Many local nonprofits depend on large signature events to raise a significant portion of the money they need.
However, large events are currently not safe—and won’t be until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, likely many months or even several years from now.
So what can nonprofits do in the meantime? The Desert AIDS Project hopes to get some answers to this question at 7 p.m., Friday, June 19, when the virtual event Voices of Hope takes place.
The free, online show is hosted by Scott Nevins, and will feature appearances and performances by Kristin Chenoweth, Betty Buckley, Ann Hampton Callaway, Erich Bergen, Matthew Morrison and others. Interested attendees can go to www.desertaidsproject.org/hope to register–and, if they so choose, donate. Registrants will then get sent details on how to “attend” the online event at home via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
I recently spoke to Darrell Tucci, DAP’s chief development officer. (Full disclosure: The Independent is one of DAP’s media partners, and Tucci is a good friend of mine.) He said the hour-long event—which was originally scheduled on June 5, but delayed in acknowledgement of the Black Lives Matter protests—will serve as a fun time, a fundraiser and a test run for future virtual events.
Tell me a little bit about the idea for Voices of Hope.
The original idea was to do a virtual event. We weren’t quite sure what it would look like, but we wanted to accomplish a few things. The valley, like everywhere else, is hurting. We have even higher unemployment than the rest of the country due to being a resort area. We wanted to put on an event that would hopefully lift the spirits of the people around us, which is why it’s free to register. At the same time, we can (offer) people who are (financially able) an opportunity to consider funding our work in addressing COVID in the valley.
Can you recap what DAP has done since the crisis hit?
For 37 years, DAP has been on the front lines of addressing the HIV and AIDS pandemic—so we have had 37 years of lessons learned. You take that, combined with the fact that we have some of the best infectious-disease professionals and medical providers in the state, if not the country, and it was a very quick decision on behalf of the medical team and the leadership to move forward and open a COVID-19 triage clinic that would not only be able to test … but also fully triage patients, including flu tests and strep tests and a full health examination so that, if they were symptomatic, and COVID wasn’t the reason, we also could properly treat them for whatever else may be ailing them. We were also prepared to provide respiratory therapy as needed if someone was in a severe situation, until we can get them into a hospital.
From there, we then started having conversations with our longer-term clients, most of whom are 65 and older, and living with fragile immune systems, who couldn’t leave the house. (Some are) also low-income; they can’t afford things like Instacart to get groceries. So we started providing nutrition and essential packages of toiletries and packaged goods, delivered to their doors across the valley.
Realizing that it might be quite a while before our most-fragile folks could come out to see a doctor in person, needing a continuum of care, we implemented telehealth, so folks could get primary care and specialty care from the comfort of their home with our M.D.s and other medical professionals. Obviously, in the height of this crisis, health care, mental-health care and behavioral-health care are all key and important. So telemedicine was also implemented for that, as well as teledentistry.
Most recently, knowing the high rates of unemployment, we implemented what we call “One Call.” DAP is opening its doors to literally everyone—as we have been, but we are making it clearer—and then giving people one number that can be connected to an insurer, as well as to a doctor on our campus for their first scheduled appointment. If they need behavioral health care, they can be connected to that, too. Within an hour or so on the phone with our staff, the person who has never been in our care before could be connected to a government funding source or an insurer, have their appointments scheduled, and be ready to be brought into care.
What kind of financial challenges has the pandemic created for DAP?
The biggest were the mandated shutdowns of (our Revivals stores) and (our) dental (clinic). Obviously, we understand and we agree with the shut-down, but the loss of revenue from the retail business and the dental business caused an immediate financial crisis, alongside the immediate decrease in patient volumes when this started, because people were afraid to leave the house.
The implementation of the COVID clinic has cost about a half-million dollars … over about a three-month window. So our finances, like many others’ in the world, were turned upside-down. Fortunately, they are now in the middle of correcting themselves. The donors in this community have stepped up in big ways. Some foundations have stepped up in nice ways. Some government agencies have come through. As a Federally Qualified Health Center, we have gotten some money through the CARES Act. But we’re not out of the woods financially at all yet. We have a road ahead that’ll be challenging, but we also know that we are on a much better path than we were a month ago. … Also, Revivals has now reopened for retail sales. We’re thrilled to have our employees back off of layoffs and back off of furloughs and having them re-employed and part of the family again.
