Well, May is almost here, and it looks like most of the country (& our friends in Canada, the UK, Ireland, and elsewhere too) are still locked down due to the Coronavirus.
Setting aside the debate on whether the continued lockdowns are wise or not, I want to answer some of the most common questions I am getting about how to modify your fundraising over the coming month.
Many non-profits assumed that by May, the shelter-in-place orders would be lifted… but since that is not the case, let’s talk about what you should be doing right now to raise more money for your organization.
The Most Important Thing: Don’t Stop Fundraising!
As I have mentioned in several of my previous articles the #1 rule for your non-profit during these uncertain times is: don’t stop fundraising! Your non-profit needs to keep raising money during the lockdowns… not only because you need the money right now, but because you need to be ready once the lockdowns end. For more on why and how to keep fundraising, read our previous posts here and here.
Your Coronavirus Fundraising Questions for May: Answered
Ok, you know that you need to keep raising money… but you’ve got a couple of questions on how to best do that. Here are my answers to the most common questions that I have been getting over the past few weeks, in no particular order:
#1: We Scheduled a Fundraising Appeal in May / June. Should We Still Send It?
In a word, yes. There’s no reason not to send a fundraising appeal that you had planned to send in May or June. This includes both snail mail and e-mail appeals.
Many non-profits are worried about sending out snail mail appeals because they are not sure if their donors are ok with getting snail mail during this strange time of social distancing. I have found that generally, donors are fine with opening snail mail right now. Some might let it sit for two or three days before opening it, but I haven’t seen people getting mad about getting mail.
While you shouldn’t cancel your fundraising appeal, you should modify your content to reflect the current reality. Don’t act like there’s not a global pandemic going on. Instead, put it out into the open… acknowledge the Coronavirus… ask your donors how they are… ask them how their families are… right there in your fundraising letter. Then move on to talk about your work and how you have modified your programs in light of the pandemic. Then tell your donors why you need the money, and make an ask.
My other suggestion is that you be diligent about sending out a flight of e-mail appeals to complement your snail mail appeals. This is always a good practice, but especially so right now. While most of your donors will be ok with opening your snail mail appeal, some won’t be. Be sure to send out 2-3 e-mails summarizing the message in your snail mail appeal. These e-mails should start going out about one week after you mail your snail mail appeal, and should include an ask and a link to donate.
#2: We Have an Event Scheduled. Should We Cancel It, Postpone It, or Turn It Into a Virtual Event?
You should turn it into a virtual event.
Most in-person non-profit events in May and June won’t happen, for obvious reasons. Back in March, when the pandemic started, many organizations were telling donors they were postponing their events until later in the spring or summer, waiting to see what the future held. Unfortunately, those non-profits are not going to be able to hold their events until the fall, at a minimum.
You don’t want to just cancel your events. You were counting on the revenue from those events, and will likely be hurting if the events don’t happen. Likewise, you don’t want to continue postponing the events, because at this point, you are pushing them into the fall, when you probably have other events or major fundraising opportunities.
Your best bet is to hold them now, as virtual events. For small events, you can hold Zoom meetings, where all of the attendees can be on camera and interact with other participants. The majority of events though should be held webinar style – where your speakers are the only ones to appear on screen. Everyone can log-in, everyone can ask questions, but only the speakers are seen and heard.
But – and this is very important – you should not be holding a virtual version of your gala where you are telling everyone to log-in with their wine bottles ready for a big night of fun. Your messaging needs to change in light of the current circumstances. People are hurting, economically and physically. And they're tired of being stuck in the house. So tell people you are moving the event online so that your entire community can be together. Once the event starts, talk through how your organization is handling the current crisis, and give an update on your work. (And yes, it's still ok to find sponsors, sell tickets, and make asks for / at the event).
#3: We Planned to Ask a Particular Donor for A Major Gift This Month. Should We Still Make the Ask?
It depends on whether this is a donor or a prospect.
If this is a donor who has already given to your non-profit and who already has a relationship with a member of your team, then yes you should make the ask. Hold a phone call or video meeting with the donor to make the ask, and don’t be shy about it… this is a person that supports your non-profit and has invested in you before.
