Nonprofits adjust to COVID, hope for a return to ‘normal’

Participants in the STARS Mountain Challenge celebrate at a past event. The fundraiser for the Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports is a huge fundraiser and helps the organization provide services to people living with disabilities. (Photo courtesy of STARS)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Events are a fundraising lifeline for area nonprofits, but in 2020, the threat of COVID-19 forced many organizations to pull the plug on the popular community events that provided much needed support.

“Last year especially, it was challenging because everyone needed to pivot in a very quick order to different models of fundraising mostly going online,” said Yampa Valley Community Foundation Executive Director Tim Wohlgenant. “Very few organizations were able to do what they normally did.”

However, he said many organizations found success with online fundraising efforts, and many people in the community stepped up to support nonprofits.

“I think that donors just stepped up in a different way this year,” Wohlgenant said. “I do think most organizations are going to get back to in-person events, because the social aspect of those fundraisers is really valuable to donors.”

Carry on

Lucky for Gardner Flanigan, executive director of STARS — Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports — the full impact of the pandemic hit shortly after his organization’s STARS Mountain Challenge in 2020. However, COVID-19 will change the way the event looks in 2021.

“It’s a really important fundraiser for us,” Flanigan said. “Historically, probably about a third of our fundraising revenue comes from this one event, so it’s pretty important.”

Registration for the 2021 STARS Mountain Challenge, which takes place March 18 to 21, is open now and will continue through March 15. Participants can register at

In the past, the event has taken place on a single day, and individual skiers and teams of skiers are asked to complete a number of different tasks, including riding every open lift at least one time and completing on-mountain scavenger hunts, to earn points and win prizes. This year the challenge will be spread out over four days, and activities have to be done by individuals or members of a single household.

Cost is $40 per person for the “full” challenge, with a commitment to raise $200 in donations, and $20 per person and a commitment to raise $50 in donations for the “mini” challenge.

On Thursday, Flanigan had 35 people registered for the event.

Because of COVID-19, there will be no mass start or social gatherings as part of the event, and Flanigan hopes that by spreading the event over four days and pushing it back to later in March, the event will not create crowds or lines of people.

“It’s really a community celebration that allows STARS to offer our life-changing programs that promote independence, self esteem and healthy lifestyles for people with disabilities,” Flanigan said.

Holding back

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the leadership team at the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps was busy preparing for one of the organization’s biggest fundraisers of the year — the 14th annual Moonshine Ski & Dine.

Most years the event offered a unique mix of cross country skiing or snowshoeing under the full moon, paired with an evening of socializing and a silent auction, with the proceeds benefiting RMYC programs and Yampa Valley Science School.

But as Steamboat shutdown and COVID-19 began spreading through the community, it was decided to cancel the event and move the auction online.

“We did really well,” said Kate Warnke, RMYC development associate. “Honestly, it was at the very start of the pandemic, so a lot of it was due to the fact that 100% of our supporters that had had tickets to the live event made the decision to let us keep that money as a donation in lieu of an event ticket, which was so wonderful.”

It’s 12 months later, but the threat of COVID-19 is still real, and Warnke said once again, RMYC has decided that the return of the Moonshine Ski & Dine will have to wait until March 2022.

“We did make the difficult decision in early January to not hold the event this year, because of so many things going on with the pandemic, and largely due to the fact that the success of this event comes from the support of our local businesses in the Yampa Valley,” Warnke said. “We just didn’t feel it was appropriate at this time to ask many of them for their donations of goods and services.”

She said RMYC will introduce a new “virtual trails challenge” in September. Supporters will be asked to bike and hike as many miles as they can for a chance to win prizes.

Celebrating the past

The annual Northwest Rocky Mountain CASA Dancing with the Stars event was canceled in 2020 and will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in May.

“We had to cancel last year, which was a huge loss for us.” said Lauren Rising, Routt County program coordinator for the nonprofit. “This year we’re not going to be able to do a live performance, so we’re actually going to do an online fundraiser highlighting our past 10 years.”

“It’s a bummer,” Rising added. “But we’re going to make the most of it by highlighting our past stars, and pull out some old video footage from prior performances, and then have each year of stars kind of do the fundraising.”

Rising said the re-imagined event, which will take place in May, is still in the initial planning stages, but the idea is to group the casts from each of the years the event has been running into teams. Then those teams will reach out to the community for support.

Rising is optimistic Dancing with the Stars will be back live in 2022.

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