[Editor’s Note: Every year Noozhawk renews its commitment to supporting the Nonprofit Community by promoting #GivingTuesday in our Good for Santa Barbara nonprofits section. We’d like to encourage you, our readers, to support local philanthropy on #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving, by making a donation to one or more of the following local organizations. Click here for Noozhawk’s #GivingTuesday Guide to Giving.]

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed nonprofit organizations to rethink traditional fundraising models and implement changes that have the potential to strengthen the sector.

Here are some of the ways that local community organizations innovated, embraced technology and pursued new opportunities.

SEE International

SEE (Surgical Eye Expeditions) International specializes in eyeballs, and that was precisely where the organization focused its efforts over the last 18 months. To gain greater visibility, SEE created compelling cable ads that aired just as people were limiting activities during the pandemic.

“The ads appeared at a time when everything felt out of control,” said Randal Avolio, CEO of SEE International, at 175 Cremona Drive, Suite 100, in Goleta.

“And here was a way for people to gain control and do something good in the world.”

The 30-second ad highlighted the transformative impact of SEE International’s sight-restoring work, requesting just $25, all that is needed to reverse one person’s blindness.

It was a simple ask with enormous results. In the one year that the commercial ran, SEE gained 3,000 donors and grew revenue by 30%.

“You can’t raise money if you don’t inspire people,” said Avolio, adding that it was the combination of many outreach efforts and the hard work done pre-coronavirus to secure high quality, competitively priced vendors, that helped sustain the organization.

Santa Barbara Bowl

Closed for 22 months, Santa Barbara’s beloved concert venue got creative to stay connected, originating an ongoing Instagram Live series called “Happy Half Hour” to keep patrons and supporters abreast of all things Bowl.

What began as informational social gatherings to provide concert updates during the uncertainty around rescheduled performances at the Santa Barbara Bowl, 1122 N. Milpas St., transitioned to information regarding fundraising needs, facility improvements and outreach programs, including Pianos on State.

“We experienced significant spikes in engagement as a result of the series and increased followers,” said Rick Boller, executive director of the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation.

“It also led to the success of our ‘Keep the Bowl Concert Ready’ fundraising campaign resulting in $500k in funds raised to support our operations during the dark time.”

Storyteller Children’s Center

Storyteller Children’s Center did not miss a beat, literally delivering its seventh annual “Lunchbox Lunch” rebranded “Lunch with Love,” this past year, with staff, board members and volunteers dropping off 140 catered lunches (serving 560 people) to the doorsteps of donors. This event resumes in person on Feb. 10.

Personal outreach to individuals and foundations has helped sustain the therapeutic preschool with locations at 2115 State St. and 2121 De la Vina St. Much of this was handled via personal phone calls and emails during COVID — a particular challenge given that Storyteller’s executive director, Susan Cass, joined Storyteller in August 2020 followed by development director Adrienne De Guevara in October, both at the height of the pandemic.

The pair were thrilled to meet supporters, many for the first time, at an in-person donor appreciation event hosted earlier this fall.

Girls Inc. of Carpinteria

Like most other social sector organizations, Girls Inc. of Carpinteria focused development efforts on cultivation and stewardship. It also pivoted from girls-centered to community-centered to maintain engagement during the pandemic.

The organization at 5315 Foothill Road hosted vaccine clinics, blood drives and, eventually, a back-to-school fair.

Events continue in a hybrid format, with the annual Women of Inspiration luncheon, hosted on site with just 60 people in person and the rest joining via Zoom. Similarly, the organization’s Bloom fall event was held outdoors, with limited capacity.

Smaller groups are now invited to tour or participate in targeted volunteer activities, such as holiday drives and family nights; alternatively individual volunteer opportunities are offered for those seeking even safer options.


Halloween was reimagined at Lotusland, providing a treat for the whole family. “Monstera Mash” welcomed the community to dress up and enjoy a spooky boo-tanical stroll through the gardens in the Montecito foothills, while safely social distancing.

Lotusland created the Guardian Circle, a new option of joining that combines philanthropy with membership. The $5,000 concierge-level service includes invitations to more select giving recognition events, a home garden consultation and recognition as a vital supporter, in addition to regular membership benefits.

The renowned garden is actively creating new programming around increased collaborations with local businesses, architectural organizations and other nonprofits. For instance, it will host a painting class tied to the upcoming Van Gogh exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

The organization also employed a new mode of text bidding, in lieu of bid sheets, which was used in the Exceptional Plants auction to great success.

Wilderness Youth Project

It was a pandemic paradox to have Wilderness Youth Project — an organization devoted to outdoor education — find itself inside during the height of the pandemic. Yet, WYP pivoted and innovated webinars, providing a way to connect and deliver its message virtually.

“We are now turning back to some of those really fun, accessible ideas as part of our strategy to stay connected to our community,” said Michelle Howard, co-director of development at the organization, located at 5386 Hollister Ave. near Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital.

And finally, a platform that many nonprofits embraced during COVID-19 may just alter how they do business going forward. PayBee is an online system that integrates in-person, virtual and hybrid events with real-time chat and options for silent auction and donate-now functions.

— Ann Pieramici is a Noozhawk contributing writer.