If this is a prospect (someone you have been building a relationship with but who has never given a major gift to your non-profit before) then you should probably wait. It’s hard to make a first-time major gift ask over the phone or video chat. It’s not impossible, but it is hard. My advice would be to wait until you can meet with the prospect in person. Of course, if the lockdowns continue into the fall (and we all hope they won’t), then at that point I would say to just go ahead and make the ask over the phone. You can’t wait forever!
#4: How Likely Are We to Be Able to Engage Brand New Donors During the Lockdown?
As noted above, when it comes to asking brand new donors for a major gift for the first time, you should probably wait until after the lockdown ends. But that doesn’t mean you can’t engage new donors or build relationships with them before the quarantines end.
I have noted in previous articles that your non-profit should be communicating with donors and prospects as much as possible during the lockdowns. There’s no reason that you can’t continue being active on social media, on your website, and via your e-mail newsletter.
Likewise, if your non-profit maintains an active direct mail prospecting program, I would encourage you to test a Coronavirus-aware prospecting letter to your lists during this unique time. That being said, the likelihood of being able to successfully ask a new mid-level or major donor for a gift during this time is lower than normal (unless you are a healthcare-related non-profit – if you are, you should be fundraising as much as possible right now).
Thus, my suggestion would be to wait on trying to engage new mid-level and major donors right now. Of course, if the shutdowns continue into the fall, my advice would change… you can’t wait forever, and you would need to start engaging new larger donors by phone and video chat if that scenario plays out.
#5: We Are Struggling. Should We Layoff Our Fundraising Staff?
No! You need your fundraising staff now more than ever. When for-profit companies are struggling, the last people they layoff are the salespeople. They know that once they start laying off salespeople, they’re done. They would rather layoff the cleaning crew and have the CEO scrubbing toilets than layoff the sales team.
If your non-profit is struggling financially, then the fundraising staff is your only hope. They should keep working, reaching out to donors, sending out newsletter, running virtual events, and getting ready to make big asks.
#6: We Got PPP / Government Bailout Funds. Should We Tell Our Donors?
My advice is that yes, you should. Be honest about it – but be positive. Tell your donors that you were blessed enough to receive PPP or government bailout funds, which will help you keep your programs going and your staff working. Then, tell them that in order for your programs to really thrive, you need your donors’ continued support.
Tell the truth. Don’t be shy about bailout funds… your donors will like to know that you have the funds in place to continue your work. Be sure, though, that your donors also know that without their support, you won’t be able to do more than just survive. Don’t be shy about continuing to make asks, even if you got bailout funds!
#7: Should We Participate in #GivingTuesdayNow?
I’m sure you’ve heard of #GivingTuesday, which is held the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (in the US) every year. It’s a day when millions of non-profits try to raise money by sending out billions of e-mails and social media posts.
I generally advise non-profits to avoid Giving Tuesday at all costs, because by participating, they are basically trying to run a one-day crowdfunding campaign on the same day as nearly every other non-profit in town… meaning they face tons of unnecessary competition. Far better to run your own giving day some other day during the year when you won’t be competing with every other non-profit on Earth.
#GivingTuesdayNow is a direct response to the Coronavirus… an attempt to hold a day in May that will be just like Giving Tuesday. A day when millions of non-profits will ask donors to make donations in a 24 hour span.
I advise you to avoid Giving Tuesday Now for the same reason I advise you to avoid the annual Giving Tuesday… why compete with millions of other non-profits? I am a big fan of giving days. If you want to hold an online giving day for your non-profit, hold it the week after Giving Tuesday Now, when you will have the day (almost) all to yourself! For more info on how to hold a successful giving day, read: How to Hold a Successful Giving Day for Your Non-Profit.
You Can Do This!
This is a strange and challenging time for non-profits of all shapes and sizes. But… and this is a certainty… this time shall pass. And your non-profit can come out on the other side stronger than ever before. So don’t let up. Keep working hard, keep fundraising, and keep serving those who need you most. You can do this!