Since its original establishment in 1890, Cottage by the Sea has given disadvantaged young people inspiration, fun, and opportunity through short-term programs and care within a holiday environment.
While the organisation’s mission to give at-risk children a happy, healthy childhood has been in focus for over a century, the onset of COVID-19 brought unexpected challenges. This dared Cottage by the Sea to spin up a new plan, expanding its focus while maintaining its quality of care for the community.
In July 2020, Cottage by the Sea won the #SpiritofFundraising People’s Choice Award: a competition held by Blackbaud, Fundraising Institute Australia (FIA), and the Fundraising Institute New Zealand (FINZ) showcasing those showing resilience and making an impact in the face of challenge.
Read on for a behind-the-scenes look with Charlotte Furness from Cottage by the Sea about how the organisation quickly and creatively adapted its fundraising strategy to meet the challenges of COVID-19.
What was the thought process behind the switch of focus during COVID-19?
Charlotte: Our initial shift in focus wasn’t fully intentional.
At the beginning of March 2020, our Chef Marc was at the supermarket when he witnessed an elderly man in mild distress at not being able to purchase toilet paper.
Our local community of Queenscliff is mostly elderly and it occurred to Marc that many would be in a similar predicament as the man in the supermarket. Marc raised the idea with our team, that we could donate some toilet paper and essentials to the more vulnerable in our community. On the 17th of March 2020 we put the first care packs together and over the next few days Council Care Workers delivered out approximately 100 packs.
It seemed a natural evolution of our Care Packs to start making meals for our community. We liaised with the Borough of Queenscliff, the Department of Health & Human Services, and Bellarine Community Health, to provide a coordinated response to supporting vulnerable members of our community through the state of emergency.
What were some of the challenges in adapting to the situation so quickly and how did your team overcome them?
Charlotte: Our first major challenge was distribution.
While the Borough of Queenscliffe was 100% behind our initiative, we had to work out how to deliver food to people’s residential addresses without compromising privacy and, at the same time, not overwhelming Council Care Workers.
To overcome this, we printed letters for Council Care Workers to deliver to their clients with our contact details so that they could register with us directly. We also used social media and the local papers to let people know about our food relief service. This enabled us to also reach vulnerable residents who were being financially impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.
Another significant challenge was ensuring our service was compliant with new COVID-19 health regulations. Again, the Borough of Queenscliffe was very supportive in providing us with all the advice and information we needed. We implemented a number of new procedures, including food labelling and record keeping to meet current food safety guidelines. Cottage by the Sea is now a COVID-19 Clean Practicing Business as an addendum to our Quality Tourism accreditation.
“We also used social media and the local papers to let people know about our food relief service. This enabled us to also reach vulnerable residents who were being financially impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.”
What’s your strategy in upholding the reputation of Cottage by the Sea in the community?
Charlotte: Cottage by the Sea has been a part of the Queenscliff community for 130 years, and through that time, we have maintained a consistent mission of supporting children within a holiday environment.
Most locals and regular holiday makers have a connection with the Cottage. Many have either volunteered themselves or have relatives who have volunteered in some capacity. Almost all have attended our Annual Fair, which is a mainstay of the Summer in Queenscliff. This gives us a good platform to sustain interest in what we are doing.
Throughout the pandemic, we have sent fortnightly emails to our database using Blackbaud eTapestry®. These emails keep our supporters informed of what we are doing under changed circumstances. We also use social and traditional print media channels to keep our broader community up to date. Through this, we have been able to reassure our supporters of our ongoing commitment to helping children and families as best we can within the imposed restrictions of the pandemic.
“We adapted and acted quickly to make a difference in our own community. When it was apparent our camp program would be on hold indefinitely, we embraced a new way of helping. We have also used this time to engage online to support children and families in our long-term programs.”
What lessons have you gained since embracing the situation and adopting a new way of helping the community?
Charlotte: We have learnt that our staff are amazingly talented and resilient. They have embraced new ways of working, established new operational procedures and delivered an entirely new service to a new cohort of people in need. All this has been done with the highest level of professionalism and enthusiasm all with remarkable speed, demonstrating our charity’s ability to be flexible and innovative in this time of need.
One of the most important lessons is our collective understanding that Cottage by the Sea exists to provide support those who need help and sadly it seems clear that there will be a greater need for our services as we move through and out of the pandemic.
We have been reassured of our strong supporter base, who have been enthusiastic about our temporary changes during the pandemic. They have continued to support us and speak our praises through social media as well as word of mouth.
“Cottage by the Sea embodied the #SpiritofFundraising to the fullest. It was incredible to see the organisation’s journey as they pivoted to expand their mission during one of our most challenging years. Working with Adam and Charlotte was amazing and we’re excited to see the ongoing impact the Cottage by the Sea will bring to its community and the world.”
— Lidia Lal, Marketing Director, Blackbaud Pacific
Thanks for reading! Whether you’re just getting started or you’re an industry vet, we hope this interview with Charlotte gives you a few ideas on how to elevate your own fundraising.
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