Fundraising in this New (Hopefully Temporary), Quickly Changing, Reality Or, How to Keep Calm & Pivot

Lighthouse

We are facing a new reality in terms of many areas of school management, but my time here will be focused on your fundraising efforts. I’m not going to quote a Bible verse, as you all probably have better cites than I could come up with, and everyone has already reminded us of the best ones.

You hear me say often, and our current book we are tracking in the Cohort Lenten Book Club weaves throughout its seven chapters: relationships and face-to-face meetings as the leading factors to long-term success in fundraising. This is why we strongly encourage hiring dedicated fundraising staffers (or finding dedicated, loyal volunteers) who are responsible for mission advancement. And a good rule of thumb has always been to first meet with a donor on neutral ground (restaurant, coffee house, etc.) or on their turf (home, office, etc.), then bring them to your campus (school tours, events, etc.)

But now we are in a world where we aren’t allowed to see anyone face-to-face: no restaurants for lunch, no coffee houses, no school tours with students, no offices to meet in, and probably a strong decline in homes willing to open their doors in a time of quarantine.

Where does that leave us? As one post noted, “Keep Calm & Pivot.” Stated in another way, stick to the basics but in novel ways.

Below are some general ideas to do just that: stay calm, keep the basics of donor relations in mind, but look at new and different ways to keep moving forward.

  1. First of all, Let’s start with What Happened Last Time: while today is different in several ways, we can learn from history as well: stories and research from other economic downturns can give us at least a guestimate of what can happen in 2020. The Wuhan Virus is not the first threat the nonprofit sector has encountered. In recent memory, we can think of 3 or 4 notable economic downturns including the Dot-Com bust, 9/11, and 2007-9.Research and results we found of note:
    1. Giving tends to lag changes in economic conditions: that is, donors still supported charities at similar levels, even up to 12 months after the start of the downturn. Don’t stop asking (see below).
    2. Existing donors were loyal: your donors loved you enough to support scholarships and endowments and operations last year, last month, maybe last week, and they will still continue to love you today and tomorrow. Keep communicating with them (see below).
    3. Fortune favors the prepared: start now and engage your constituencies across multiple channels (see below).
    4. Out of crisis springs opportunity: most reports note that organizations who’ve gone to their donors in crisis see better than expected results. Donors want to help a cause they care about at a time when their help is especially needed. You, therefore, need to ask (see below).
  1. Next, Avoid some of the Biggest Mistakes that organizations tend to default to in times of trouble:
    1. Avoid negative attitudes. We are Christ-centered; we have so much to be thankful for! But, being realistic is different than being negative.
    2. Don’t cut fundraising and marketing budgets. One post explained it best with the analogy: "We have to drive across the country. So we are not going to put any more gas in the tank." It doesn’t work.
    3. Don’t apologize for asking.
    4. Don’t stop your efforts.
  1. Fight Assumptions about your donors: to paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, you are guaranteed zero revenue for requests you never make:
    1. Don’t try and think for your donors
    2. Don’t Assume donors won’t give
  1. Stay the course: All the usual proven methods of fundraising still work:
    1. Be honest.
    2. Even if you have no direct connection with the virus, you shouldn’t avoid mention of the pandemic and what it is doing to your organization. Silence may not be golden here.
    3. Mention the effect of the pandemic on your fundraising and remind your donors that your work must continue.
    4. Be thankful.
    5. Show the donor impact. Your donor still wants to be the hero.
    6. As one post noted, “Be understanding, polite, and pleasantly persistent.”
    7. Step up your communications and outreach to donors.
    8. Don’t cut your donor acquisition efforts until it’s clear they’re really not working.
    9. Stay connected with your board; as one person noted, “Social Distancing” does not mean “Leadership Inactivity”.
  1. This is a great time to make donor thank you phone calls
  2. Hand-write letters to donors
  3. Now is the time to try something new: As stated before, our options with meeting donors in person are severely hampered by opportunity and social distancing (it is hard to look someone in the eyes when they are 6+ feet away from you!) So, be creative.

We have some ideas on being creative. Let us know.