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Playground fundraising is never easy. In the best of times, it can mean an endless round of bake sales, car washes, 5ks and benefit dinners. In the midst of our COVID pandemic, when these types of gatherings are risky or prohibited, fundraising may seem almost impossible.

The good news is that not only is it possible, in some ways, it may be easier.

Surprised? Don’t be. With so many other events cancelled or on hold, your fundraising efforts will have much less competition. Instead of being one of the dozen other organizations to ask the same people and businesses for support, yours may be the only one.

That doesn’t mean it won’t take work. Besides facing all the usual challenges of organizing, budgeting, recruiting volunteers and engaging the community, going virtual means your group needs to be especially creative.

In this article, we’ll offer some COVID-safe suggestions and ideas for fundraising for your new playground or to improve or rejuvenate an existing one. A few have been used successfully by other organizations. There are literally dozens and dozens of sites listing all sorts of virtual fundraising ideas. Google “virtual fundraising ideas” and thousands of sites are listed. Duplicate ideas abound, for example virtual 5ks have become so popular it’s easy to find step-by-step guides.

Virtual wine tasting fundraisers, on the other hand, are still relatively uncommon and certainly unique. Successful enough, though, that a few companies have begun offering turnkey programs. The Dayton YWCA organized its own “Vine to Online” tasting, announcing a second one even before registration closed for its first!

The key to generating creative ideas at any time, but especially now, is diversity. The more diverse your fundraising committee members are in background, skills and experience, the better and more effective your efforts will be.

At Goric, our experience has shown us that by actively recruiting a diverse committee you’ll involve more members of the community and build a network you can tap for special talents and skills.

If you are just starting on your playground planning journey, we suggest reviewing KABOOM!’s “Build a Playground Toolkit.” It covers all the essentials and is designed, as KABOOM! says, “to walk you through the process of how to create a community-build playspace.”

Grants and Crowdfunding

Before jumping in to your first fundraising project, explore the availability of government and charitable grants. KABOOM! offers a number of grants for a variety of playgrounds and playspaces. PeacefulPlaygrounds.com has a list of companies and organizations providing grants for school playground projects.

Many corporations will also match contributions. Matching may be limited to contributions made by their employees, but often enough they will match fundraising success by approved organizations or for specific programs. You can check individual companies for free at DoubletheDonation.com which also sells access to its list of companies with matching programs.

In addition, seek out crowdfunding for your playground project by listing it on GoFundMe and other similar sites. These sites will take a percentage of what is raised to cover costs, but they are a almost no work way to fundraise.

To prime the pump and help you get started with your virtual fundraising, we put together a few ideas from our Goric creative team and from those that have been successful for other organizations.

Let us know of your success and what other ideas for COVID-safe fundraisers you may have.

The Brick Road

Essentials: This is the traditional brick or tile sponsorships, but handled entirely online. Individuals and businesses “buy” a brick or tile which become part of the hardscape of your park. Many groups offer two or more sponsorship packages allowing sponsors to combine multiple bricks or tiles to allow for a larger message.

Basic: The simplest method is to set up a form on your project webpage and use a payment system like PayPal or GiveSmart to accept money. Of course, you have to promote the program to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Enhancements: A good web designer and artist can make this magical. On a rendition of the project, show where the tiles or bricks will go. As each sponsor completes their order, their tile or brick appears and is placed into the right location.

Variations: In addition to or in combination with the bricks or tiles, sell sponsorships of the project components. A sponsor could opt to fund a slide or swings or even a single swing in a multi-swing set. They get a tile or brick which notes their sponsorship. Sell naming rights to areas of the playground and to the individual equipment.

Virtual Auction

Auctions are a popular fundraising tool. Items and services are donated with the highest bid winning. These are among the easiest fundraisers to take online. They also have the advantage of being familiar; millions of people have made purchases bidding on eBay.

They can be live, silent or a combination of both. Many organizations will host an online silent auction before moving it live. In the days before COVID, auctions would often be held in conjunction with a fundraising event making them even more exciting.

Be creative in planning the event. You might have a theme such as crafts or services or unusual activities like a skydiving lesson or a pilot donating an aerial tour. There are many vendors providing all levels of service. Some, like Better Unite, offer a free, basic platform.

Basic: The cheapest and least complicated method is to host an online silent auction. Display each item with a description and a bid form. When the auction closes, the highest bidder for each item is notified and given a deadline to complete the purchase. If they don’t, the item goes to the next bidder.

