Third in a Series: Answering Your Questions about Fundraising in a Crisis
give.Last week, Jeff and I were on a webinar talking about how to deal with fundraising during this time of crisis. Over 2,300 people from nine countries were on that webinar. A lot of questions were asked – way too many to answer in the time we had.
Jeff started answering the questions in his blog a week ago and Wednesday of this week. I’m continuing that with more answers here. We’ll continue to answer questions in future blogs.

1. How do you “stay the course” when all the events are cancelled? Good question. What we mean by “stay the course” is not to cut fundraising during this time, as it’s your front-line function that brings in revenue now and into the future.

We’ve heard of several organizations that have cut acquisition, cut major and midlevel gift fundraisers, and scaled back fundraising efforts. This is not wise. All those leaders are doing is moving the problem into the future, as they grab expense money now to pay the bills (rather than ask donors to help) and cut programs that will severely hurt them in the years ahead. It takes 4-6 years to undo the effects of cutting donor acquisition.

Cutting fundraising during these times is one of the most short-sighted actions a leader can take. See answer to question #3 for more on this.

But, to the subject of events. Here are the steps we suggest you take if you’ve had to cancel your event:

      • Get Grounded in Your Mission and Why It Is Important – You absolutely need to get in touch with the societal need your organization is meeting. This is the answer to the donor question: “why should I give?”
      • Identify the net amount you’ll lose by canceling the event.
      • Identify the donor units – Make lists of the donors who were going to attend or those who came to the event last year. Get their giving history.
      • Look for a “Hero” Donor who might give the total amount you need, or who might set up a match.
      • Set a Goal for Each Giving Unit – (sum of all goals should be 150% of event shortfall). In other words, have a target to raise (in your lists, not publicly) that is greater than what you need. This allows for the “no’s” you’ll receive.
      • Create Messaging for Approaching Each Donor
      • Create a Plan to Contact Each Donor
      • Execute the Plan
      • Report on Progress to donors and keep repeating why their giving NOW is so important.

This is the outline of what we suggest you do if your event has been cancelled. We’re experiencing a great deal of donor responsiveness and generosity right now. Many – if not all – of your event donors will step up and give. You just need to ask.

2. Our organization wants to shut down our solicitations as well. How can I convince the ED/CEO/President that this is a bad idea? They feel it is insensitive. Oh my goodness. This is one of the worst things you can do. Those authority figures who are advocates of this approach do not have a clear understanding of the value of their organization to society. Nor do they understand that donors DO want to continue giving during these times. I’m not sure you can convince someone otherwise, once they’ve decided that this is the best course. But you could try by stating three things:

(a) Donors ARE giving substantially right now to all types of organizations, from social service to the arts. It’s a fact. And the reason they are doing it is because they love the organization they support. Not to ask is to take away the opportunity for the donor to give to you.

(b) History shows that organizations that reduce fundraising during times of crisis face a difficult future in fundraising, whereas those that stay the course come out stronger. Take a look at the world of restaurants right now. Those that pivot immediately to takeout and delivery vs. dine in will make it through these times. If they stop serving food – like your authority figure wants to stop fundraising – they will be hurt economically.

(c) See the next question and answer.

3. Giving went up during 9/11 and times of crises, but is that a fair comment? How much went to humanitarian orgs dealing with the crisis vs. gifts to non-crisis charities? Was it up for the majority of NPOs? We don’t have the specific answers to these questions, but what we do know is that overall giving was either flat or down 2-3% in the months after that event. And in our experience, with many non-profits we’ve served over the years, those organizations that kept fundraising did well during the crisis and into the months and years following the crisis.

Here’s the reality we all need to keep in mind during these times. Tucked very safely in the heart of every human being is the desire to do good. When those persons suffer a loss or are going through a crisis, they don’t just stop caring. No. In fact, they still look with gratitude at their situation, compared to the circumstances of those around them. And they want to help. (Tweet it!)
I’ve seen this many times, and I’ve experienced it myself. I’ve seen victims of disaster, job losses and personal tragedy turn from a gaze on their own circumstances to the worse situation of their neighbor. That gaze converts to caring and action. Can they give generously? Some can. Some can’t. But they want to help. That is the human spirit.
We cannot take that away from them. So keep talking to your donors about the need. It’s important for them, for you and for your organization.
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