During a warm day on the seacoast, amid the tug boats and ships cruising along the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth Harbor, you might also spot the Piscataqua, a 65-foot replica of the historic gundalow boats that were used in Portsmouth starting in the 1600s.
The Piscataqua was built in 2011 by the Gundalow Company, a nonprofit aimed at protecting the seacoast region’s maritime heritage through education and action. The company takes the public and students out to sail on the Piscataqua, operates camps and offers other educational opportunities like lectures.
Last spring, Andy Goodell, operations managed at the Gundalow Company, was excited for the upcoming season. He and his staff had been working to get more students out on the river on field trips, and the 2020 season was nearly completely booked, with students coming to sail starting in March.
“Kids are a hearty bunch, so we get them sailing on the river before the public,” Goodell said.
Unfortunately, as the pandemic worsened, it became clear that most spring field trips would be cancelled. Goodell didn’t have time to dwell on that loss, because he had to figure out how to handle the Gundalow Company’s popular summer camp program and public sailing.
With guidance from the state, Goodell realized that the Piscataqua could sail in 2020, but with a maximum of 20 passengers, rather than the typical 46. Camps would also be scaled back, with programs capped at 8 children per group, rather than 18. With the limits on participation, the programs that the Gundalow Company operates brought in about 50% less revenue than in 2019.
Luckily, the Gundalow Company was able to rely on community support to make up for that loss. The federal Payment Protection Program (PPP) and the New Hampshire Nonprofit grants helped buoy up the nonprofit, as did an unexpected swell in private donations.
“What shocked us was the generosity from donors this year. A lot of people stepped up quite a bit,” Goodell said.
Despite the tumultuous year, the Gundalow Company finished with its finances on track.
“It brought us just above what we had planned normally, between the grants and donations,” Goodell said. “It was, financially, a pretty typical year for us, at the end.”
He’s not sure if that engagement will continue, especially if 2021 is financially stressful for people and nonprofits. However, the Gundalow Company has figured out ways to increase revenue from programming by expanding its offerings.
Normally, the nonprofit only operates camps during the summer, but with more kids in remote learning and homeschool, Goodell extended the camp season through November. He was pleasantly surprised at how many parents were eager to have their children in an in-person activity.
“We put together what we think people are looking for,” he said. “There was a demand for finding something for the kids outside the house. They were all Zoomed out.”
The Gundalow Company also started offering customized programs for groups like homeschool pods, which allowed kids an activity without widening their social circles and therefore possible COVID exposure.
This spring, beginning in April, the Gundalow Company will do the same thing, offering educational programs structured to fit around remote learning schedules.
“It’s a silver lining,” Goodell said. “Even when things are back to normal, having these programs is a good thing. We’ll keep doing these.”
Goodell has also loved seeing more locals coming to sail on the Piscataqua, something he hopes will continue for the 2021 season as well.
“A lot more local people are re-exploring their local activities,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t realize what you have in your own town. There’s been a good resurgence of reinvigorating the locals to get out close to home.”
This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.