Enhancements: Take your auction live. You can do it yourself using text messaging combined with a live item presentation, but it takes a higher level of tech savviness to be successful. Or use an auction vendor to handle all the technical details including payments, while your group focuses on soliciting donations and promoting the event. Frontstream will also list your items on BiddingForGood to broaden your reach.

Variations: Turn this into a gala by conducting the live auction as part of a fundraising virtual dinner. Working with local restaurants and delivery services like Door Dash, participants choose from an event menu. Dinners are delivered just before the start of the event, which, if you can arrange it, is hosted by a local celebrity. Participants can be assigned to “seats,” joining a handful of others for conversation (Zoom rooms, for example) before regrouping for the auction and other live activities.

Home Tours

Chances are you’ve seen these fundraisers advertised or may even have participated in one yourself. They are often built around such themes as a decorator showcase, historic homes, landscaping and holiday decorating, The fundamentals are all the same: Owners volunteer to open their home or garden to individual ticket holders or escorted groups. Guides escort the visitors, providing commentary and answering questions. Realtors use virtual home tours to supplement their online listings and as a replacement for the traditional open house. Local Realtors are your best asset for this program.

Basic: Virtual home tours won’t reproduce the live experience, but they have other advantages. Homeowners may be more willing to participate in a virtual tour versus opening their home to strangers. Instead of committing an afternoon or a day to the fundraiser, filming a tour can be done in far less time. Options include filming each tour in advance complete with commentary; filming in advance with commentary live during the showing, or doing each tour completely live. The latter requires a higher level of technical skills and can be the most challenging. Whichever option your organization decides you’ll need a talented videographer. Check with local Realtors for help and leads. Many wedding photographers also are videographers. Include a Q&A opportunity for each home presentation. Sell tickets in advance with buyers given special access codes. You can also enable day of event sales, using an online payments service.

Enhancements: Build your tour around a theme like kitchen renovations or backyard makeovers and have the contractor responsible for each project explain what they did and how they did it. Charge contractors to sponsor their segment.

Variations: Don’t just think homes. Some companies have spectacular or unique offices or are located in historic buildings not open to the public. Another variation is to offer a virtual tour of a local TV station with a behind-the-scenes look at how a local, live show is produced. Having one of the station celebrities providing the commentary and answering questions makes the event more exciting.

Virtual Classes

One of the more popular experiential ideas is to offer classes. Local artists and chefs (for example) teach participants how to paint or cook, with each person ending up with a creation of their own. These classes can be pre-recorded — just check the many thousands on You Tube. But for fundraising, doing them live is a richer experience and enables participants to ask questions and have the instructor repeat a step if necessary.

Basic: These programs require enough advance planning so participants know to have all the ingredients on hand. You also need effective audiovisual so participants don’t miss the small details. Use a Go-Pro or quality webcam and separate Bluetooth microphone. Get technical help from a videographer. Be sure to do a run-through to make certain of the technical quality and to ensure your volunteer instructor is comfortable and certain of their presentation.

Enhancements: Include delivery of the necessary materials in the ticket price or offer it as a separate add-on. Instead of just one, enlist multiple professionals to volunteer to teach and sell groups of lessons.

Variations: Build programs around a theme: Mexican or Indian or BBQ cooking; pets or landscape painting or textile art. Offer classes for children as well as adults.

Online Games

Bingo has been a fundraising staple for generations. It’s played in social halls, church basements and casino nights, never failing to excite the room whenever someone yells bingo. Now, one of the many fundraising games to be played online, it’s also the simplest for a volunteer group to conduct.

Basics: There are several virtual bingo services. MyFreeBingoCards.com provides both free bingo cards and a virtual bingo game and call service.

Like all other fundraising activities, you need a website or page to explain the game and register participants. Participants can buy as many bingo cards as they want, which can then be sent them to print out or they can be online, if you choose to use a vendor. If you do it yourself, you’ll the proper bingo equipment and a streaming service and a way for winners to call BINGO! Just as for a raffle, you’ll need prizes which can range from cash or cash cards to merchandise and service.

Enhancements: Playing live, in-person with real bingo equipment is much more exciting than a purely computer generated bingo game. Team up with an organization that already has bingo equipment and experience running games to get started quickly. You can also buy or borrow the essentials.

Stephanie and Brandon Zarbo raised $1,200 by selling bingo cards and playing the game live on Facebook. Here they explain how. And here you can see the game being played.

Variations: Besides bingo, video game tournaments are popular. They’ve been online for years, so that much is familiar. Facebook created a gaming site last spring for tournament organizers to manage a tournament. MeepleLeague is a site specifically for board game tournaments such as Scrabble and Monopoly. You can also come up with your own game ideas.