I work for the Michigan chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation located in Farmington Hills. The National Foundation is just over 50 years old, and our local Chapter was founded about 40 years ago. We’re one of the largest chapters in the Foundation, and we’re proud of the work we’re doing. We fund research to find cures and therapies for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
And in the meantime, we are trying to improve the quality of life of our patients, whether that’s through advocacy, educational resources, support groups and more. One of our best support programs is Camp Oasis, a residential camp for children ages seven to 17 that is held annually in July. We are not government supported, so we are strictly reliant on donations.
Primarily, our funding comes from two sources — major gifts and event-based fundraisers, which are primarily held in person. We have fundraising walks, special events that take place throughout the year, such as dinners and luncheons, and we are proud to host a flag football tournament at Ford Field.
Annually, we host a plethora of different fundraising events but due to the Covid pandemic, many of our events have had to change formats. We rely on donors to give substantial gifts to support research programs or our camp, but some of that is on hold. As a result, we have been operating a significant deficit.
When the pandemic first hit, our primary concern was the health and safety of our patients. We reached out to our constituents, whether that’s patients, caregivers or donors just to check on their health, safety and their well-being. Through that, we learned about new needs our patients had in the face of COVID. Our patients are constantly worried about their health, and this brand-new pandemic offers a whole new set of issues and worries for them.
We were learning early on that people with a suppressed immune system are at very high risk, and most medications for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis suppress an immune system. Our patients are worried about taking their medications and receiving treatments because of that. People didn’t want to leave their home, and in many cases they needed to do that to get the proper care.
We took a step back, and we created a whole new set of resources for our patients. We opened up a COVID-related website strictly dedicated to IBD and the impact that COVID has on it. It addresses questions about going back to work, what you can do on what medications, and the different questions our patients are asking on a daily basis.
Now, we need to work to support these programs and fund the critical research that we need to continue doing. We had to find creative ways to bring in funding. Even if we were allowed to be in person, our first priority is our patients, and we can’t safely gather.
Our large events, like our walk, were recreated into a virtual format, and we connected our local teams with national ones through social media. It presented a new opportunity to bring people together across the country to celebrate our work, which we wouldn’t have done before the pandemic. We also have a virtual camp this year for kids, and while it’s not the same, they still get a chance to be together through Zoom and still get to do some of the activities and create friendships.
Being virtual has opened a door to learn about Camp Oasis for kids that weren’t comfortable being away from home yet. We have also created virtual opportunities for support groups to come together, and we’ve had an increase of requests for support. This creates new avenues for us to operate and bring in new people.
While we’re struggling, I think it’s important for nonprofits to be positive and look for the opportunities in every possible way. This pandemic has provided us with opportunities that we can look to for the future on ways we can expand our networks.
Melissa Greer is the Executive Director of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, Michigan Chapter . Stay tuned for her next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how COVID-19 is impacting the nonprofit sector–and how they are innovating. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.