SIMPLICITY IS YOUR BEST PATH FORWARD. ACT. BRAVE THIS NEW WORLD. CLARIFY YOUR MESSAGE.
“Val, do you think online giving will ever take off?”
“I don’t know, Lawrence, did the telephone catch on?”
Decades ago, I was chatting with a foundation president and, I’ll admit, being a bit of a wise guy. My point was that fundraising is constantly changing. If you don’t evolve along with your donors, they’ll leave you behind.
The threat of nonprofit extinction is serious. By the end of 2021, 10-30% of nonprofits will merge or close, according to experts cited in the Washington Post and Deloitte. We don’t know if this crisis is like a blizzard that will pass or the onset of an Ice Age.
Amidst 2020’s chaotic uncertainty, simplicity is your best path forward.
Consider the ABCs of nonprofit survival that have already worked in 2020:
ENSURE YOUR NONPROFIT’S INVESTMENTS AND HIRING PRACTICES REFLECT YOUR ANTI-RACIST PRINCIPLES. ENSURE YOUR MATERIALS INCLUDE CONSTITUENTS OF COLOR AND INCLUDE THEM IN YOUR PLANNING PROCESSES.
In 1995, Freedom Theatre’s renown artistic director Walter Dallas chose me to lead his development team. I was one of the few white employees. I knew a lot about fundraising but not much about race relations. My Freedom colleagues taught me some important truths, kickstarting my ongoing education.
The one thing they didn’t have to teach me was that Black lives matter.
Freedom was founded in the 1960’s to present theatre rooted in the African American tradition. At that time there were no Black actors in commercials. They rarely appeared on stage, TV or in films except in menial or comic roles. Freedom helped create the professional performing opportunities that we take for granted today. That’s progress.
Off-stage, the violence of racism persists, as George Floyd’s killing highlighted… again. The world is watching to see how our leaders, including our nonprofit leaders will react.
Nonprofit leadership begins with the board of directors. In 1994, BoardSource’s Leading With Intent report, found 86% of our nonprofit board members were white. In 2017, they found 84% are white. That’s only a 2% improvement in 23 years! Even another respected source, the Fundraising Effectiveness Report, found that more diverse boards make better decisions and that the nonprofits they lead are more resilient.
Almost all of us are connected to nonprofits, as donors, staff or on boards.
HERE ARE THREE THINGS YOUR NONPROFIT CAN DO TO SUPPORT RACIAL JUSTICE:
The sooner you ask donors, the more they can give. Philanthropic capacity and responsiveness tend to decline as a crisis wears on https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/what-happens-to-charitable-giving-when-the-economy-falters/
People are getting swamped with C-19 communications. Your open rates may be down 20% to 30% and require more frequent contact to reach your donors. Their patience may be limited, so keep your message simple. Don’t mess around. Get to the point. Urgency matters. If you can’t answer the questions, Why give to you? Why now? others can.
Retention. If you represent a nonprofit that’s not on the frontline fight against COVID-19, such as arts, cultural and environmental causes, donor retention is particularly important. Keep the donors you have. Thank them, engage them and then ask for their support.
Take-away: Board Members who LinkIn with staff and each other can raise $ without even asking.
“Who do you know?”
Most of us don’t know who we know. Not really. How would you know that your neighbor’s brother works for the Ford Foundation? Or that your tennis partner’s wife handles sponsorship for Wawa? We can’t introduce our nonprofits to connections we don’t know we have.
Take Away: Personal, sensory experience of your mission spurs authentic storytelling
Despite good intentions, the Zoo’s corporate fundraising committee wasn’t making much progress. The committee met monthly, but hadn’t gotten many gifts. A class I had taken in animal handling gave me an idea. At our next meeting, I greeted the committee as usual; I distributed agendas, and excused myself… to return draped in a five-foot long python named Lulu.