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Fundraising in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Dini Spheris
March 12, 2020

We are being asked by clients, friends and professional colleagues – what can we expect in terms of fundraising as we make our way through this season of coronavirus and these uncertain economic times? While we have entered unchartered medical and economic territory, we are able to draw upon the behaviors of donors during the Great Recession, after Hurricane Harvey and back through the history of human giving.

We can draw solace and hope from our propensity to give and care for one another that is expressed in the word, “philanthropy.” At the same time, it is important to be realistic that the impact of coronavirus on our families, institutions and economy is already beyond what we first imagined to be possible.

While we cannot speak to medicine or the duration of this pandemic, we do know that giving is tied to confidence. When donors have confidence in institutions, leaders, visions and results, they are inclined to be financially supportive when asked. When their confidence is shaken, donors do pause, reassess, consider the scope of their giving, and make decisions. Some stop their giving, others pause and still yet others continue to give and some give even more. We know that crises give birth to new donors.

The lesson we learned just a decade ago was to stay close to our donors, speak with them personally, ask them about their concerns, and, when appropriate, continue to ask them to give. Let donors make their decisions. Do not stop asking. But first listen, stay in the conversation and make sure that you are asking for what is essential to your organization and its future.

Donors will guide you as to what they are willing to do. They will say what they can give now or under what conditions they will give again.

In a crisis, it is important to recognize what we say so often. Our donors are our friends. Care for them. Listen to them. Take their concerns to heart. At the same time, help them to appreciate what you are doing in the midst of this crisis for the mission and institution that they cherish.

Keep your organization “top of mind” even in the midst of upheaval. In a time of crisis, if you don’t ask and have these conversations, others will. Your story may have been changed by the circumstances but it is your story to tell. It is critical to keep your donors informed and engaged as best you can. Demonstrate your leadership in the midst of the storm and others will bravely follow your lead!

Our one caveat in this time, as we know from the past, is that all asking must be about what is essential, important and urgent. The nice extra things, the “want to improve list” and the opportunistic programming have to wait. Resources will be stretched thin – even with abundant hearts – so set aside what can be set aside and focus on the essential.

This advice comes from hearts that are filled first with concern for you and for those you love and serve. We will continue to monitor the coronavirus outbreak and our economic environment. Along the way, know that we continue to be your partner. For our active clients, we will help you to continue to make progress on your campaigns and other fundraising. For our past clients and friends, we are ready to answer questions, offer advice and partner with you through these days. As we learn more, we will offer our best insights and strategies.

Wishing you health, safety, courage and hope in these days ahead.