Balance. That should be your ‘today mantra.’
I’m talking about balancing self-love with donor-love.
You can’t help others unless you first take care of yourself.
This is really a truism you should carry with you throughout your life. But it’s never been truer than the times in which we’re currently living.
At the bottom of this article, I’m going to offer you some ‘don’t panic’ self-care strategies.
Since, however, you primarily look to me for fundraising advice, let’s begin with some specific strategies to try right NOW.
FIRST: Take Care of Your Donors
Connect, Connect, Connect – with Everyone!
Talk to your donors about how they’re doing. It’s always been good practice to stay in touch with your supporters. In fact, the numero uno reason donors stop giving is due to your poor communication with them. So use this time as your reason to – finally — get your donor love and loyalty plan off your back burner!
Take this opportunity to connect with folks with sensitivity and empathy. Show you care about them. As people, not just donors. Let them know you’ve no idea how this pandemic may be affecting them, personally and professionally. Listen and empathize with what they tell you. Depending on what your organization does, you may even be able to help them. At least put out an offer of help, and a listening ear, should they need you in the coming weeks and months. Then – as appropriate — share with them the situation for your organization and those who rely on your programs and services.
NEXT: Take Care of Your Mission with Specific Strategies to Try Right Now
1. Ask Major Donors to Be Heroes
These are the folks who love you the most; they want to be helpful. Don’t make the mistake of not asking them because you fear annoying them. Maybe they already gave this year, or pledged, and you don’t want to look greedy? They’re more likely to be annoyed if you don’t ask them! Most every donor has in their heart a desire to help and do good deeds – and sometimes this desire is especially strong during times like the ones we’re in.
Be transparent about your situation today, and specific about your needs. If you’re totally fine, and have a big endowment to see you through this rainy day, then fine. Don’t ask now. But if you’re like most nonprofits, you probably have some very specific problems you’re facing. Like how to pay rent. Whether to lay off staff. How to continue serving your constituents. How to be sure you won’t disappear before this pandemic has run its course. You know, existential crises.
Major donors are exactly the folks who want to make a demonstrative difference. This is your golden opportunity to show them why you need them to keep you afloat. Usually these types of ‘grand gesture’ opportunities are reserved for capital campaigns. But, this time, it’s not about your donor getting their name on a building. It’s about assuring you get to come back to your building, continue doing your mission-critical work from said edifice, and continue helping, saving, rescuing, inspiring, educating, preventing, restoring, sharing… all the essential things you do to help those who are relying on you not to disappear.
2. Ask All Donors to Consider an Additional Monthly Gift
It can be time-limited – just for the duration of the crisis. Many donors will be more comfortable committing to a smaller amount right now (perhaps the cost of their weekly commute, the latte they’re no longer buying, or… get creative with your ideas). I don’t generally advocate asking folks to give things up so they can give to you instead (see here); in this case, however, they’ve already been forced to give these things up. It’s not an either/or choice. It’s more of a “why not?” situation.
Make sure it’s easy for donors to get started. Here are some easy ways to boost your monthly giving. Don’t just expect people to ‘find’ the monthly giving option on your website. Put it front and center – maybe even on your Home Page. Include a monthly giving link (ideally to a dedicated landing page). You can also include such a link as a PS in an email. Add a monthly giving button option to an appeal or other donor communication. Or send a targeted appeal asking for monthly support right now so you can keep folks on payroll and weather this crisis. I promise, this is a program that will stand you in good stead well beyond the crisis we’re in.
3. Establish a COVID-19 Resilience or Response Fund
Clarify what is needed now, and why. People are generous during a crisis. Ask donors for their permission to invite them to be a hero at this time. Gently ask them if it would be possible for them to support you with a one-time special gift. Tell them you don’t know how much they might be able to give, but… you have a fundraising goal to meet. Can they contribute? Some will say no. Others will say yes. Still others will say “no, not right now, sadly… but please come back to me later and I’ll definitely make a gift.”
Set a fundraising goal to cover unanticipated expenses or/or your income shortfall. Suggest to people what their giving now will mean. For example: “If everyone receiving this mailing gives $20, we will meet our urgent fundraising goal. Since we know some of you are experiencing your own hardship right now, we don’t expect everyone will be able to give today. If you can, thank you, thank you, thank you! For those of you who can manage to give even more, your generosity will mean the world – and then some. Together, we can continue to be here for all who care about this important mission.”
SUMMARY: 4-Part Crisis Fundraising Plan of Action
Whoever you’re approaching for support, you’ll need to begin with a little bit of planning. This is always the case, of course. Yet somehow when we’re in the midst of an emergency, we tend to throw common sense and good, learned experience out the door. Don’t do that!
