Fundraising Through the Crisis
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
From the Desk of Rolando D. Rodriguez
Picture this: It is 1992, and we are about to launch the $12 million campaign for Jackson Memorial's Ryder Trauma Center in mid-September. Then Hurricane Andrew hits in late August. No power, no AC, no ice, no gas, and for many, no homes. Forget our campaign!
Today, amid the largest health crisis we've seen in our lifetimes, I am reminded of how difficult it was. And many of us also remember the crises of 9/11 and 2008. We made it through then, and we will get through this too.
In the late-90’s I was asked to go on a national tour for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (back then NSRE) with a few other colleagues, to share our experiences on fundraising after a disaster. I wish I could find my presentation! But I will share what we learned, and how to move towards recuperation. Most of this is just plain common sense, but it is worth a reminder.
Keep in touch but don't intrude: Remember that to your board members and donors, this is a time to take care of family and business. Emotionally, they may be disoriented (as are we). When I finally reached my Ryder campaign chair, he calmly explained, "Rolando, I have hundreds of employees homeless and most of our bank branches are inoperable". And I thought I had problems! Disrupted travel, school closings, business losses, employees in distress, and even potential illness. Communicate, but respect their space.
Reduce or eliminate meetings: Postpone routine meetings, and have personal conversations instead. With some individuals, you should stay away, but others may be eager to connect while their normal routines are curtailed. Use good judgment and err on the side of caution.
Share a mission story: When the time is right, share a memorable story of how your organization continues to serve others, even through this crisis. Use a clear and impactful story that is not about the crisis. Focus on what you do every day, and those you help.
Events: Prepare to avoid events; even after the period of social-distancing ends. "Parties" may create negativity until reality and the mood changes. The time will come to re-launch events and connect with your supporters.
Pledge Giving. Remember that after the crisis, a pledge may be the most reasonable gift you can expect. Plan for this. A financial crisis makes cash valuable and investments less so. Longer-term solutions may end up being your best bet.
Grantors are hurting too: Realize too that many grantors have watched their endowment revenue sink below the funding already promised to this year's grantees. Will they consider new or expanded grants now? Take it slow, make your grant requests reasonable, and maintain their respect.
Keep your board informed. Express confidence, gratitude and calm. Share solutions and ideas as appropriate and let them know how you are preparing. We never have enough time to analyze and properly plan, do we? Well then, NOW is the time to do it!
Wait for it: Maintain your patience and understanding with donors, board members, and of course your loyal employees. Everyone is under stress and this is a time for endurance and leadership.
Finally, fear can be a show-stopper. But once things improve (as they surely will), fear leads to relief which leads to kindness. It's human nature to feel thankful after surviving a crisis. That will be the time to re-engage and remind your supporters how they can turn their gratitude into action.
Remember the feeling of togetherness after 9/11? Perhaps some good will come from this crisis. We are all in this together. I trust we will soon welcome an improved situation, with a mood of mutual responsibility, caring, and outreach to others in need.
Until then, patience.
P.S. In case you're wondering, our Ryder Trauma Center campaign quietly re-launched 6 months late, but somehow finished on schedule.