foundation. “I’m very optimistic that the support will come back. It may be paused, but the need for our work is never over. … Our community values its nonprofits.”

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Email Pam Bordelon at pbordelon@theadvocate.com.