Paint the picture you need to paint right now; then insert your donors squarely inside this picture. Once you’ve got clarity on these three steps, you’ll be ready to hit the ground with transparency, creativity and aplomb (Yes, that’s me inside a painting in a museum. Magic!)
1. GOAL: Determine Your Fundraising Purpose and Amount.
Don’t just say “times are tough and we’re going to need more money.” Be transparent about the shortfall you’ve identified for the next 3, 6, and 9 months. Project this out longer if that’s a likely scenario for your organization. We’re in a marathon here, not a sprint. Set a goal so donors can step up to the plate to help you meet that goal. This will not only be more helpful to you, it is also more satisfying for your donors.
2. SCRIPT: Develop Your Script
Going in know your objective and what you plan to say. Your purpose is to make individual contacts with supporters in order to simultaneously (1) build community (this reminds people why they appreciate being a part of your family, and pre-disposes them to want to stick with you) and ask for support (this, of course, helps assure you’ll weather this storm – which your supporters do care about).
- Check in. Let folks know you want to be sure they’re okay
- Honest talk about what’s going on with your nonprofit. They won’t know unless you tell them. Plus, this makes them feel like trusted insiders – real members of your family.
- Let folks know specifically how they can be a hero, should they so choose.
- Thank them for everything you can think of – past, present and future. Thank them for taking the time to chat today. Thank them for something they said that inspired or touched you. Thank them for any advice offered. Thank them for responding positively to your request for a gift.
- Tell them when you’ll next be in touch. Maybe send a follow-up email after a call, with a link to a little ‘gift’ to lift their spirits. [Ideas: Recipes from staff for sheltering in place (e.g., how to perk up canned soup/beans/tuna); Recommended shows to stream (perhaps related to your cause); Inspirational poems; YouTube videos of prior testimonials from beneficiaries; You Tube ‘how to’ videos with helpful tips and/or fun ideas for sheltering in place; Video greetings and thank you’s from staff, etc.).
3. PROSPECTS: Identify Who You’ll Contact
Given limited resources, you always want to prioritize. Begin with prospects most likely to give you major gifts right now. Then continue through the folks you’d normally be trying to upgrade (mid-level donors; multi-year donors; volunteers who also donate, etc.). Then continue through to the folks you’d normally simply be trying to renew at the same level. This is all just common sense, but it helps to make yourself a list. Here’s a super useful suggestion from Steven Shattuck at Bloomerang.
4. ASK AMOUNTS
It’s always good practice to suggest an ask amount or range of amounts. Psychologically, this gives your donor an ‘anchor’ – a target upon which they can base their decision. No one wants to be cheap, and have you think poorly of them. Neither do they want to be a chump, and give way more than anyone else. Here are some ways to set benchmarks:
1.Base amount on the donor’s last gift. There’s a natural human desire to be consistent. So if you tell people what they gave last year… or remind them of tickets they purchased or memberships they bought… this acts as a decision-making shortcut. They don’t have to decide they want to be involved. Just at what level.
2. Let people know numbers of people like them who are giving. For example, if you have members, subscribers, parents, alumni, former patients, volunteers, etc., tell them how you’ve been touched by fact that thus far 50% of people like them have made a special crisis-related gift.
3. Report average giving within a segment of constituents. This is a variation on the suggestion above. For example, you can say:
“To-date our subscribers are making average special gifts of $27.”
“Our parents have responded with average gifts of $100!”
“Our volunteers may not be able to meet face-to-face with clients right now, but we’re receiving an outpouring of gifts averaging $55.”
4. Consider suggesting a monthly giving amount as an anchor. This is an opportunity to encourage monthly gifts. Bite-sized amounts may seem more ‘doable,’ especially if added to a one-time annual gift that’s already been made or pledged. For those who’ve not yet committed to a gift for this fiscal year, instead of getting a one-time $25 gift you may get monthly $25 gifts. Even six months of $10 gifts would be much more than the one-time $25 gift (of course, you let folks know they can cancel at any time). While you’re at it, brand your monthly giving program with a catchy name, clear case for support and donor benefits.
Okay, let’s take time to consider self-love — the other half of the ‘balancing equation’ with which we’re all currently faced. I want you to regularly take some time to check in with yourself (not just your fears, but what’s happening in your heart). The rest will follow.
Take Care of Yourself
Today I’m sharing some recommendations from the Greater Good Center at U.C. Berkeley: Six Daily Questions to Ask Yourself in Quarantine. (I absolutely LOVE this website!).
