Staying Home, Staying Connected

Fundraising in a virtual environment

When the United States went into a 2-week quarantine to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in March 2020, everything changed. In the months following, social distancing, working from home, and wearing masks became the norm, and life needed to find a way to go on.

The world adapted to a virtual environment, but some of the hardest hit by this change were nonprofit organizations that relied on in-person contact to encourage donations that support their worthwhile missions.

This was even more challenging for the CHEST Foundation, as our donors work on the front lines of the pandemic.

“It was important for us to not only stay engaged with our donors but also to recognize what those on the front lines are dealing with,” said Angela Perillo, Director, Foundation Development and Operations at CHEST. “Through these events, we wanted to provide some respite from the stresses of their long days.”

The CHEST Foundation is about championing lung health, and there was no greater awareness of the need than now. It was time to get creative.

Viva La Vino

A well-known “secret” is CHEST CEO Bob Musacchio’s love of wine, and he’s not alone in his passion for the grape. Perillo put this knowledge to good use, creating a wine tasting series that took people around the world one bottle at a time.

The online Viva La Vino evening gatherings serve to bring donors together for a night of good wines and good conversation. A benefit to the virtual wine nights is that no one has to travel, but it keeps the group together and keeps the CHEST Foundation at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

CHEST CEO Bob Musacchio hosts a virtual CHEST Foundation wine night to stay engaged with foundation donors.

“I love attending the wine nights. They are so interesting, and I get to see people who don’t live in New York—it’s just great,” said regular participant Ilene (Lenie) Rosen.

The wines are shipped directly to the participants’ homes, and during the online Zoom session, Musacchio guides the tasting by scrolling through a presentation on each wine’s background and what to expect from the taste. As the wines are tasted, the participants have a chance to share their review.

“It’s always enthralling to me how much our members know about wine. It makes for a really fun evening listening to their critiques and even learning a bit myself. These events have provided a great platform to stay engaged with our donors and enjoy an evening at home with company,” said Perillo.

Doubling Down on a Good Cause

As luck would have it, the 2020 Irv Feldman Texas Hold ‘Em tournament took place in person the first weekend of March 2020, right before the pandemic caused nationwide shutdowns. Having just successfully hosted the event, Mitch Feldman didn’t have to reengage with supporters as quickly as he did, but he felt the need to do so.

Mitch Feldman speaks at the 2020 Irv Feldman Texas Hold ‘Em Annual Tournament & Casino Night.

“Getting everyone together to play poker while stuck in their homes felt right to us,” said Mitch Feldman, President of the Feldman Family Foundation. “We first started playing poker with my dad, Irv, when he was confined to his house or confined to his hospital room. Playing poker was the only thing that kept his mind off of his [pulmonary fibrosis] illness, which is why we started the tournaments in his memory. Creating an online platform for our community to stay engaged during unsure times felt very fitting for our foundation.”

Supported by the CHEST Foundation, the Feldman Family Foundation created a series of poker tournaments through an online platform that worked with Zoom to retain the engagement offered by in-person events. To help create the feel of a live event, the Zoom call allows players the opportunity to talk to each other either in the main room or in breakout rooms created for each table.

Poker player and recent winner of one of the tournaments, Kim Coles, started playing professionally during the pandemic and enjoys playing in an online environment.

“I had participated in charity poker tournaments before, but it wasn’t until I joined Poker Power—a group focused on teaching women how to play poker—that I really came to the table ready to compete,” said Coles. “Playing in an online setting is a lot more accessible for a lot of people, especially for women. A traditional poker tournament can be intimidating to a new player, but online has a way of evening the playing field.”

In an online setting, Feldman and Coles both note that buying in is a lot easier and lends itself well to fundraising.

“There is no fumbling around for your wallet or having to swipe your credit card,” said Coles. “It’s just the press of a button, and your credit card is already linked. It’s all going to a good cause, so it makes sense to keep buying in to keep playing.”

Looking into the future, while Feldman said that the virtual events have been successful, there’s nothing like in person. “Through our virtual events, we were able to expand our network of players beyond the Chicagoland area, and these individuals have expressed their interest in attending our live events,” said Feldman. “With this extended network, I am very much looking forward to being able to get together in person again for what I expect be one of our best tournaments to date.”