No Money, No Problem

How nonprofits can raise funds while supporting local businesses

As gatherings of all sizes are canceled, many nonprofits are losing annual galas and brunches — events intended to garner the donations that keep organizations running. To make up for lost revenue, an Oregon nonprofit created a gift card fundraising idea that benefits nonprofits, community members and businesses, and that model is moving to Eugene, thanks to a local environmental group.

This model was produced by Politisit — a Portland-based nonprofit that provides childcare funds for caretakers who want to participate in civic meetings. After its annual fundraising brunch was canceled, the organization had to think creatively about how to raise donations.

“We were going to have our third anniversary brunch,” says Politisit founder and Board President Rachel Sowray. “About a month ago it looked pretty clear that was not going to happen, so I tried to figure out what to do that’s virtual.”

Sowray came up with the idea to hold an online auction that supported Politisit and local businesses.

Here is how it works: People purchase gift cards to a local business, whether it be a restaurant, coffee shop, retail store, etc. Then the supporter donates the gift card to the nonprofit, which can be a write-off on taxes if the organization is a 501(c)(3).

The nonprofit then takes the gift cards and auctions them off online. Community members bid and win gift cards to local businesses, and the nonprofit acquires funds. Politisit’s auction launched on Friday, and Sowray says they are already sending out cards to bidders.

She says it looks so far like they may raise more than their brunch fundraising event would have, and she is encouraging other nonprofits to do this to get donations.

“My hope is that we can get this out to other nonprofits to use,” Sowray says.

In Eugene, the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) is adopting the gift card auctioning model, and has already seen support for it.

Ashley Chesser, executive director of NCAP, says when she heard of Politisit’s idea, she thought it would work well for her nonprofit. NCAP had also canceled plans for a fundraising event, and Chesser was looking for a way to support NCAP’s staff and community. This seemed like a positive option. 

“I said, ‘Oh, this is an amazing model, I’d love to support our local community in that way,’” Chesser says.

Sowray says this donation model could outlast the pandemic-induced stay-at-home orders and shutdowns because it connects people with businesses and nonprofits.

“I think one of the nice things about this for people is they feel they can still be connected and take action at the moment,” Sowray says. “So many people are willing to take action.”

Find out more about Politisit and its initiative to support local businesses at NCAP and its gift card auction can be found at