Mission Survival & Coronavirus
March 16, 2020 –Many of my clients are asking about fundraising in light of the recent Coronavirus pandemic and the economic concerns that have come as a result. There is an undertone of fear and uncertainty facing all of us, and a reverence must be paid to those feelings. Things will be different for non profit organizations now and most likely for a few months to follow. Your special events are likely being canceled and you are faced with donors who do not want to meet in person. First and foremost, we as fundraising professionals must be respectful of people’s space and their emotions as we all move through these unprecedented times. However, there are things that we can do to engage our donors.
Outside of special events, we must continue to fundraise, to share our needs with donors and to ask for their support. We must not make assumptions about their capacity to make a gift due to market volatility. We must do what we always do, share our case and ask for support. Remember, these donors know and love you. They are part of your team, and they care what happens to your organization. I know this might contradict our organizational gut instinct, but now is not the time to reduce or limit our fundraising activities.
First, our organizations will experience a loss in donations. As we have seen in previous recessions or periods of financial uncertainty, donations will most likely be less than they were the year prior. But let that happen as a result of the donor deciding not to respond to fundraising asks, and not because we stopped or reduced our fundraising asks.
Secondly, you ask for donations because you NEED them to operate, and that will not change as a result of a recession or these times of coronavirus. Your work still matters and is worthy of support. Once this crisis is over and you begin asking donors for money again, don’t you think they will wonder how you survived without their donations? And one might even go as far as to think that if an organization did not maintain fundraising during these difficult times, they might not need the money as bad an organization that held their fundraising course.
Here are some helpful hints for fundraisers in managing this crisis:
Organizations must reference these unpresented times in their fundraising materials. It cannot be “business as completely normal”, but instead acknowledge these are uncertain times, but that your mission remains.“Even though we are facing a crisis like we have never seen before, we are tasked to holding true to our mission. In addition to our concerns for our community and loved ones during these times, we remain vigilant on our organizational mission. We know this is a big ask right now, but we also know that to reduce our efforts now means long term impact on the mission we serve”.
Your special events will be canceled (if not by Governor’s order you should cancel them anyway). However, that should not translate into a total loss for the organization. Craft your message so that you remind event goers WHY they were coming to the event, not to get silent auction items but to support your organization. Remind them that they can still do that! Remember the Bakeless Bake Sale? Everyone sends in the amount of money they would have spent on ingredients and what people would have paid for their goodies. Think of parlaying that idea to your organization’s canceled special event.
If you have already receipted donors for the purchase of their event tickets, be sure to send updated receipt letters if the charitable gift amount has changed.If you receipted the donors based on their ticket price, minus their benefit (example: $100 ticket, minus $25 dinner costs, equals a $75 charitable gift) you do need to send them amended receipt letters. Thank them for giving an even larger gift to your organization and include how you will communicate about a rescheduled event. Spend some time updating this receipt letter, and making it very specific to current times.
For those that are canceling an event, how can you still offer a shared experience for your donors? Are you a symphony orchestra and you can stream former orchestra concerts at a specific time (maybe even the same time as the canceled event)? Maybe you are a religious organization that can ask all your donors to watch your live stream at the same time and give a gift online for weekly collections. Try and brainstorm a way to encourage a collective mindful pause at a specific time in shared unity with your nonprofit organization.
If you have an event in May or June, be sure to let event attendees know how you will continue to communicate with them, when you will made a final decision regarding canceling the event, and where they can find more updated information (website address). During these times, it is ok to not have all the answers, but let’s be sure to keep people as informed as possible.
Provide regular updates via email on how your service population or mission is affected by this national emergency.Maybe you are a food pantry and experiencing food shortages in your area, or maybe a recycling center and people are overwhelming your center with trash because their pick has been changed. There are going to be long term effects of this virus that we have not even fully thought about, and your donors will care how it affects your organization. Keep them updated on your office schedule, staff, changing timelines, etc. They are part of your team too, and they should ride this wave with you. They should hear the good and the bad, allowing them to become even more vested in your organization.
Make sure you are checking in on your elderly donors.During these times of isolation, a phone call to chat can make the day of someone feeling isolated and alone.
So, take a deep breath, wash your hands, and keep fundraising. This might be the start of a long road for our country and non profit organizations, however just like we always have, lets keep our donors informed, be respectful of their changing needs, yet ensure that we ask for support when we need it so that our missions can survive too.