A Formula for Fundraising Success During COVID-19

By Josh Jacobson

One upside to the coronavirus (did I really just type that?) is reconnecting with current and past clients. I’ve enjoyed the check-in calls with friends new and old over the last few days. Most have had a theme. Can you guess it?

Yes, fundraising is on the mind of the leaders of nonprofits across the country. Some organizations had to cancel their most important fundraising event. Others worry that their missions will be forgotten as we turn our attention to the human need all around us.

Over the weeks to come, the Next Stage team will be sharing practical insights on many aspects of the nonprofit business model with a particular emphasis on fundraising tactics. But if I had to boil effective fundraising in the era of COVID-19 down to three essential steps that any organization could implement, it would be these:

Establish Your Narrative
We all spent last week and this sending out communication to our constituencies outlining how coronavirus was disrupting our operations. So now what?

It is essential your organization find a way to interpret the state of the world through the lens of your mission. Health and human service organizations certainly have an easier time of this as their missions are directly impacting people in need as a result of the pandemic. But all sorts of organizations can tell stories that illuminate the vitality of their missions. It might just take some creativity.

Getting contemporary to the world as it is will be essential to maintaining relationships with constituents and building value. So yes, that might mean shelving the podcasts that were recorded before the outbreak or limiting the canned social media posts that seem disconnected from reality. Our own post just a week ago with ten tips for springing forward feels way out of step with current realities.

Tens of thousands of local people are sheltering in place right now. What do you have to say to them? What is your organization’s coronavirus narrative? If you don’t have one, you better get one.

Find Your Voice
The most important component to successful fundraising during a crisis is having courage and conviction. Period. Full stop.

I’ve heard from a number of people this week who have stated something like “no one will want to give to us with all of this going on,” and I can state unequivocally, “not with that attitude they won’t!”

Do you believe your mission is worth funding? That isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m seriously asking. Because if the answer is yes, then I wonder what has changed about your case for support from last week, last month or last year.

COVID-19 and an economic slowdown shouldn’t shake you (and your staff, and especially your board) from a fundamental belief that your mission is deserving of support, even now. Philanthropy needn’t be so binary. Supporting the safety net is critical, but so too is advancing your efforts, whatever they are. Now is the time to turn on that confidence. Donors can sense win you don’t.

I am working on a post for Monday that will shed a light on this topic pulling from research conducted about the five years from 2007 to 2011 in Charlotte. Stay tuned for that.

Execute Your Plan (And You Need a New One)
If you were quiet earlier this week, you could hear the sound of development professionals across the country shredding what was left of their fundraising plans for the rest of the fiscal year. For organizations that end on June 30, that means you have 3.5 months to meet goal.

You need a new plan. And not just minor edits to what you were already planning to do. You likely need to rethink everything including the message, delivery vehicle, solicitation construct and method of acknowledgement. Your team of staff and volunteers needs to be on the same page and working collaboratively to make it happen.

No one expects that this plan was already in place. Messaging this week has been fairly light and with good reason. People have been adjusting to the new normal and have been distracted. But it won’t be like that forever. Hours spent sheltering in place should be an opportunity for building a new and different resource development plan to sustain your organization through the next 3-6 months at least.

Yes, a three-step process, but not so easy. Let us know if you need our help to realize any or all of them.

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