(Photo by Tom Fisk from Pexels)
It’s… a strange time for us fundraisers right now.
When the pandemic hit the US and cities, counties, and states rapidly started to shut down, we were at a loss.
There is no guidebook for how to suddenly and swiftly shift your 500-person gala to a virtual event in less than a week. No rules you can reference for how to remain sensitive to the shifting economic status of your supporters while also clearly communicating your immediate need for funding to keep your doors open. No one who has done this before to guide you through your next steps.
Of course, that momentary panic-related standstill can only last so long before you need to launch into action and figure it out as you go. And in the last two+ months, we’ve figured out a whole lot.
I am incredibly fortunate to be in a position to pull together many local experts to provide a series of webinars for the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals to help share that knowledge: what we’ve figured out, what we already know that applies to the world we live in right now, and how we can best move forward in this strange new normal we’re living in.
I have to say, I’ve never been more grateful to work in a field with such generous and helpful fellow professionals. I’ve reached out to people who have done things I’ve admired and asked for tips, I’ve had people reach out to me for the same, and through it all we’re sharing openly and eagerly to help each other to do the best we can do.
In that spirit, I wanted to share the most valuable tips I’ve observed from my fellow fundraisers and the experts who presented for our Master Class Web Series — if you’re out there, feeling alone and wondering if you’re doing it right, this is for you!
- Don’t make decisions for your donors. Present them with information and allow them to decide for themselves if they would like to get involved. This is one that I really struggled with in the beginning, as it felt insensitive to be asking more of people who are already dealing with a global pandemic. But here’s the thing: the pandemic has exacerbated all the inequities that were already there, making our work more critical than ever. And that resonates with folks. Those in a position to help, no matter how large or small, want to help. Tell them what you need and what they can do to help, and let them make their own decisions. And if they can’t help right now? They’ll remember those that communicated openly with them the next time they are in a position to help.
- Don’t stop asking. Schultz & Williams shared some statistics on the last recession back in 2008: the nonprofits that stopped asking for money took the longest to recover financially from the recession. Asking doesn’t mean you’ll receive donations, or meet your pre-COVID goals, but by not asking you’re guaranteed to receive nothing. More tips from S&W here.
- Break your plan down into smaller pieces. No one knows what the world will look like a year from now, and building a fundraising plan for your next fiscal year seems like a massive hurdle. But CCS Fundraising advises that we put together short-term, 90-day action plans that are reactive to what we’re seeing right now. Tackling a shorter period of time allows you to be more responsive to real time changes while still building relationships with donors and communicating consistently. More tips from CCS are here.
- Keep telling stories. With everyone stuck at home, social media has become more important than ever. Of course, cutting through the noise has also become more important than ever — how do you keep your posts top of mind when everyone’s endlessly scrolling their feeds? The answer is telling stories. Posting that you help hundreds of people annually doesn’t have the same punch or impact as telling people about Pete, the formerly homeless runner and boxer who kept you going during a race that you were certain you couldn’t finish (true story, I wouldn’t have finished that race without Pete and his stories about the Civil War monuments we were passing in East Fairmount Park). Think about Humans of New York, which has always told interesting, quick stories — despite the shut down, they’re still telling excellent stories. Tolsma Productions has some excellent tips for leveling up your video right now that I found really useful.
- Virtual events can be successful. Many spring events were rescheduled to the fall, but now that we’re almost three months into the pandemic I think we’re all much more wary of large, in-person gatherings than we ever thought we would be. I’ve heard from many folks in my life that regardless of guidelines, they’re not planning to attend large events for a long time. And that’s going to throw a wrench into many of our fundraising plans this fall. But all is not lost! Virtual events are different, and require you to shift your thinking and your goals to fit the medium, but success is still possible. My organization auctioned off 20 gorgeous pieces of furniture from the Philadelphia Furniture Bank reworked by local artists last week, and we ultimately raised $50,000. It was different, we didn’t hit some of our goals, but at the end of the day more money was raised to support PFB than last year because our expenses were so much lower. I like this guide from Bloomerang best, which breaks down the major decision points to going virtual into easy steps.
This list is not exhaustive, nor does it take into account the immense relief that comes with talking directly with people who do what you do every day and really understand your concerns and stress points.
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There are so many digital resources out there for fundraisers, but that person-to-person connection is so important too. I’ve really valued the opportunities I’ve had to chat with my friends and fellow fundraisers, from early morning Zoom virtual coffees and mid-run phone chats with Philly friends to weekend FaceTimes with a friend in Dallas. They get it in a way that my other friends don’t, and they’re all doing innovative and smart things to stay connected with their donors.
If you are feeling like you’re drifting off in the sea of fundraising on a tiny raft all alone, please reach out! I’m happy to chat, connect you to other fundraisers, invite you to an upcoming virtual coffee conversation or webinar with AFP GPC, or invite you to a Facebook group of fellow nonprofit unicorns or local fundraisers.
Now, more than ever (I know I’m sick of hearing that line too but it’s true!): we have to stick together.-30-
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