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Don't look now, but we're coming up on the first of two annual fund-raising seasons.

Veteran nonprofit promoters know there are only two really good times of the year to put on a gala, dinner or whatever you do to raise money. That is, two seasons for fund-raising events — there's no time when people aren't flat out asking for money with direct appeals anymore.

This is the spring season, when most everyone is home, at least during normal times. As long as you work around your area's school spring breaks, chances are good you'll have a good audience pool now.

The other season is school dependent too. That's after school starts in the fall, but before the holidays begin — it used to be Thanksgiving, but is pushing forward to Halloween these days. (Silent auctions do well in this window — Christmas gifts, you know.)

But, like so many other things, fundraising isn't the same since COVID-19 arrived on the scene. Many charities (like many businesses) were caught kind of flat-footed last year when the government decided to shut things down to slow the spread of the disease. Multiple events were canceled, with nothing but personal donations to replace them. It hurt.

I've said before that I'm a fan of giving donors something in exchange for their support — even if it's rubber chicken. A good gala is a chance to get out, show off your fancy clothes, listen to some music, eat some appetizers and see friends. It also happens to be a great opportunity to gently part people and their money — opportunity drawings, silent and live auctions, straight out guilt trip direct asks — and most of the attendees know what they're in for.

Sadly, despite the great news that we've apparently turned the corner with vaccines to protect us from COVID-19, we're not quite ready to go back to those free-wheeling days. A 25%-capacity crowd means you've lost 3/4 of your potential donors (I can do that modern math thing). And it's more than a little difficult to set up a silent auction with six feet between each item.

So we're going virtual. Again.

I was a participant in a virtual fundraiser last year. It was a great cause (Precious Lamb Preschool), and I knew I was going to be donating some money. But an online silent auction is not exactly exciting — at least for those of us who don't spend their paychecks playing online poker. The stories of need and of success were as heartstring-tugging as always, but the lack of a roomful of sympathetic friends took something away.

What it didn't take away was the need. That's one thing 99% of these virtual fundraisers have in common — the nonprofits can't really afford to give up another year of fund-raising revenue.

So make sure your internet speed is up to snuff and your freezer is full of those little shrimp. Two more of my favorites — WomenShelter and Goodwill SOLAC — will be doing their level best to impress you online in the next six weeks or so (WomenShelter March 24, Goodwill April 14). There's sure to be more out there; check our For A Good Cause feature online, and in print when space allows.

Check out the auctions in advance, and listen to their stories beamed into the comfort of your own home. And get the debit or credit card ready — the internet doesn't take cash, you know.

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Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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