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Window of Opportunity

The coronavirus pandemic has made it challenging for nonprofits to reach out to their donor base for the funds they need to meet the impending challenges.

JIM POWERS Current Digital, Social Scene

find food bank indio
BIGHORN Golf Club awards FIND Food Bank a $25,000 grant earlier this month. From left: FIND Food Bank CEO Debbie Espinosa, Kelly Levy, BIGHORN charities & marketing director, FIND Board Chair George Batavik, and special guest Josh Fryday, chief service officer of California for Governor Gavin Newsom.

If there is one valuable lesson that Coachella Valley non-profit organizations have learned since March when the coronavirus pandemic took our way of living and flipped it upside down is this: remember who your audience is.

The pandemic has delivered a one-two punch to a nonprofit: shutting down the service the nonprofit provides, like The Living Desert, and creating financial hardships because in-person fundraisers have had to be canceled and a new, potentially less personal virtual approach has been needed to reach out to prospective donors.

Three experts in the area of fundraising for their nonprofit recently came together to share their stories and tips during Webisode 7 of The Economic Future of the Coachella Valley Webinar Series. The trio included Laura Fritz, Eisenhower Health Foundation; Debbie Espinosa, FIND Foodbank, and Jan Hawkins, The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens.

The nine-part webinar series is a Palm Springs Life event in partnership with the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and SBEMP Attorneys, and sponsored by Timo’s Air Conditioning and Heating.

REGISTER: Webisode 9 on The Future of Economic Diversity, visit You can also view each webisode on the Palm Springs Life YouTube page.

Evans says Eisenhower Health is obviously on the frontlines of the pandemic battle, but that didn’t mean any less effort was spent on their donors to acknowledge their importance to the hospital’s mission. “My advice to other organizations would just be to stick to what's worked, and stick to the donors that you already have and that trust you, and to share the relevance of your nonprofit organization during this time, how it's impacting you and what you're doing about that,” Evans says.

Espinosa noted it was important from the outset to let their audience know what the pandemic meant to the number of people they were serving. “It was important for us to be able to share the amount of change that was happening pre-pandemic when we were serving about 90,000 people, to during pandemic when we were spiking to 190,000 people,” Espinoza says. “And this is every month. So 90,000 every month to 190,000 every month with about eight weeks to prepare for 110 percent increases of the amount of people that we were serving.’

A telethon held just at the onset of the pandemic allowed FIND Food Bank to raise between $120,000 and $200,000, says Espinosa. Communicating the food bank’s story would be critical to raising more dollars going forward. “If you can tell your story so that people can understand exactly where their money is going - and FIND Food Bank has done that for many years now - that trust that they have in us to be able to execute all that, allows them to be able to provide.”

READ NEXT: New Adventures in Fundraising.

Numbers proved to be helpful in creating a visual for prospective donors. “Between 2018 and 2019, we reinforced and distributed about 10 million pounds of food,” Espinosa says. “And that was already a 5 percent to 10 percent increase from 2017. I just ran our numbers for the last 12 months for the same timeframe to 2020, and we're at 16.5 million meals. A lot of that is attributed to the amount that we've done for COVID-19 support because numbers were doubling.”

At The Living Desert, Evans says from the beginning after the attraction had to conduct layoffs and close for a period of time, they hit social media channels with messages from CEO Alan Monroe to share their story and answer questions, such as ‘What if you don’t have enough money to feed the animals?’ “It gave us a forum to address all those questions that people really haven't had to ever think about,” she says. “And so knowing our audience is sitting at home and learning Zoom, it allowed us to do Zoom meetings with our top donors, with small groups.”

The next challenge is finding new ways to continue connecting with their audience in lieu of in-person events. “What events really allow you to do is to share your story,” Evans says. “I am online all the time viewing other zoos and their virtual events, their television events, trying to figure out what works. What can we take from those events and turn that to our advantage? So that if I can't get people here on campus, 500 strong, all having a great time with dinner, how else can we share our story of what The Living Desert does, our conservation, our education of children, and get that across.”

• VIDEO: View Webisode 7 on Nonprofits and Philanthropy.