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Approaching Institutional Funders for an Emergency Request

This blog post is a collaboration of the entire Ostara team. Part two to our “Navigating Your Fundraising Season Amid the COVID-19 Outbreak” series. Click here to view our first post.

We are navigating uncharted waters. Many of you are making difficult choices, working exhausting, long days and facing futures of uncertainty. But you are not alone. The nonprofit sector is a resilient collective of individuals and organizations dedicated to the promise of possibility and potential. We stand with you in this vision and are committed to working alongside you to weather this storm and shape a new world that works for all of us.As we look to that future, the nonprofit sector must be included in COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts. Please take a moment to add your voice to Washington Nonprofits’ joint letter to Washington State elected officials demanding the inclusion of nonprofits in these efforts.

As we process constantly evolving information, we are rapidly considering how we continue fundraising and plan for uncertainty. If you haven’t yet, now is the time to reach out to the funders who are accountable to you and your communities.

Here are three steps to consider when approaching institutional funders for emergency unrestricted funding.

Step 1: Describe the Problem

Consider your current situation: calculate the amount of funding needed and the potential impact to your program if it is not received so that you can clearly communicate this to the funder. 

How has your service delivery been impacted by COVID-19? Explain why your work in the community, bringing people together in this way is valuable and needed. If you have an annual event that will be canceled or postponed, how much does this event typically raise? How will your revenue generation or community-building efforts be impacted by the loss of this revenue? What impact will this have on the communities serve? Your staff? Is there an increased need for your services given the rapid economic downturn?

Be honest about the scope of the need, maintain a clear and direct tone and center the safety and well-being of your community at this time.

Step 2: Describe the Solution

Outline steps you are taking to adapt to the current situation in order to continue providing essential services to your community or in some cases, address the increased demand for services. Share any immediate results you are noticing from making these changes. Make sure your funders know you are exhausting every strategy to address your financial situation at this time above and beyond this ask – a targeted appeal to your donors, applying for public assistance like small business relief available through the recently approved CARES Act, a virtual event, making budget modifications, etc. Demonstrate that the board and leadership of your organization are in conversation and making decisions together. Provide details about how you will continue to make informed decisions based on credible sources that ensure your community stays safe and informed.

It can feel like there are no good answers right now – be vulnerable and honest about what you are experiencing. It is important, arguably now more than ever, that funders hear and deeply understand the truth of their grantees’ circumstances and the immediate and downstream impacts this will have on our communities. Do your best to maintain a forward-looking tone – remind the funder that healthy communities are interdependent, and we must work together now to mitigate the impact of this crisis on our long-term collective well-being. Even if you are not an organization providing basic needs support to our communities right now, if your mission was important prior to COVID-19, it still is. Restate the importance of your work and mission — now and into the future. 

Step 3: Make Your Ask

If this is a long-time funder, your relationship is the foundation for making an emergency appeal. Share context about your relationship and the impact their funding has made over time. Remind them that their investments have led you to this point, and your organization’s sustainability and impact are contingent on continued investment right now. If the funder is a new funder, communicate your shared vision for the community and their role in urgently investing in your work at this critical time.

For example, with schools closed, education organizations have shifted their programming dramatically and rapidly.

“We have an immediate need for extra costs to pivot how we implement programming overnight. These include new costs for technology, distance learning, and distributing supplies to students from families all over the county experiencing financial hardship. Our long-time partners are more important than ever as we work to sustain our core mission: the nurturing and success of our youth. We are asking for a one-time emergency contribution of $20,000 to ensure we remain a hub of quality care and learning in this community now and in the years to come.”

Organizations providing basic needs support may be operating with fewer resources than normal while navigating an increased demand for services.

“As COVID-19 takes its initial financial toll, we have assessed that the current rate of need in our community will require an additional $20,000 by June – $5,000 monthly – to ensure our neighbors maintain stable housing and avoid homelessness. A grant of $20,000 will enable us to continue this elevated response to the impact of the economic downturn on so many lives. Never before has the need for this funding felt more urgent, nor has the financial distress been so widely distributed across people struggling to keep their homes, health, and dignity intact. As historic inequities become ever more acute in the wake of COVID-19, your support at this time has the potential to uplift the trajectories of thousands of neighbors in our community.”

The bottom line is – reach out, be vulnerable, be bold and be transparent. You alone are not accountable for the well-being of your community; our funders are accountable as well. We must make the same ask of them that we have made of each other – to stand with us in solidarity.

For more tips on writing a special appeal, check out our last blog post linked here

We are here for you and we will walk with you as you navigate this situation. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you would like to discuss how to shift your fundraising event plans, how to respond to funder inquiries about programs and services, how to manage remote work for your teams, or to navigate fears with donors or volunteers. We’re here to connect.


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