Rethinking the Annual Fundraiser: How Safe Harbor of Chester County Successfully Traded Suits/Gowns for Shorts/Loafers

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Safe Harbor Cornhole for Charity
Image via Safe Harbor.
Safe Harbor reimagined its yearly fundraiser in light of COVID-19 restrictions, coming up with something innovative, fun, and safe. The nonprofit recommends business leaders rethink their corporate events in a similar light.

Not that the annual Safe Harbor, Chester County, Spring Gala wasn’t an enjoyable event.

It certainly was elegant: Held at an upscale golf location; attendees in suits and gowns; butlered hors d’oeuvres and sit-down cuisine; speeches, auctions, and polite applause.

But as it did with countless fundraising traditions in 2021, COVID-19 sidetracked it. Safe Harbor’s leadership decided collectively that it could not hold its banquet and still ensure the safety of attendees.

Its associated annual auction was easier to address. There was no thought to cancelling this springtime appeal it had to go virtual, given that more than 80 percent of the organizational operating budget comes from supporters of these kinds of events.

Auction bids and payments were simply transitioned to online, with winners safely picking up their items afterward.

But what to do with the gala?

Safe Harbor’s Development Director, David James, came up with a nugget of an idea: Take the event outdoors, where social distancing was more practical and the scale of the event could be adjusted with the ever-changing state COVID sanctions and rules on gatherings.

So, rather than a sit-down dinner, how about something more casual? Maybe a little less formal. Maybe a little more… fun.

What resulted was Safe Harbor’s inaugural Cornhole for Charity Fundraiser. Out went the suits and dresses. In came the boards and beanbags.

The 2021 edition was so well received that event sponsors asked if it could permanently replace its predecessor event.

Safe Harbor’s leadership was so pleased with the reception, and the donation results, therefore, declared it its newest fundraiser tradition.

Safe Harbor Director of Development David James commented on the swap: “It was really a great alternative. We were somewhat backed into a corner with all of the COVID restrictions and not able to plan a traditional, indoor event. But once we started fleshing out the idea, its appeal grew and grew.”

“Business leaders pride themselves on thinking strategically and having the agility to change tactics, sometimes on the fly. But when compelled to do so, as we were by COVID-19, that “traditional” entrenchment can kick in.

“It’s the notion that We’ve always done things this way. Or We’ve never done that; won’t people think it’s odd and will it work? Will we still be able raise money?

“We discovered that no, it’s not odd. It’s refreshing and invigorating. It fit perfectly within our calling to use creative measures when needed to advocate on behalf of the homeless in Chester County.

“I’m glad we are moving forward into 2022 with this,” James concluded. “It’s what our internal team and sponsors wanted, and it benefits the residents we are so committed to serving.”

“I encourage other business leaders to look at those sacred cows. COVID-19 is the perfect setting to set them aside, bring some freshness to your organization, and be the business leader that fits the corporate title you own.”

Safe Harbor could not have succeeded in this endeavor without its Cornhole for Charity sponsors. The organization gratefully acknowledges their input and encouragement:

  • Presenting Sponsor
    • Ms. Pat Loew
  • Gold Sponsors
    • Denny & Michele Howard
    • Joe and Jaimee Kaufmann
  • Silver Sponsors
    • AccessLex
    • Curt and Kerry Nelson
    • Bob, Marilyn, and the Parsons Family
    • Fran & Franny Abbott
  • Scoreboard Sponsor
    • Willow Tree Mental Health
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