“It was deliberate. It was strategic. And it was out loud,” recalls Caruso.
While most nonprofits don’t necessarily love to think of one another as the enemy, there is no denying that competition for donations is a real thing. But when COVID struck, Pelham “Together” took on a whole new meaning.
Caruso was approached by two friends and nonprofit advocates, Kara McLoughlin and Louise Kelly.
“Most of our Pelham nonprofits were canceling their spring events, and they had no way to fundraise,” says McLoughlin.
The duo’s answer to the donation standstill was an event that brought would-be competitors to the same side: Pelham CouchFest.
This was to be a concert that would be live-streamed on YouTube, benefiting eight Pelham nonprofits. Each organization would get a chance throughout the night to share its mission and make a donation ask.
“You have to take a risk; do something you’ve never done before. You have to ask what your community can handle right now,” reflects Caruso. While a bit overwhelmed at the scope of this novel undertaking, she was ready to lead the way.
Pelham Together was responsible for hosting the event via a website and donation platform. Organizers were adamant that donations should be streamlined for the audience. People should not have to go to eight separate nonprofit websites to give.
“We needed an organization that was established enough and had an online platform like Click & Pledge that integrates with Salesforce,” says Caruso.
So, Pelham Together created a website for the event and used a Click & Pledge CONNECT donation form through which the audience could give throughout the live-stream.
The CONNECT form provided important customization options to ensure the process was seamless and fair to all involved. Pelham Together was able to indicate on the form to donors that their gift would be split evenly among each nonprofit they selected. They could select just one nonprofit, or up to all eight of them.
Another CONNECT custom question gave donors the option to cover their donation’s processing fee, which was met with widespread acceptance.
“Covering processing fees is an easy task, especially when you’re already in the spirit of helping the nonprofits out, but it really adds up on the back end,” says Caruso.
The CouchFest host also took the time prior to the concert’s start to go over each section of the donation form with the audience. It was a step that took only a couple of minutes, but it went a long way. Caruso says they received lots of feedback about how easy it was to donate, and how helpful it was that they proactively answered potential questions before they arose or developed into full-blown confusion.
The event raised more than $70,000 for the eight nonprofits, with $12,000 of that going to Pelham Together.
“It was a light in the midst of a lot of darkness, how this community came together,” says Caruso.
This one concert was able to replace nearly all the lost donations from the canceled spring fundraising events.
Check out the entire Pelham CouchFest below. Note the donation form explanation around the 14:00 mark.
These days are full of unknowns for nonprofits everywhere, especially as year-end giving gets closer. It’s been a year full of pivoting, with no end in sight to this new way of operating.
Caruso says although she will be right alongside everyone else in trying to navigate unchartered waters, her advice post CouchFest is this:
“This is a time to see beyond just your mission. Be authentic in your relationships.”
There are a lot of firsts right now, many of them negative. But for Pelham Together, CouchFest brought an unprecedented sense of teamwork among the community’s nonprofits. It was a risk, one that paid off both in function and fundraising.
And if there ever was a time to stick together, it is now.