Help! Should I Raise Money During a Pandemic (and How)?
A lot of you are wondering how, when, and whether to ask for donations during this time. This week I’ll be giving one answer to 4 reader-submitted questions. First up, here are your questions:
#1: How do you frame your message and your need to keep planning for the future as you solicit support from foundations and corporations who are dealing with the current crisis?
#2: We were planning on dropping our spring appeal letter and newsletter earlier this week. It generates about 5% of our total annual contributed income. Not a huge amount but not inconsequential either. But since the coronavirus crisis hit, we have decided to hold off on it, for several reasons. One, we don’t want to be insensitive during this uncertain time by asking for money.
Secondly, the appeal letter and newsletter were all done prior to all of this, so there’s no mention of the health crisis. Wouldn’t that seem odd? Our plan going forward, at this point, is to send an updated appeal and newsletter once the country is on “the other end” of this crisis. We will be incorporating how our organization handled the crisis and the services we continued to provide. We don’t know how long it will be until we can do that and we will lose some money by scraping the current letter and newsletter, but we think this is the best way to handle it. My question is: Do you agree with our plan? Or do you think we should move ahead with the appeal and newsletter as originally planned?
#3: I am curious about Network for Good’s opinion about fundraising in this current economic environment. Our Board of Directors has told us to suspend any type of fundraising until the current crisis has slowed enough for organizations such as ours to reopen our doors. Thoughts?
#4: During this quarantine time, is it prudent to call members to renew their membership?
It’s funny because it’s true – we know just as little about what will happen tomorrow as we did in February. Somehow knowing this while under orders to stay in your house indefinitely to save lives feels very unsettling. That said, it’s not the first time our country has faced extreme challenges, and history has some important lessons for fundraisers. I encourage you to read this article from The Chronicle of Philanthropy. My key takeaway: “If you can make a case for your relevance in this time, then be in communication with donors soon.”
Question writer #2, your instincts are fabulous. I completely agree it would be odd to send a mailing without any acknowledgment of current events. I encourage you to communicate twice as frequently as you did prior to March. People who care about your mission will appreciate being part of the conversation and staying in touch during this time will strengthen their connection in the future.
Great news! There is no reason to suspend or postpone scheduled communications.
In fact, many people (this Coach included) are actively avoiding the news when possible and seeking something positive and uplifting to read. If you would prefer to wait until your organization has weathered current events, save these highlights for a digital annual report. But for the next 90 days – absolutely under no circumstances should you go radio silent.
Dear question writer #3: let’s face it, your board is responsible for the fiscal health of your organization. During this time, be transparent with financials and fundraising performance. Start with circulating a simple year-over-year comparison report to the entire board on Monday afternoons. While the numbers may not always be where you want, there will be no need to explain the gravity of the situation at future meetings.
For the next three months when conflict arises, strive for compromise. Work with your board to set shared goals, for example, 85% donor retention or 100 monthly donors.
Membership can really take a hit during uncertain times! Many members consider it to be a nonessential expense and it’s typically among the first to be cut. Be proactive. Assemble a Task Force of your most influential and charismatic members. Review your current structure and identify where you can and should offer reduced or waived annual fees or membership extensions (hint: seniors and young adults). The task force will serve as your second opinion for the next 6 months. Look for opportunities to add and communicate member value every week.
Keep your audience engaged in the mission and work of your organization. Whether your should fundraise right now is somewhat a personal decision based on how COVID-19 impacts your beneficiaries and donor base. In most cases, we encourage you to stay the fundraising course – your mission is more important than ever, and you need funds to make it happen.
But no matter what, stay in communication. Identify smart virtual volunteer opportunities and be willing to test and learn. Much like these times are unprecedented, I encourage you to look for brand new solutions. Keep your head up and know that no matter how difficult the weeks ahead may be, you’re learning lessons that cannot be taught.
Ask a Fundraising Coach is Network for Good’s weekly advice column, where Personal Fundraising Coach Andrea Holthouser tackles your toughest challenges in the world of fundraising, nonprofit management, donor relations, and more.