Reimagining fundraising in light of COVID-19: A conversation with Wasatch Community Gardens

By Regence
April 30, 2020
Wasatch Community Gardens_Salt Lake City Utah

Utah nonprofit adapts programs to continue serving and educating the community

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the lives of individuals, families and organizations. Nonprofits are among those hit hardest, forced to cancel or shift critical fundraising events and navigate limitations to volunteer programs—all while supporting those who often face the greatest need.

But many are finding creative ways to continue serving the community, engage volunteers and raise funds in a time of immense uncertainty. One of these organizations is Salt Lake City-based Wasatch Community Gardens (WCG), which provides children, adults and families with access to land and education for growing produce and nurturing community connection through gardening.

Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah’s Corporate Social Responsibility Manager, Kayla Norman, recently spoke with Wasatch Community Gardens’ Director of Foundation Giving, Lindsey Oswald Smith, to learn more about how the nonprofit is reimagining its programs and fundraising.

Kayla Norman: Let’s jump right in. Where have you felt COVID-19 impact your operations and how have you adapted your programs to continue to serve Utahns during this time?

Lindsey Oswald Smith: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are projecting a $200,000 revenue shortfall for our organization in 2020. This is due primarily to changing our Spring Plant Sale Fundraiser to an online event, postponing our Fundraising Breakfast indefinitely, canceling in-person workshops, and possibly canceling summer camps. We also anticipate lower individual and sponsor giving.

Our in-person, garden-based educational programming has been put on hold in order to keep the community safe. This includes our weekly Youth Garden Club classes, field trips with school groups at our Grateful Tomato Garden, and our work with onsite school gardens at Title I schools in the Salt Lake City School District. We’ve also had to postpone our educational workshops and Job Training Program, which provides resources and mentoring for women living in poverty.

That said, we are working hard to ensure the gardeners at our 17 community gardens are still able to access their plots to grow food, while taking extra precautions to maintain physical distancing and hygiene to ensure safety. We are also growing food along the U Pick It Fences that are outside our community gardens, so that we can share fresh produce with our neighbors.

We transformed two of our adult workshops in to live webinars, which were attended by 79 people – more than would have been able to attend the in-person workshops! We are also doing weekly Facebook Live Q&As to help answer local gardeners’ questions and developing "Rough and Ready" videos to give gardeners information while they are at home.

We are also looking to move our Parent Garden Clubs and Sabores de Mi Patria (Flavors of My Homeland) workshops—aimed at engaging the Hispanic/Latinx families at the Title I schools in our School Garden Network—to an online format in the event that in-person programming is not possible this summer. In addition, we are working with our partners at Artes de México en Utah to put together a virtual workshop in May.

KN: What an incredible display of rapid adaption to continue serving our community. Any early feedback on the virtual programs?

LOS: Yes, we have received a ton of positive feedback about the virtual workshops and Facebook Live Q&A sessions. Our Community Education Program Director recently received a note from an ER nurse, who is not normally able to attend our Saturday in-person workshops, but was able to join us virtually:

"This has been such a special treat for me. I cannot thank you enough. One day I hope to make it to an in-person WCG class, but for now I am LOVING the webinars!"

We have also received a lot of positive feedback from community gardeners who appreciate being able to access their plots, and from community members who are thrilled can still buy plants from us at our online Spring Plant Sale Fundraiser.

KN: Tell us more about the upcoming Spring Plant Sale Fundraiser, launching Thurs., April 30. How did this come together?

LOS: Our annual Spring Plant Sale is our single-largest source of revenue each year and supports our mission to empower people to grow and eat healthy, organic, local food. Our Spring Plant Sale helps nearly 2,000 households grow food to nourish their families each year, so we knew we would have to get creative to pull off an event that serves as WCG’s lifeblood, both mission-wise as well as financially.

Luckily, our staff and the participants in our Job Training Program had started growing the veggie starts for the Plant Sale back in February. So, we decided to continue growing the plants knowing that we would need to reimagine the event itself. Our staff was able to figure out, in a very short time, how to move the Plant Sale online, where customers can read about all of the available plants and varieties, place their online order, and select a safe pick-up or delivery option.

Our online Spring Plant Sale launched on Thurs., April 30 with more than 30,000 plant starts available. Due to an overwhelmingly positive response, the site is temporarily down right now, but we encourage folks to keep an eye on our website for future updates. Curbside pick-up will take place May 5 through May 10 at our Green Phoenix Farm and delivery is also available. 

KN: And what are you, your team and volunteers doing to stay connected while maintaining physically distancing guidelines?

LOS: The WCG staff has continued to have our weekly staff meeting via Zoom to share program updates, celebrate staff birthdays, etc. Each week, we get paired with a different coworker as a "Cyber Buddy," with whom we can connect via phone, email, or Zoom to get better acquainted and support one another during a time when we are not able to connect in-person at the office.

We are also working with volunteers one-on-one, providing projects that can be done at their homes or at our farm with plenty of distance between one another. For the most part, our volunteers are also gardeners, either new or experienced, so we are focusing on giving them the resources and information they need to have a successful garden, either at their home or in one of our community gardens. We are looking forward to being able to gather in small groups in the garden again soon, as our volunteers often say that they learn so much from the time together, both from our staff as well as each other.

Wasatch Community Gardens prior to COVID-19
Regence employees volunteered at Wasatch Community Gardens, prior to COVID-19

KN: Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah has proudly supported Wasatch Community Gardens for the last few years. How can we all best support you during this time?

We would appreciate a donation of any amount, so that we are able to continue offering our programs and services in new and reimagined ways during the COVID-19 pandemic, and so our staff and gardens will be ready to offer our in-person programming as soon as possible. People can also support WCG by participating in our virtual workshops, following us on social media, getting involved as a community gardener, or buying plants at our online Plant Sale.


Regence is committed to supporting our communities throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Learn more about our philanthropic efforts to support our communities.