The coronavirus continues spreading. The economy is declining. And there’s continued political turmoil. Any one of these three issues could be viewed as a recipe for disaster in terms of your fundraising. And here we are… experiencing all three at once.
Your donors are dwindling. Your board members are anxious. And it’s up to you to lead the way. The stress can be overwhelming especially with donor dollars drying up or pulling back on giving.
While some donors may retreat, there are others who recognize your efforts and step up to help. By taking certain tried and true steps previously proven successful during past financial crises, there are fundamental keys to surviving, and even thriving, during the COVID-19 crisis.
What’s a fundraiser to do?
- Stay the course
- Increase marketing
- Adopt a virtual world.. Meet your donors and board virtually and often
- Make participation accessible and easy for everyone
- Recruit volunteers
- Communicate frequently
- Communicate via multiple channels
- Authenticity of the channel, i.e., homemade video works… 57% people donate when they see a fundraising video from a nonprofit
- Ask the right questions
- Ask the right individuals
- Work with mid-level donors, specially younger folks, usually they are more optimistic
Stay the course
During an economic downturn or some other disturbance to your organization’s path, the reflex to scale back and retract is not always the best move. Stay the course and continue on with what you were doing. If you are planning to launch a campaign, go through with it. If you are already in a capital campaign, keep it going.
There will undoubtedly be some white-knuckle moments through challenges along the way but with perseverance, you will find marvelous dividends when the downturn passes. For one, there is a strong chance that your competitor’s got distracted and did not stay the course like you did. That means fewer competitors. Make it to the finish line of a crisis and finish strong among the shortlist of survivors.
The marketing budget of any organization, nonprofit or not, is often the first to get cut when the survival instinct kicks in and reducing overhead becomes a necessity. Counter-intuitive as this may seem, actually doing the opposite by increasing your marketing efforts and visibility will ultimately yield better results. Disappearing from your network of supporters promotes too much of a loss and it will make future recovery that much more burdensome.
Staying connected is critical to the organization’s network of supporters who will remain loyal far beyond the crisis. Added benefit– like the competitor’s who did not stay on course, slacking off on marketing means even fewer players in your competitive landscape when the dust settles.
A little side note about crazy survival skills
An example of survival through multiple crises is Bank of America, the nearly 115-year old bank that has come within a hair’s breadth of failure in every banking crisis since the Panic of 1907.
“Bank of America confronted the prospect of failure yet again; this time during the financial crisis of 2008-09. A new generation of leaders were at the helm. And, as new leaders are apt to do, they threw caution to the wind. They embarked on a series of massive acquisitions, two in particular, that would eventually leave the bank at the mercy of the federal government for the third time in a century.”
(John Maxfield, The Motley Fool, October 16, 2008.)
Bank of America was deemed “too big to fail” and Congress, through the Fed, “backstopped” each “systemically important” bank. In Bank of America’s case, Congress presented a bailout package that was contingent on them buying another company on the brink—Merrill Lynch—for some $10–$12/share. Bank of America agreed, accepted their share of the $800B TARP bailout package, and saved Merrill Lynch in the process.
All of the banks were in trouble to various degrees, and Bank of America was the most spectacular example of a bank that fell from being well-run to a complete disaster. But where some see disaster, others see opportunity. Following the crisis, Warren Buffett invested $5 billion in the bank saying that he was impressed with the bank’s profit-generating abilities. “Bank of America is a well-led company that acted aggressively to put its challenges behind.” (Warren Buffett, 2011.)
Adopt a Virtual World
It may be hard to imagine a successful virtual fundraising event since traditional fundraising is tied to anything but social distancing. Maybe you’ve already given it a shot and have experienced mixed results. Maybe you are one of those people who don’t care for technology regardless of the times and are conducting your outreach in more conventional ways.
The fact is, the world has been on a fast trajectory toward a virtual existence for years and in absence of a pandemic, we all would have adapted anyway over the next decade. The pandemic crisis put us all there at “warped speed” and while we’ve had to do acrobatics to adapt and keep up, getting there is, and always was, an inevitability.
In the virtual world of fundraising, the key is creating online events more often than you ordinarily would. Easy to do since the logistics have become much more simplified with little to no costs involved. You can hold a variety of fun virtual fundraisers and there are no shortage of ideas floating around.
A wonderful resource, those volunteers. They lend credibility to the organization through their own dedication, support and contributions. Volunteers are the boots on the street for your organization and they extend your resources and bring value and impact to the organization and its community. Volunteers have high-level skills that may be the key to maximum mission capacity. However, volunteers need the same supports and infrastructure paid staff need. Volunteer skill sets need to be vetted and they need careful job placement, onboarding, supervision and recognition. They are not a magical free resource but they are critical to any organization’s mission especially when in crisis mode.
More communication, more often
In a screen-based world of interactions between your valuable donors, volunteers, and board members, it helps to fill in the gaps with more frequent connection. We are social creatures to varying degrees and in the cold absence of face-to-face interaction, it is important to step up outreach and engagement efforts.
Virtually meet, virtually often with your board
Convene your board frequently during a crisis. Reach out, get their opinions, input, ideas on how to see your organization’s plans through. There’s no better time to bond that will help everyone through stronger and more stable than ever before. Besides, now that there aren’t the pre-COVID usual logistics to contend with; months of planning meetings, coordinating schedules, flights, hotels, etc., now ramped up communication is easier, creates a more cohesive and focused team that carries the organization into the future.
Communicate via multiple channels
You wouldn’t rely on one channel of communication any more than you would only one revenue source. Email, social media, newsletters, blogs, and other website content not only keeps the relationship fires burning but if handled well, keeps your audience coming back. Regularly communication on different platforms fosters support and greater investment in your organization and its mission.
When you utilize multiple channels, the authenticity of each channel and its effectiveness will become clear. For example, even the most amateur fundraising videos actually work. The greater your presence and heightened communication efforts, the more this lends credibility to your organization, strengthens bonds, and creates a structurally sound and sturdy organization that will weather any storm.
Ask the right questions, ask the right people
Conduct prospect research to find potential new major donors in a targeted fashion. There are sophisticated ways to uncover wealth indicators and determine the donor’s capacity and intensity to give. With today’s technology, you can uncover a lot of information about prospective donors. It may come as a surprise (and perhaps a little creepy) but it is possible to discover a prospect’s stock holdings, real estate ownership, past records of donations, business and personal affiliations, history of political contributions, and more.
Look closely at your development team. Depending on the size and capabilities, you may want to enlist the help of nonprofit specialists, highly skilled in uncovering information with the fine-tuned ability to trace funding opportunities and prospects without missing any critical details.
Once targeted prospects are researched, analyzed, and reported, you are equipped with the right questions to ask. Specifically the right donation amounts to the right people. It’s wonderful technology but requires expertise.
All fancy technology aside, a general rule of thumb is that working with mid-level donors, especially younger people, are generally more optimistic and giving. In either scenario, the right questions to ask will become apparent with the right people.
Fresh perspectives from those in the know
However you are navigating your nonprofit through these difficult times, reach out for support and a fresh perspective.
Sanmita is an agency comprised of a leadership team of nonprofit experts who help build powerful stories, effective programs and advancement campaigns. Their work is based on the development of solid and practical strategic planning, which is the foundation for all branding communications and fundraising initiatives.
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