For those of us who help nonprofit boards raise funds for their organization, we know how hard it can be to get board members to fundraise during normal times. And these are certainly not normal times; I have taken to using the phrase the new abnormal as a more accurate description.
However, for this, maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Perhaps this abnormal time is an opportunity for board members to let go of some of their perceptions and fears of fundraising that inhibit them from cultivating and soliciting donations for their organizations. Perhaps if we face these fears and understand more about fundraising, we can overcome them and encourage board members to engage in fundraising.
As I write this, over $5 billion dollars has been donated in response to the pandemic.
If your organization relies on philanthropic support, help your board members face their fundraising fears and take some strategic steps to connect with funders and continue to bring resources to your organization.
Fear #1: Fundraising is uncomfortable and feels like begging.
Nothing is further from the truth. Raising money gives others the chance to impact a cause or group of people that is important to them. In addition to volunteering, there may be no more noble a gesture, particularly now. Americans are the most philanthropic people in the world because they are asked every day to help.
Fear #2: Many people are losing their jobs or facing economic insecurity and it feels wrong to ask for money for our organization now. What if the person doesn’t have money to give or the foundations are using the money for other nonprofits?
We should acknowledge that the current economy is hard for many, but not for all. Certainly, many families are suffering, but not every family is impacted in the same way. Don’t assume that everyone is in the same financial situation. There are many individuals who have funds to give and are waiting to be asked to support our world during this time.
During times of natural disaster, human service organizations can see an increase in philanthropic revenue. They are the organizations on the front lines, and many donors realize that the services they offer are more important now than ever before. We also know that those who are experiencing tough times are often more empathetic about the difficult times others are having and are more inclined to give.
Fear #3: We don’t want to bother our funders when they are going through so much right now too.
Philanthropy requires relationships — you need to feed your donor relationships. The work of your organization did not stop because of the coronavirus; you shouldn’t stop fostering your relationships with your donors. They are hungry for some good news, so give it to them. Naturally, your organization may need to use alternate methods to deliver that information (e-news, emails, phone calls, video chats), so embrace new ways to communicate. Organizations cannot automate how a gift is made, nor a relationship. Board members can help with the cultivation and stewardship of your donors. With direction from the chief executive and/or development staff, board members can be given talking points for talking to donors about how the organization is continuing to provide essential services to your stakeholders. Their voice adds credibility to the organization, and is one of the main reasons we have board members.
After you’ve faced your fundraising fears, what else can a strategic board do today?
Fight the urge to cut development/fundraising staff. The great recession of 2007-2009 saw thousands of organizations eliminate fundraising staff. The result was lost contact with donors and a more significant fundraising challenge downstream.
Develop a compelling case for support
As public advocates, it is imperative that board members can share a compelling case for philanthropy. Think for a moment how your mission is relevant to this moment in time! I often urge clients to ask, “How does our mission contribute to improving this environment?” Then make sure that every board member can practice making this case. Provide virtual training if necessary.
Become a believer in social media
Consider how social media is being used right now to raise funds and share organizational stories. Once things return to whatever normal is, what will the user analytics of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others tell us about fundraising and the nonprofit sector?
If you’re are willing, learn how a Facebook fundraising campaign works and lead one yourself. Share, like, and comment on all social media from your organization. This may be one of the best opportunities to create a following.
Educate the board about donor advised funds
Consider this: one of your donors has created a donor advised fund. They have received the tax benefit and their income is unchanged. They are simply making a gift from a fund that has already been established. The sector is beginning to see donors making gifts from donor advised funds in response to the pandemic — don’t be left out!
This is the time to lean into your fundraising work. Be a courageous board that understands the landscape and prioritizes fundraising in service to your mission.