In Wisconsin, a club used a thorough plan and quick action to avoid the potential roadblock of COVID-19.
Story by Tony Knoderer • Photos by Mike Roemer Photography
By now, you know how the story begins. It’s common to so many clubs. For the Kiwanis Club of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the coronavirus was a threat to the annual car show — the club’s biggest annual fundraiser.
Each summer, the Kiwanis Car, Motorcycle & Vintage Camper Show gives automobile enthusiasts a chance to check out classic or unusual vehicles — and the option to show off their own — at Washington Park in Manitowoc. Proceeds come mainly from admission fees for attendees. Those funds then go from the club to programs and organizations in the area.
The show is a major event locally. It also placed in the top 10 in Tier 1 of the 2020 Kiwanis Signature Project Contest.
But this spring also brought the great roadblock that Kiwanians everywhere have come to know too well. When your big event is built around gathering people together and then letting them browse and mingle, a pandemic complicates everything. Perhaps even to the point of calling off the whole thing.
A new plan
This year’s show, the 38th annual, was scheduled for August. But it was clear by the beginning of summer that COVID-19 would be an enduring issue.
“There was a lot of concern,” says Steve Kanter, club president. “Some of our members are seniors, for one thing, and we also normally plan (the event) over six months or so.”
Since the planning had started, they had reason not to just shrug and give up. But they also knew they couldn’t just forge ahead as if it would be the same old show. Instead, they made a plan and got to work. Specifically, the club put together a sanitation plan and submitted it to the city at the beginning of July.
Kanter emailed Manitowoc’s mayor, asking him to help expedite a decision so the club could keep their foot on the gas if the local government approved.
“He forwarded it to the committee immediately,” Kanter says. “We had a Zoom meeting, and the fire department representative on the committee, he liked our plan.”
The club’s plan included sanitation stations placed around the park, along with plastic shields in the concessions area. Another new feature: social-distancing “dots” on the ground to help people keep an appropriate amount of spacing.
“We had a food vendor in from A&W, and we gave them some of those dots,” Kanter says. “It worked out real well for them too.”
Even as attendees and participants arrived, the club made sure they got fliers with social-distancing guidelines — so that everyone knew what to expect as they entered the event space. All together, the club’s plans helped maintain the event’s normal atmosphere of relaxed sociability.
“People behaved quite well,” Kanter says. “They distanced, and many of them were wearing masks.”
The general reaction from the community pleased the club’s members, who felt appreciated for their extra effort. Some people even returned the favor. For instance, many attendees ignored the US$5 admission fee — in a good way.
“A lot of people gave extra when they pulled up,” Kanter says. “They’d tell us, ‘Thanks for doing this,’ and then give, say, 20 instead of five.”
The sponsorship process also ran on a shorter timeline than usual, but local businesses responded. “We had to run out and get ’em on short notice,” Kanter adds, “but a lot of people stepped up to the plate.”
One annual sponsorship opportunity lies with the trophies awarded to participants. But in 2020, the number of award categories were cut in part to protect public health.
“Normally we have different classes and categories for the owners to display (their vehicles) and be judged,” Kanter says. “We reduced the trophies to ‘Make of Car’ to reduce the touching-stuff factor. We didn’t want everyone walking up and touching and spreading anything.”
Although the total fundraising amount was unavoidably lower this time, Kanter says, it was also enough to call the event a success. In addition to many attendees’ generosity with the admission fee, the event’s annual calendar came in particularly handy. That’s because participants wanting their cars featured can pay a fee to be included in the calendar, which is printed and distributed the next year.
Overall, attendance and participation were heavy enough to make the whole show feel like old times, even with all the visible health precautions.
“Usually we have about 180 cars,” Kanter says. “This year it was 130 — enough that you couldn’t really tell.”
And the fundraising made it all worthwhile. “That was our biggest concern going in,” Kanter says. “Our accounts had funds available to dip into, but it was nice not to have to do that.”
A source of hope
Even in a normal year, of course, planning, sponsorship and media relations are key components to a signature project like the Manitowoc club’s.
Kanter himself is vice president of hometown experience and branding for Shoreline Credit Union, which sponsors the club’s Facebook page. In fact, he writes the club’s news releases and distributes them to local media.
The club’s increased emphasis on marketing, as well as its online presence, have helped fulfill its goal of getting younger members in recent years.
Of course, marketing and social media are also clearly important to the car show’s success, which depends greatly on local coverage. That coverage, in turn, drives brand awareness and community enthusiasm around the club.
They’re all interlocking factors that make each other work. And they may never have had more collective importance than in 2020. The club needed people to know that the show would go on — but also to assure them that its members knew how to handle their circumstances.
For any club facing similar challenges in 2021, the Manitowoc Kiwanians’ success should provide some hope. But as the old saying goes: Hope is not a plan.
For the Manitowoc club, however, hope began with a plan. And as the members learned, planning is more than a matter of the event plan itself. Kanter’s advice: Be ready for the process you face to make the plan happen.
“Submit it to the city, the park, whoever happens to be the powers-that-be,” he says. “Then create materials to hand out, to explain what’s going on — the sanitation available, the social-distancing expectations. All the stuff that helps keep people safe.”
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Kiwanis magazine.