The disruption caused by the Coronavirus pandemic has been a major topic of discussion in fundraising circles for the past five months. Things have changed in fundraising, for better or worse, and every non-profit needs to adapt in order to survive.
But there is something equally important that hasn’t really been discussed. The fundraising changes caused by the Coronavirus have laid waste to a number of common lies that non-profits tell themselves… lies that have persisted for years (if not decades) in the fundraising industry.
The Coronavirus shutdown has shined a light on these fallacies… which is a good thing, because these lies held us back from reaching our full fundraising potential. Here are three of the many false fundraising ideas that the Coronavirus has helped us overcome:
#1: We Can’t Fundraise Outside of Our Area Because We Don’t Have a Travel Budget
I can’t tell you how many non-profits I have worked with believed that there was no way they could raise money nationally – or even regionally – because they didn’t have a travel budget to go out and meet with donors. These organizations knew that personal contact was the hallmark of a great major donor program, and believed that without face-to-face meetings, there was no way to personally cultivate donors.
Sure, these non-profits realized they could do direct mail or online prospecting to try to reach lower-dollar donors in far off places (if they were willing to make the investment), but they also figured there was no way to upgrade these donors without travelling to meet with them in person.
The Coronavirus quarantines have shown that donor cultivation through Zoom and other online meeting software (and supplemented by old-fashioned phone calls) is not only possible, but very feasible for non-profit fundraising.
Don’t get me wrong – I believe that in the very near future, in-person meetings at scale will become viable again and will again be a very important part of your donor cultivation program. But never again can a non-profit claim that they can’t do donor cultivation nationwide (or worldwide) because they don’t have the budget to fly fundraisers out for in-person meetings.
#2: We Can’t Raise Money Without Events
Nearly every non-profit uses events to raise money. At many organizations, fundraising events seem to multiply… the non-profit starts with one event, and as fundraising needs grow, adds more events year after year. Eventually, the organization is running 5 or 6 events per year, and most of them take too much time and raise too little money.
As a fundraising consultant, I often recommend to clients that they cut back on the number of events they run. I tell them to focus on other, higher ROI fundraising methods, perhaps leaving one or two major event son the calendar each year. Inevitably, the staff at these organizations tell me that they simply can’t raise money without events. They are convinced that there is no way for them to replace the money they raise from their events, even if the events take way too much staff time to run.
The Coronavirus shutdown has shown that this simply isn’t the case. Over the past five months, non-profits have been forced to move their events online, replace them with crowdfunding or other online fundraising campaigns, or cancel them outright and focus on other types of fundraising. Tens of thousands of organizations successfully replaced the money they were raising through events with other revenue streams, because they were forced to.
Non-profits can cutback on events and replace them with other revenue streams, while simultaneously growing their income. Even after the Coronavirus pandemic ends (and in-person fundraising events resume), organizations should be wary of constantly adding new events to their fundraising calendars.
#3: We Just Don’t Have the Time
Over the past twenty years, I have presented hundreds of webinars, online classes, and in-person seminars for non-profit fundraisers. Invariably, during the Q&A a fundraiser or executive director will commend me for all of the great ideas but say that they lack the time to implement them. “We would definitely do that,” they say, “but we just don’t have the time!” (For example, when I tell fundraisers to call donors after each gift comes in).
During the Coronavirus shutdown, fundraisers, executive directors, and board members had more time on their hands than ever before. There was no commuting to the office, donor visits were cancelled, events were rescheduled, programs were paused. Yes, there was lots of work to do, but the vast majority of fundraisers I talked with had more open time to fill than ever before. (On its own, working from home probably saved the average fundraiser 5 hours per week in travel time).
In other words, over the past 5 months your fundraising team had the time to implement one or more of those strategies that you said you always wanted to implement but didn’t have the time. Did you do it? If you’re like most non-profits, the answer is no. Even though you had more time than before, you didn’t start calling donors after gifts, or change your e-newsletter from monthly to weekly, or any of the other things you always thought you were too busy to implement.
Now you know – the reason you didn’t implement those strategies wasn’t because you didn’t have the time, it was because you didn’t prioritize them. My advice is to make a list of all the things you always wanted to do at your non-profit, prioritize them, and start implementing them. Set a goal of implementing the top 3 or 4 things on that list this year. Don’t let the “no time” excuse get in your way.