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Sonoma County nonprofits look to Giving Tuesday for much needed financial boost amid pandemic

Giving Tuesday ― the annual post-Thanksgiving effort to encourage charitable donations worldwide ― has taken on greater significance this year for many Sonoma County nonprofits.

With contributions down considerably due to the economic fallout wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, local nonprofits are launching online campaigns Tuesday to remind donors their support is even more critical now as more people are struggling.

“The reason (Giving Tuesday) is so important this year is that given the pandemic, we don’t have the ability to fundraise in the traditional way in-person,” said Madeleine Keegan O'Connell, chief executive of YWCA Sonoma County. “Added to that, the YWCA is seeing greater need among the families in our care.”

O'Connell said domestic violence incidents have increased during the pandemic as people are forced to spend more time at home. That’s increased demand for the YWCA’s domestic violence support services and its women’s shelter. The organization also runs a therapeutic preschool for children that have experienced trauma.

Raising money for those programs has been complicated by the fact that in-person fundraising events and presentations have been canceled since the spring.

Katelyn Willoughby, marketing and communications director for the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership, which supports North Bay nonprofits, said many charitable organizations have pivoted to online events to collect donations, with varying levels of success.

According to a May Gallup poll, 73% percent of U.S. adults said they had donated money in the past year, down from over 80% in recent years and surpassing a prior low during the Great Recession.

Willoughby said organizations are turning to Giving Tuesday to “break through the clutter and engage people and donors,” through social media and by partnering with local companies for contribution-matching campaigns.

Redwood Empire Food Bank, which now serves over 30,000 households a month ― more than double the amount since before the pandemic ― has launched a campaign with the Graton Resort & Casino to match donations up to $50,000 in total.

"(Disasters) are the great equalizer and what comes out of that equalization is empathy,“ David Goodman, chief executive of the food bank, said in an email. ”People end up helping people because they can see themselves reflected in the experience of others."

The Community Child Care Council of Sonoma County, known as Sonoma 4Cs, is raising money through Facebook, which is waiving fees for donations made using the platform. The social media giant is also matching $7 million in total donations made to qualifying nonprofits.

Tiffani Montgomery, 4Cs Sonoma community relations director, said that with contributions in decline this year, it’s necessary to make clear to donors how the nonprofit serves local communities through its child care programs. For Giving Tuesday, Montgomery created a social media video featuring 4Cs Sonoma Executive Director Melanie Dodson to help make that case.

“People are giving to a mission that they believe in, rather than giving in general,” Montgomery said.

Collette Michaud, chief executive of the Children's Museum of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, said the educational center is launching its Giving Tuesday campaign in hopes of raising money for personal protective equipment and other supplies for when it eventually can reopen next year.

“We want people to know that we’re here despite being closed,” Michaud said. “There’s a lot of little things that need to happen before we can open again.”

O'Connell of the YWCA said Giving Tuesday is a chance for Sonoma County residents to make a difference in the lives of those struggling most in the pandemic.

“We need the support of our community now more than ever,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian

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