We in the United States, along with the rest of the globe, are facing a crisis affecting every aspect of our collective life. Every one of us has already taken steps to reduce large group gatherings and change our personal health habits. The World Health Organization has declared that Covid-19 is officially a pandemic. We are all experiencing its impact on the economy, our social interactions, business operations and the nonprofit sector (MNN Response to Coronavirus). In light of these changes, it is important that we, as mission-driven organizations, have a proactive response to current conditions and take all available opportunities to continue our important work.
Already, foundations, corporations and individuals are responding with generosity to this crisis, just as they have to natural disasters and urgent public health challenges. In 2001, Americans donated more than $1B to efforts related to 9/11 relief. In a Culture of Philanthropy, we want to engage all of our supporters in meaningful ways and know that people will always have many resources in abundance – time, talent, expertise and funds for donations. In the current climate, our belief in abundance is tested and we must work to avoid falling into scarcity, fear and retraction from our missions.
- Stay Connected and Increase Communication – During previous recessions and challenges, some nonprofit leaders backed away from asking for continued support and may have even reduced their communications (gone quiet). Our experience has shown that those who continue engaging donors will be rewarded for their sustained connection. More than 60% of donors who did not continue their support did so because they were not properly and individually connected with and thanked.
- Maintain an Attitude of Gratitude – We ALL will have more time given to us by canceled travel plans and meetings. Take the opportunity of time to amplify your stewardship with personalized thank you notes, postcards and phone calls. Remember: You can really stand out in the Digital Age by going “old school” with pen and paper or by picking up the phone.
- Go Small to have a Big Impact – While many organizations are canceling large fundraising events, programs and performances – either as required or from their own discretion – there is an opportunity to stay small and have intimate gatherings. This may mean you have house parties, Jeffersonian Dinners, online fundraisers, virtual workshops and trainings, and other smaller scale events. Meet with donors, volunteers, supporters and stakeholders individually and virtually. If there is something you need at your agency (especially advice and input), share that with them. Pick up the phone! Check in on your supporters. How are they doing? Take the time to ask them. Is there an elder who would welcome your call or you running an errand for them?
- Learn From the Past: Stay Cool – While charitable giving – especially from foundations – dropped 6% in 2008 as a result of the financial crisis, it was not nearly as significant as predicted. Being one of the organizations that stays away from asking doesn’t help your cause. Many individuals responded with increased giving to charities that were most directly hurt and experienced new demand for services, including food pantries, job skills training programs and social services. So stay cool; adjust your giving projections for the next few quarters and shift focus.
- Communicate Clearly – Unclear or confusing messages foster fear and reticence. Make sure communications with your constituencies are clear and consistent. Coordinate with all senior leadership – including your board and staff – so that your external relations provide useful information and maintain focused on your ongoing work.
- Be Genuinely Relevant (And Only If It Applies) –If you ARE providing health services or direct support to people facing economic challenges or other work related to current conditions, emphasize this in your messaging and fundraising. If you are not, do not stretch it. One of the most disastrous campaign letters we saw during 9/11 was an attempt to tie an arts organization in Georgia to the crisis in New York City. The fundraising appeal backfired and resulted in loss of contributions and lack of faith in the organization. Maintain a focus on telling your stories of impact, past successes and future plans.
- Embrace the Virtual Reality – As consultants, we are used to working remotely and with our clients and partners through email, phone, video conferencing and webinars. If you are not already well-versed in virtual communication tools, take this opportunity to strengthen this part of your work. If needed, consider new policies regarding working at home, meetings and other parts of your organizational culture to accommodate this change and increase productivity.
We will all be facing challenging times ahead. As with all of our work, we must confront our challenges and seek opportunities where they may exist. We can take this opportunity to slow down and reach out and care for one another. And, as we remind you, we also remind ourselves to dwell in possibility and maintain our mission-centered work. It is more critical now than ever.