Domestic violence programs impacted as pandemic cancels fundraising events

The financial strain on families can exacerbate domestic violence.

Credit: PXFuel

Credit: PXFuel

The financial strain on families can exacerbate domestic violence.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage Georgia, forcing event cancelations and venue closures, domestic violence programs that depend on fundraisers are seeing their operating budgets impacted.

“Programs are doing the best they can,” said Jan Christiansen, executive director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. According to Christiansen, many domestic violence outreach programs that work directly with victims depend on fundraisers to make their work possible.

Promise Place Director Vanessa Wilkins said the pandemic has forced her organization to adapt to a new fundraising landscape. The Fayette County-based organization provides victims of domestic violence with emergency shelter, legal advocacy, crisis counseling and financial assistance.

Wilkins said 54% of the operating budget for Promise Place comes from fundraisers. In spring, Promise Place normally would have hosted a comedy show to raise funds for its programming. In September, the organization usually holds a gala for its donors.

But this year, the risk of spreading COVID-19 forced officials to cancel both events, Wilkins said.

Like thousands of other organizations, Promise Place encountered an unforeseen need for more personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies when the pandemic hit, Wilkins said. Materials like headsets and computers for employees transitioning to telework became another assumed cost shortly after.

Then came an overwhelming need for additional beds. The risk of COVID-19 tearing through a shelter and exposing its residence forced organizations to implement new, stricter housing protocols. For Promise Place, it cut their normal in-house capacity in half, Wilkins said.

“This year compared to last year, the need for housing that we’ve seen has increased by 25%,” she said.

To meet the housing need, Promise Place turned to alternative housing measures paid for by a private grant. Wilkins did not specify what sort of housing Promise Place is using in order to protect the anonymity of the people using their services.

It’s one of the few costs that the organization has been able to address through a grant in recent months.

“Private foundations are shifting to COVID relief, but the needs that we had before the pandemic are still there,” Wilkins said.

With two events already canceled and a major portion of the organization’s programming budget on the line, Promise Place leaders fought to stay afloat.

“We scrambled to plan a virtual fundraiser,” Wilkins said. “We said, ‘OK, we have to do something. Having something is better than having nothing at all.’”

The organization hosted its 16th Annual 5K Run and 1 Mile Walk to End Domestic Violence, but took it online. And, Wilkins said, that allowed them to take it everywhere.

According to Wilkins, the organization saw participation from people across 26 states and four countries. Overall, the event raised 30% more than the previous year’s run, Wilkins said.

“A lot of the success came from local community sponsors and local people joining in,” she said.

Wilkins views it as a small victory. She said despite the event’s success, there’s still much to be done to recover from the loss of two major fundraisers.

“We are trying to catch up and meet the shortfall that we had,” she said. “We are just halfway through our fiscal year and we still have a long way to go to do that.”

With Christmas approaching, Wilkins expressed concern about only a “trickle of funding coming in.” She’s hopeful that future events and donations will help the shelter’s programming budget to remain intact.

“I think it helps to have people know about the need for funding, and having people aware that this is something we need,” Wilkins said. “Because the alternative is something that we don’t want to think about. It’s no safe place for women to go to at all.”