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Navigating Your Fundraising Season Amid the COVID-19 Outbreak

This blog post is a collaboration of the entire Ostara team.

The COVID-19 virus has been top of mind for many Washingtonians and nonprofit leaders these past few weeks. With the continued spread of the virus in Washington State, we know that nonprofit leaders are struggling to figure out how to respond.

Your organization may have questions surrounding the impact this may have on your upcoming events, programming, and fundraising. Should we cancel or postpone our annual event? How might this affect our ability to deliver services in the next 3-6 months? What other ways can we engage donors and build community?

Leading Your Team Through Stressful Times

We often find ourselves filled with worry during stressful times, and look to our leaders for their support. If you are one of these leaders, here are a few tips you might find helpful:

  • Stay informed and connected. Pay close attention to city and county public health regulations and make decisions accordingly. Think about maximizing the telecommuting options for your staff and consider moving in-person meetings to over the phone or a videoconference platform such as Zoom or Google Hangouts. (Public Health Seattle-King County COVIS-19 webpage & Public Health Insider blog)

  • It’s all about your tone. As a leader, you are responsible for creating an environment that prioritizes safety, minimizes stress, and enables your team to stay motivated. Be aware of how your tone might affect your team. Rather than fueling fear or making reactive decisions, focus on protecting your community and the people who are at a higher risk.

  • Speak out on behalf of others, even if it may feel uncomfortable.

  • Asian communities and businesses across the country are experiencing a decrease in customers because of stigmatization due to the COVID-19 outbreak. News outlets are contributing to anti-Asian discrimination with their careless choice of stock images perpetuating harmful narratives. With the growing concern of xenophobia, it’s important to speak to your team about implicit bias and think about how your organization is telling the story of COVID-19. Are you inadvertently perpetuating harmful narratives? To help combat implicit bias please share these resources with your team: King County’s community statement and their anti-stigma resources (complete with downloadable posters and social media kit). And please continue to support Asian-owned businesses in your community. Asian-Americans aren’t the only community experiencing discrimination right now. Be mindful of the ableism and ageism that might be taking place around you. If there are any medically vulnerable people in your life or at your workplace, offer to help them with a small errand and ask what other ways you could help. Help others stay healthy by washing your hands often and thoroughly, and think about what impact you might have on others before you post comparisons of the virus to the flu.

  • Make decisions together. Work with the board and leadership of your organization and start having conversations on how to proceed with the questions you might have. Start by going through the facts of the situation together and discuss the pros and cons of each decision. Making decisions together will help strengthen your choice and help your team feel confident.

  • Restate the importance of your work and mission. During stressful situations like this, don’t forget to remind yourself and your team of the reasons why they are doing the things they do.

Navigating Your Fundraising Events 

If you are concerned about event attendance, engagement, and community safety, consider postponing your event or moving it online. Talk with your team and get clarity on the logistics of your existing events. Can you move the date? If so, what fees might you face and can you recoup those costs?  

One way to move your event online is to host a live stream. Instead of canceling their event altogether, ArtCorps will now be hosting an NPR inspired “Tiny Desk” live stream that will include their planned performances. Intersections Festival is another organization that decided to move their giving party online. Rather than gathering in-person over the weekend, donors had the opportunity to send their donations via a check in the mail or online with Venmo or PayPal. Other organizations are starting to move their workshops to online webinars and using social media as a way to stay engaged with their audience.

There is another strategy, albeit a bold one; simply do not have the event, now or in the future. Not all organizations are made the same, and therefore we cannot think that the same thing for one organization will work for another. What if we took the strategic approach of creating multiple unique engagement experiences for our constituents? What if we worked each week, using 1:1 meetings or small group settings to create deeper and more authentic relationships?

Holding small gatherings at a board member’s home, or opening the doors of your office for an open house, gives donors the opportunity to meet the people that push their favorite organizations’ mission forward. You can attempt to make your fundraising goal within a couple of hours, or spread it out over the two thousand and eighty hours across a year.

For more information on how to navigate your fundraising events amid the COVID-19 outbreak, sign-up for this upcoming webinar hosted by Ariel Glassman and Talia Silveri Wright and see our most recent webinar in collaboration with Washington Nonprofits linked here.

Engaging Your Donors

We know this situation affects service delivery as well as fundraising overall. Should your organization be facing a loss in funding due to event cancellation or a lack of earned revenue, there is opportunity to thoughtfully request responsive funding from both individuals and institutions.

Here are a few thoughts that can inform a strategy for approaching your public, private, and corporate institutional funders:

  • Calculate the amount of funding needed. Before you reach out to anyone for emergency funding, calculate the amount needed and the potential impact on your program if you do not receive it. Be sure to clearly communicate this when you go to write your request or talking points.

  • Look at your existing list of funders. Go through each contact and reflect on whether they fall into the “yes, no, or maybe” category when it comes to possibly receive an emergency grant. This can be based on your relationship, what you know of the funder’s restrictions or the longevity of your existing funding relationship.

  • Articulate the value of the partnership. With your list of funders that you have placed in the “yes” category, create a targeted appeal for each program officer. Be sure to articulate the value of your partnership by sharing the value and the history of the relationship.

  • Consider the best way to communicate your request. Consider who on your team is best positioned to reach out to the funder. Remember that this is an invitation and should be framed as such – strive to leave the door open for future conversations. Make sure that your board and leadership are on the same page about an institutional funding strategy and this request in particular.

In terms of individual and major gift strategies, here are a few ideas:

  • Set up a challenge pool. Engage the board and close donors who like to “leverage” their giving to inspire others to give. 

  • Re-share your development plan and fundraising goals.  Remind your board and development committee of your original plan and goals. Highlight which funding is potentially at risk and how the board can help mitigate a shortfall. Ask them to help you brainstorm ideas/strategies together if you find it difficult to think of ideas on your own.

  • If you host a fundraising event in the spring, ask board members, event committee members, table captains, and other key volunteers to make strategic requests for support from would-be guests. If they are requests for specific purposes, be sure to include overhead costs in your ask amounts. Be clear and transparent about what you’re asking for, and why you’re asking. 

  • Create personalized updates. Share with major donors about what you’re doing to support the community at large during this time. How are you supporting your core audiences? How are you supporting the sector? How are you ensuring the safety of your staff? How can donors play a role in this? Don’t forget to ask how donors are managing stress/anxiety/health during this time. Now is the time to center humanity in our relationship building. Tie the challenges at your organization to the overall issues facing the entire community, and share ways donors can partner with your organization to get us through. 

  • If you don’t normally ask for donations during this time of year, don’t ask for it. Leave room/space for other organizations for whom spring is their major fundraising season.

Here’s a fun exercise: Fundraising best practices are all grounded in relationships – both sets of these strategies can be helpful to consider for institutional and individual giving. Try flipping the ideas listed above. Apply the institutional ideas to your individual giving approaches and vice versa. Even in extreme times, best practices are responsive to your own context and often come down to people working together, encouraging honesty, kindness, and adaptability.

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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