DOWNTOWN — A fundraiser has never been cheaper or longer.

Facing a tough economy in which donors might be less willing to fork over thousands of dollars for a ticket to a benefit, one local nonprofit organization is utilizing the Internet to raise money, all while keeping the fun of a real event.

Santa Monica Baykeeper launched its first EcoGala on Feb. 3, hosting a year-long fundraiser online to save the money and reduce the environmental impact that the events usually have, bringing a new twist to the organization’s parties.

“This is going to expand your outreach of donors at every level,” Laurie Feldman, the director of development and marketing for the Baykeeper, said. “Why not take advantage of what the Internet has to offer and make it fun and exciting all year?”

The Web site — www.ecogala.smbaykeeper.org — features videos and quotes from long-time Baykeeper supporters such as Mark Gold, the executive director of Heal the Bay, singer Barbra Streisand, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

“By hosting the event online, Santa Monica Baykeeper is taking fundraising to the next level environmentally,” Kennedy said in a quote posted on the site. “There’s no need to get in your car, no dishes to wash and no need to put on a tux.”

The EcoGala will also include auctions, monthly drawings for prizes, electronic gifts to guests who provide a donation of at least $100, and videos. Feldman said she would like to have a musician perform for a video that would be posted on the Web site, acting as the online version of a benefit concert.

The first auction features a luncheon with Lt. Gov. John Garamendi.

Feldman said she is, for the most part, reaching out to local businesses to donate items that can be auctioned off.

The site also includes a blog that will be run by local environmental youth programs.

The goal is to raise $200,000 for the event, which will conclude at the end of the year before kicking off for the second annual EcoGala in 2010.

The organization in the past held smaller and more intimate events at private homes where the ticket price would be upwards of $10,000 a couple. The Baykeeper also hosted the larger annual Beach Ball which would cost the nonprofit anywhere from $100,000 to $130,000.

The Web site, on the other hand, cost an estimated $50,000, an expenditure that will not need to be duplicated every year.

“If this takes off and people are ready to embrace it, there’s no reason why we can’t have it every year,” Feldman said. “We’re hoping to be a role model.”

In a video interview posted on the EcoGala site, Gold calls the online event an innovative approach to fundraising at a time that is really difficult.

Both Baykeeper and Heal the Bay have a long working relationship.

“For any nonprofit group, let alone a medium-sized environmental group like Santa Monica Baykeeper, the amount of effort and time that goes toward producing a huge fundraiser event … is a huge amount of work,” Gold said. “What you really want the people who are working for these environmental groups to do is actually improve the environment and not put together huge parties.”

melodyh@smdp.com

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