Four Questions to Guide Your Crisis Fundraising Plan

by Janet Ervin

From a social good perspective, one of the most disruptive aspects of the COVID-19 crisis has been the impact on spring fundraising. Not only has the pandemic cancelled key events, it has increased the demand for services and shifted the case for funds. Several organizations responded to these changes by the quick development of crisis response or critical need funds.

This isn’t the right answer for everyone and is heavily dependent on the needs of your community, demand for your services and changes to your fundraising strategy. Messaging and goals will be significantly different for everyone, but one thing is very clear – the plans you carefully crafted months ago will have to evolve and change with the changing landscape.

On Friday, May 8, Next Stage hosted a roundtable discussion on Starting a Crisis Response Fund on The New Normal – you can find the recording of that conversation here. The discussion featured three nonprofit leaders sharing the experience of launching a critical needs fund and what is working for them.

Friday’s panelists – Katy Ryan, Executive Director of 24 Foundation; Randall Hitt, Chief Engagement Officer at Men’s Shelter of Charlotte; and Sam Smith, Director of External Affairs at United Way of Central Carolinas – each shared key points and questions that guided their thinking as they made quick decisions about their crisis fundraising strategies.

Whether you opt to develop a crisis fund, or are simply adapting your existing plan, these four questions and tips will help guide your decision-making process:

1 – Is it true to your mission?

Remember who you are and what is most important to your constituents. The temptation to shift your messaging and focus during a crisis can be very real. “You can leverage a crisis, but don’t shift what is at your core,” said Randall Hitt, Chief Engagement Officer at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte.

The most powerful thing you can do is to be authentic and explain how the crisis is impacting the people you serve. If you’re raising money in relation to the crisis, make sure it stays true to your core services.

2 – Is your plan clear?

Sam Smith, Director of External Affairs for the United Way Central Carolinas identifies this as a key driver of success for organizations receiving United Way funding. “Be clear about the work you want to do and very specific about how you’re going to execute that plan,” he advised.

This can be challenging. Both demand for services and the way organizations deliver those services look drastically different than they did just months ago. Funders – both individuals and foundations – are looking for leaders who have clear visions and plans for how to manage this crisis. The most successful organizations will be the ones that can think fast, then clearly articulate and make those ideas happen.

 3 – Can you execute it quickly?

Now is not the time for complicated plans that require you to build new resources. “Focus on what you can do right now,” said Katy Ryan, Executive Director of 24 Foundation. “Fundraising is going to look different this year,” she continued. “It’s probably going to be a tough year, but a lot of that is out of my control. What I can do is focus everything we have on serving the needs of the cancer community that exist right now. If it feels right and your stakeholders support it, then now is the time to move.”

Trust your gut. You know what your organization is capable of and what you have the ability to execute, so make a plan and go for it.

4 – Do your stakeholders back it?  

As you adapt plans, make sure you’re bringing along your supporters and stakeholders.  Many will appreciate the opportunity to be included in conversations and will be supportive of efforts to continue providing services and keeping your organization on track.

Learn more about our panelists and how they are generating revenue throughout this crisis by listening to the full conversation here.

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