DAP knows how to put on events, but what has the learning curve been like to do a virtual event like Voices of Hope?
The learning curve was interesting. Part of it was learning what content we believe that people would want to tune in to—and what does that look like compared to an in-person event? We’ve already learned that when people have to look at a 12-inch iPad or even their television using YouTube, what they want to see is different than if they’re in-person. We started watching a lot of the organizations that (have already done) virtual events. We took some notes about what we thought was great and what we heard from others.
We talked to some of those other organizations about what technology they deployed, which was the other part of the learning curve. We’ve never needed to own software that allowed us to broadcast on three to five different social-media channels at the same time. So being able to shop those, learn which ones are better than others, and which ones would fit us best took some learning. Obviously, we will know after Friday how we did, when people tell us if we got the content piece right. On the tech side, we’re confident that we’ve got it moving in the right direction.
I’m also very grateful that most of the technology we needed is not terribly expensive. Friday night’s event was done on a very small budget, so almost everything we’ve raised will go right to our programmatic services.
Before the pandemic, had you ever thought of doing virtual events?
For DAP, it is only something we’ve truly considered, for fundraising purposes, since the reality of the pandemic set in. In my prior roles, before coming to the desert—where I worked for national organizations—we had contemplated them, because we had donors in every corner of the country, but we never got them off the ground. I’ve been here seven-plus years, and the technology really didn’t exist 10 or 12 years ago to do that well.
I’m hoping people will truly enjoy Voices of Hope. That’s my No. 1 goal. We’re living through difficult, dark times, and this will be a wonderful way, while giving a gift to the community, to build our skills and build our knowledge so that if we need to make our other events that are in our normal season virtual in some ways, we’ll have taken great strides in knowing what it’s going to take to make them happen successfully.
Are you looking at other possible virtual events if Voices of Hope goes well?
I am open to other virtual events. I don’t know necessarily that I want to produce 20 of them—but I do think the whole world needs to look at (regular, in-person) events in general. Events are labor-intensive, right? I think it makes sense to have them, because they bring people together, and there’s good mission-awareness-building around them, but at the same time, they’re labor-intensive, and they can get expensive in a hurry. So it’s really the right moment for all of us (in fundraising) to look at how we raise our money in the most cost-effective way possible. Adding other virtual events may be a great way of looking at things, and I don’t think people should assume that you should take your current in-person event and attempt to make it virtual. The right answer might be to build the proper virtual event and let go of what was the in-person event.
Do you think it’s possible that we could see a day when virtual events net as much in terms of revenue for a nonprofit as some of the big in-person events?
Anything is possible, but the answer to that lies with the donors and the community that supports any organization. The donors have to decide that is what they want, and what they’re willing to give their money to. Development professionals for hundreds of years have stepped up to the plate to raise money and do what is culturally competent in each market, for each organization. So if donors in any community are willing to write the checks for virtual events, then yeah. I wouldn’t say in an ideal world that one would replace all in-person events with virtual ones, because then you kind of lose the sense of community and togetherness. But more events could be done in that way, more cost-effectively. There’s a big question mark there—not just for the development professional, but for the philanthropists themselves.
Tell me a little bit about Voices of Hope and how it came together so quickly. Kristin Chenoweth, Matthew Morrison, Erich Bergen, Ann Hampton Callaway—these are some pretty big names.
Well, almost all of the credit for that goes to one person. The one part of the entertainment that was secured by DAP is Kristin Chenoweth. As a past honoree and this past year’s Steve Chase (Humanitarian Awards) headliner, she graciously agreed immediately. Then we called a friend of DAP, Scott Nevins, who’s a wonderful guy. Many people may know him from his podcast and TV work; we asked him if he’d help us. We knew he had lots of friends who are amazingly talented, and he immediately agreed. He got on the phone, and every other name on that list was secured by Scott. Every person on that list has generously donated their time, as has Scott. We couldn’t be more grateful. He really has done heroic work on our behalf.
For more information or to register for Voices of Hope, visit www.desertaidsproject.org/hope.