Since this is about balancing, I’d like to answer these questions from both a personal and professional perspective. Please think about these questions for yourself and for your organizaion. And allow me to make a few suggestions – in addition to the inspiring ones you’ll find on the Greater Good website. And it’s okay if everything isn’t perfectly balanced right now (I’m certainly not!); just give it your best shot.
1. What am I grateful for today?
Begin with yourself. Try to think about one small thing you are doing to bring a little joy or comfort to your life. I am dressing in joyful colors! Or just spend a minute or two making a list of family and friends for whom you’re grateful. And, maybe, why. Then consider who you’re grateful to at work. A fellow staff member? A donor? Maybe you should let them know! This is a great practice to continue – well beyond this crisis.
2. Who am I checking in on, or connecting with, today?
Greater Good writer, Brooke Anderson, says: “As many have rightly reframed it, it’s not social distance we need, but rather social solidarity while we maintain physical distance.” She suggests picking three people each day to check in on. Family. Friends. Neighbors. I’d suggest you also consider other nonprofits you may be able to help. Then consider which of your donors you might check in with. Know that it’s not just your clients and staff who need you now; your volunteers and donors need you too! Send them reassuring, inspiring messages. Begin every communication with “How are you?” Express genuine concern for how they’re doing. Let them know you want to be sure they’re okay. Because they’ve always helped your organization be okay. Show you care about them as more than just ‘donors.’ Share from your heart to theirs. They care. You care. Mutual caring is more needed than ever. And I guarantee this will make you feel good!
3. What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today?
Please stop pretending everything will be back to business as usual in a month. It won’t. Better to face this sooner than later. It will be empowering to give yourself permission to innovate a new modus operandi – both at home and at work (even if they’re both happening in the same physical space for now). Whatever you used to do, it’s okay if you no longer do it that way. Instead of checking into the office at 8:30, sleep in and sit down to your computer at 10:00. Or whatever feels comfortable for you. It’s fine to make yourself as comfy and cozy as you can for the duration! Figure out what is important to you. Not last month, not last week, not yesterday, but today. Focus there. You need to let go in order to successfully adapt.
4. How am I getting outside today?
You’re hearing all sorts of wise folks telling you about the importance of nature, fresh air, and sunshine. Anytime you’re feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, try to take a little walk. Or go outside and sit on a porch or in a garden for five minutes. Or stick your head out your window. ACTION: A friend of mine told me she just went to Home Depot and bought a ton of pansies. “Getting flowers in the yard will make me happier.” What can you do to make yourself happy this way? Can you send a photo of yourself holding a big bouquet you can present to lift your donors’ spirits? Or perhaps photos of nature you took on a walk? Whatever your mission, it shouldn’t be difficult to somehow relate it to helping folks take care of their nervous systems.
5. How am I moving my body today?
Just like getting outside, moving your body can reduce stress, fear and anxiety. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do an hour-long exercise video every day. Just a little bit of movement will help. Anything. Walk up the stairs – maybe while humming a song. Do a few sit-ups or push-ups. Dance in the kitchen. If you have limited mobility or fitness, roll your wrists or ankles in a circle while seated. Un-hunch your shoulders. Massage the tension out of your jaw. Take a deep breath while putting a hand on your heart to feel its beat.
6. What beauty am I creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?
I’m looking for the tiny beautiful things wherever I can find them. Beauty is an antidote to despair. A reminder that everything is not horrible. Maybe you can draw your feelings. Or write down your dreams. Or plant flowers or vegetables. Or cook for family or neighbors. Or pick up that musical instrument you put down some time ago. Or sing in the shower? ACTION: Go on a tiny beautiful thing hunt in your neighborhood and take photos of what you find; share with your friends. This gives purpose to your walks, plus it’s a lot of fun (I confess: It satisfies my shopping cravings; I’m perpetually ‘on the hunt’).
Don’t Forget Gratitude
In fundraising, everything begins and ends with gratitude. If you come from an attitude of gratitude you’ll likely succeed. Because philanthropy, essentially, is about love.
Love, not money. The money will follow, as surely as day follows night.
Love and gratitude are antidotes to fear and despair. Share these with your supporters. Show them how important they are. Help them find meaning and joy in a time when they truly need purpose. This is more important than you might imagine. In fact, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s family gave permission to add a sixth stage to the grief process: meaning.
Today is your opportunity. Help your supporters help you make the world a better place. Carpe diem!
Photos are mine (which is why quality is sub-par). The ‘donor’ depicted is my Dad who, with my Mom, taught me all about the joy of philanthropy. And caring. He passed shortly after this photo was taken in 2012. I am grateful for the happiness it brings me to see his smiling face and think of all the love he put into our world. May you find joy in your own memories and reflections. As well as in the gifts you bring to others. Together, we’ve got this. PEACE.