Reflective. I find myself mired in this state as 2020 transitions into its final chapter. All around us people are managing with less in their lives, many due to pandemic related employment losses, organizations with fewer people doing the same amount of work. People who know I am a fundraiser ask me with grave concerned faces, how am I doing trying to raise money for my cause. What can we do to weather this particular storm? My reaction surprises them, and me, quite frankly. I do what I’ve always done, (as a former colleague puts it) I stick to the knitting.
Experience is the great teacher that there are no magic bullets in philanthropy. Except maybe two; patience and resilience. The very word for what we do is steeped in these two factors, philanthropy means, the desire to promote the welfare of others, or the love of humanity. (early 17th century: via late Latin from Greek philanthrōpia, from philanthrōpos [human-loving]).
This is the time to patiently work your pipeline looking for who is likely the least unaffected by the current financial circumstances, and find your route forward, while still maintaining the love for everyone else who may be unable to support your charity as they have in the past. Being resilient to weather the storm together, means having that donor engagement with your organization for the long run.
I once had a dear friend tell me the best way through a tough time was to keep moving “when you’re going through Hell, keep going”. Do not buy in to the assumption that no one will be responsive. In major gifts it is often the exact opposite and let me tell you my friends when true altruism appears it shines so much more brightly in the darkness. In community fundraising maintaining relationships with your legions of donors will help you both come out the other side. In other words, in tough times let your (personal and organizational) love shine. Find a way to say thank you that is both honest and simple. This is not a time for big expensive tokens with fanfare.
Financial uncertainty is as real as it gets. People be they individual donors, administrators of Foundations or CEO’s of big business, are not far from the core of the emotions this creates. Be real. Be honest. Be, present. Show them that your organization has battened down the hatches to weather this storm – together with its partners – them. As stewards of their donations that is expected. A donor once told me that how my organization handled itself during the great upset of (2008 in this case but just as easily any other recession) was why they were increasing their gift now that their financial world had steadied. All the others who begged and pleaded and crisis talked, never taking into consideration how the global uncertainty might affect the donor, were dropped like hot potatoes.
United Way in times of great economic turmoil turns to its “Back to Basics” approach for this very reason. I always adopt the mantra, what am I here to do? What is the core purpose for our work, what is the organization’s mission, who will I help with this gift? This helps to not just quiet the naysaying fears that keep me from picking up the phone or starting that letter, be refocus my every intention moving through tough times.
I always as a first step, look at the demographic of who I am approaching. What does this current recession, or economic challenge look like to them? This helps me identify which stage of the solicitation process I adopt. In times of financial unrest, most often stewardship leads, as I steward towards the next gift not knowing if that will be tomorrow or ten months from now. Personally, I always start in this phase of the gift. Some call it the state of perpetual cultivation. The last project they supported with the organization before we met is used to frame my initial dialogue.
Most of all, the best thing any of us can do during these times - is listen. Many have pointed out one of the silver linings of this unexpected “stay home time” across the globe is more quiet time than many of us have had as adults. Make yourself pick up that phone. Make yourself say “hello I’m checking in. As a long-time supporter, I thought you would like to know what we are doing to help people in our community through this challenging time”. People are more open to talking than ever before.
So, Eyre’s Top Rules for weathering economic strife as a fundraiser? Stick to the knitting. Get to it. Pick up the phone. Do not stop and assume you will not be successful but do stop using the “financial times” as an excuse. Has your organization changed how it does business to adapt to its new normal? Then you had better as well.
The pandemic buzz word is PIVOT. Pivot back to why your organization began and use that as your guide to having better, more open-ended, donor relationship centred, lifetime engaging, conversations. You got this.
Eyre Purkin Bien CFRE is a results based, goal oriented fundraiser who refuses to add the word 'no' to her vocabulary. A long time facilitator of volunteer boards/campaign cabinets, she considers herself highly skilled in all forms of philanthropic development. The donor is her first, last and only concern when working to engage someone in the organization she believes in and works for.
Cover image by "nappy" [sic] via Pexels