‘We Are Still Here’

Nonprofits adapt during pandemic with virtual events and services, PPP loans, and ingenuity.

In the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, nonprofits have provided a lifeline to Alexandrians across the city. The economic upheaval has created a surge in clients even as organizations are upended from their normal routines.

Yet as the disruption to the nonprofit sector continues, organizations have pivoted, navigating social distancing guidelines and altered fundraising tactics to keep revenue flowing while providing critical services to the community. The leaders of several organizations shared the ways they have coped with the changes.

Shannon Steene, Executive Director, Carpenter’s Shelter:

“The pandemic has been one lesson after another in contingency planning, in trying to figure out how to deliver on a mission when our classic ways of operating can’t happen. The social distance requirement has been the biggest challenge for us – figuring out how to provide shelter without putting anyone’s health at risk. In addition, for the first time in our history we did not have volunteers in the shelter. Still, we have seen some amazing innovations and resilience from this community.

“Our signature fundraiser is typically one where we gather 450-500 people in a tight space – the antitheses of social distancing. We did a virtual fundraiser in the fall. It did not raise what the classic fundraiser would have but it did fairly well. I think people responded to the mission – it wasn’t about the actual experience, it was about a service that they want to see continue. Staff did many things that were outside of their usual duties but they got it done because someone had to. I feel like I have the best seat in the house to see this community’s generosity and I wish others could see what we can do when we band together.”

Stella Hanly, Executive Director, Animal Welfare League of Alexandria:

“I think the biggest challenge for us was to figure out how to still offer all the services that we provide but do it safely for our staff and our customers. We figured out how to do virtual adoptions, and surrenders are now by appointment only. Our community programs department, which provides services to those who want to keep their animals but are going through some sort of hardship, has grown exponentially because of Covid. Since March we have provided 13,000 pounds of food and supplies to community members, allowing them to keep their animals at home. While it wasn’t something we really thought of before, offering more virtual options has proved to be pretty good so we will continue to offer a virtual component. Because of the nature of our business, we cannot work from home so I am very grateful to have staff who have continued to show up during this challenging time and to our loyal supporters that have allowed us to continue to offer our services without slowing down.”

Mary Lee Anderson, Executive Director, Senior Services of Alexandria:

“Our client base has more than doubled since March, so we are delivering meals to a whole lot more people with a lot fewer volunteers. Fortunately, we have a mobile app that was put in place a couple of years ago that has helped get us through this and provide a much higher level of service than we would have been able to do otherwise. We did have to cancel our gala last year but our sponsors and people who bought tickets let us treat the money as donations so that helped us get through the first few months of the pandemic. We have been active in securing PPP loans and are constantly looking for new ways of getting support from the community. People know the work that we do, so it isn’t difficult to justify our need for additional funds. Virtual fundraising is different but it has been successful. We had a very good Oktoberfest and are now planning our virtual gala for March 13. In addition to Gene Steuerle, Barbara Anderson and Bill Euille, we will also be honoring Kate Garvey and DCHS for the work they have done in the community. I don’t think Alexandria would have responded nearly as effectively to the pandemic without Kate’s leadership.

Cele Garrett, Executive Director, At Home in Alexandria:

“A lot of the help that we provide is inside the home so we have had to put that on pause. Tech support is now done by phone and moving furniture or heavy boxes will only be done if we can get in and out of the home quickly. Errand running is even stronger during the pandemic and we never stopped giving rides to medical appointments. We have not done a virtual fundraiser to replace our usual fundraiser since our volunteers are so busy helping our members that we can’t pull them away to do a virtual fundraiser. Nonprofits like AHA are less publicly visible in the community right now but we are busier than ever. I think that speaks for all nonprofits. You might not see it but everyone is working harder this year. There is always a place for a true fundraiser whether it's virtual or in person but don’t kid yourself – a virtual fundraiser is just as labor intensive as an in-person fundraiser – it’s just different.”

Candace Beane, Jennifer Kilmer, The Twig, Junior Auxiliary of Inova Alexandria Hospital:

“We decided to be fundraising neutral this year and do what we can to cover our expenses. Our biggest goal was to keep our membership engaged and committed so we continued to have our monthly meetings on Zoom with some outdoor opportunities to meet and social distance. We used this opportunity to look at our overall organization and see where there are opportunities to tackle some things that we haven’t had time for before – in essence, doing some housekeeping. We did have to scale back hours at the shop and set up donations by appointment. Our two big fundraisers are The Twig shop and our homes tour. We had to cancel the tour but will be back in September and the shop will be open in the limited hours as we are able. We launched a new fundraising campaign called Together We Ignite Giving, which is aimed at local business, corporations and individuals. That has been good so far and we are excited about that.”

Tammy Mann, President and CEO, Campagna Center:

“We are a direct service organization so everything we do involves having to work directly with children and families in person. The largest challenge is pivoting and trying to find ways to continue our services. Some families cannot work from home and so making certain our services are accessible is a priority. We are one of the ACPS Virtual Plus partners and provide tutoring for students who need to access in-person learning. Our New Neighbors program has been completely online this past semester and we had almost 70 students being supported through virtual English language learning classes. Getting parents more acclimated to technology, getting staff more acclimated to technology – it’s been a swift learning curve for us. Fundraising looks very different. We did not have the Scottish Walk this year, which generates over $250,000 for us. We did a virtual Oktoberfest that was fairly successful but that’s been the only virtual fundraising we have done. It would have been a very different reality for us had we not been able to secure a PPP loan to get us through the early months of the pandemic. But we are still here and proud to be doing the work that we are doing in the community.”

Jan Buchanan, Executive Director, Mount Vernon at Home:

“The pandemic was a sucker punch that caught the world off guard. But when the world closed down, area villages opened wider because staying home suddenly became the safest place to be. Pre-pandemic, our village was a thriving center of activity, hosting in-person events and gatherings each week and providing transportation to medical appointments, grocery stores and more every day. All of that came to a halt. We quickly pivoted, taking our activities online using Zoom and setting up a grocery shopping and delivery service using volunteers who were able to get out. Now, more than 10 months in, MVAH has increased its participation in online events almost two-fold. The hard work to ramp up and quickly adapt has paid off. Our annual fundraising event became an online event that was a resounding success, raising nearly as much as the in-person events in years past with much less cost. Seniors have shown their strength and resilience in the face of this pandemic. They have adapted brilliantly and shifted to a new world of technology. And villages like Mount Vernon At Home have demonstrated the vital role these organizations play in helping people thrive in the community.”