Fundraising in Difficult Times, Part 2
Two words describe the fresh wind blowing across our land: “People first.”
The old. The young. The health-compromised. The vulnerable. Those without work. Neighbors. Fellow shoppers. The young lady working the drive-through. The delivery guy. The sick. The beloved medical workers and other first responders. Folks we know and those we barely noticed. Until now.
“People first” has moved to center stage and beckons us toward fresh thoughts and ideas. For nonprofit organizations, especially those who fundraise to exist, consider adopting this strategic approach: Stay six feet away but make effort to grow closer.
Let’s dig deeper.
The challenge to raise money grows more daunting every day that the economy remains stuck in pause, no longer producing the funds needed for nonprofits to operate. Meanwhile, the need grows for organizations to serve people whose needs have multiplied. Plus, work has decentralized due to shelter-in-place directives, fundraising events have postponed or canceled, and nearly everyone worries about personal health and that of loved ones.
Regardless of how cleverly delivered, the words “Can we count on your support?” (or any variation) could sound quite callous at this point. Yes, exceptions will always exist. Nonetheless, the days we live right now beg a different approach. Quite different.
Let’s turn attention to a statement made by Patrick Lencioni on a recent LinkedIn post: “Demonstrate your concern for the very real fears and anxieties that your people are experiencing, not only professionally and economically, but socially and personally.”
His advice applies equally to leaders and fundraisers. Maybe much more than equally for fundraisers. Give strong weight to his final word: personally.
Remember, these are “People first” days we live in.
Last week I sent a very brief message to a key donor, and his long reply started with the words: “Thanks for your message. My wife and I…” After reading the three paragraphs that followed, he asked about my family and me. Similar exchanges repeated with several donors, and I learned a valuable lesson.
Now, right now, is the time to check in with as many donors as possible. Person to person. Email, text, or phone. Not due to any hint of opportunism. In fact, press pause on asking for anything – that day will come again. But it’s not today. “People give to people,” the saying goes. Show that you are a person, and along the way you’ll show the folks you typically ask for money that they are people first, donors second. People that matter.
This will remove any pressure that accompanies donor communications. To “check in” is simple and brief; ask how they are, then listen/respond to what they say. That’s it. Just don’t ask for money or talk about your organization or its needs.
“I’m going to call my whole list, ask them how they’re doing, and not mention us at all,” a development officer told me. “If a person asks about the organization I’m going to say, ‘That’s not why I called.’”
As billions of people and trillions of dollars remain hostage to a microbe, a new day has arrived, one in which you have permission to take off your fundraising hat. You will give donors you have relationships with – relationships that you’ve been managing and working for all these years – a treasured example of how personal that relationship really is to you.
All "best practices" for fundraising in the past (February 2020 and earlier) must be challenged because the world has changed, and everyone will wobble as we try to walk in a new day that no one understands. Yet, as ancient wisdom says, “This too shall pass.” When it does – in a couple weeks or months – put that fundraising hat back on, knowing you did well when you put people first.
© 2020 David Staal. All rights reserved. davidstaal.net
David Staal serves as a consultant to the nonprofit sector following 11 years as President & CEO of a national organization (Kids Hope USA), 10 years in church staff leadership (Willow Creek Community Church), and a 13-year marketing career (Abbott Laboratories). A senior editor for Christianity Today International for 12 years, he also authored these books: