By Deborah Crocker

It’s time to roll out your best end of year annual giving campaign EVER. 

Ensuring a viable future for your nonprofit may be tied to how much money you can raise by December 31, 2020. While this is a daunting predicament, it is not an impossible achievement. With a pandemic, and with the economy in a major slump, people are still giving, and some are giving more than ever. 

Consider what type of requests you will send and when, how will you utilize #GivingTuesday, and how your Board and volunteers can support these efforts. Once you have a solid timeline with your activities in order, make sure to include these five steps in your planning:

  1. Set an aggressive benchmark for December 31 towards your overall annual giving. If you raise $500,000 a year from individual donors, I recommend raising at least 75% of the total goal by December. While people are still giving right now, we don’t know what 2021 will look like. Get your donations secured early.
  2. Create a campaign message for this year-end appeal work and stick to it! Let people know how much you need to raise and how you are progressing towards that goal. Always 
  3. Take the time to write notes. People are 75% more likely to give when you write a personal note..
  4. Segment your lists and personalize your requests. For example, “Thank you so much for your gift of $150 last year. Will you consider a gift of $200 this year?” People forget how much they give all the time! Make giving as easy as possible for your donors.
  5. Establish stewardship activities that are timely and personal. The sure way to lose a donor is not to thank them promptly, so always prioritize your stewardship and acknowledgement plans. Remember, it’s much easier to retain a donor than to find a new one!

I am in awe of the dedication, commitment, creativity and pure gusto that nonprofit administrators have shown us over the past six months. It’s made it more clear than ever that people choose to work in the nonprofit industry because they want to serve a mission and to make the world a better place. The pandemic has not stopped people from giving back to your cause. Give your donors the opportunity to support you and they will give back. 

As the days of this pandemic roll on, I am spending time helping organizations craft messages about COVID 19 and how the virus is impacting their programming. Each message is unique to each nonprofit, but the one idea that appears consistently is the hope for a time when communities can come back together and fully embrace their missions in the way they had intended. This hope for a brighter future has led me to think about philanthropy in a post pandemic world—and some positive outcome this situation could have on the larger philanthropic landscape. 

Wish #1: More General Operating Support

During this crisis it’s been extremely encouraging to see foundations step up to support nonprofits. By responding early they are setting the stage for individuals, government, and corporations to follow. Some foundations have worked with peers to develop COVID 19 emergency funds, and  others are fast tracking donations to get cash to nonprofits sooner. The most compelling step I have seen taken is foundations releasing grantees from restrictive guidelines and allowing them to use their grant awards for general operating expenses. 

Nonprofits are always looking to increase their general operating income. Yet in the pre-pandemic days, the majority of foundations gave very limited general operating gifts. More often, grants were restricted to specific programs, timing, and expenses, and then you were allowed to tack on 15% of administrative costs (aka General Operating Expenses).

I understand why foundations put parameters on grants, but during these past five years I have witnessed an incredible uptake in the hoops that nonprofits must jump through to receiving funding. Through their actions during this crisis, however, foundations basically said, “We believe in your mission and we want you to survive this crisis. We value your work, therefore, we will support your most vital needs.” I love this stance, and my wish for the post pandemic world is for this sentiment and ensuing action to continue well beyond this crisis. To simplify application procedures and to develop a grant process that is truly about engaging with a nonprofits work and championing their dreams and visions through general operating gifts—this is a future I would like to see. 

Wish #2: Unapologetic Reserve Funds

Nonprofit organizations should create operating models that are prepared for crises. It’s time to change how nonprofits operate. We need nonprofits to be set up for survival under duress. How many nonprofits were prepared to function for three months without income? Without doing extensive research, I believe it’s fair to say that very few organizations were prepared. So why can’t nonprofits unapologetically fundraise for reserve funds? And why not have foundations lead the way with this?  Why not consider having foundations allocate part of their grants to a reserve fund? This is my second wish—reserve funds built into a nonprofit’s budget and supported by institutional funders.

Wish #3: Corporations Step Up

This is something we have been wanting to see for quite some time. Corporations make up the smallest portion of giving in the United States compared to individuals, foundations, and bequests. And since the 2008 downturn, this trend has not improved. At this moment in our history when the entire world is digging deep to support those in need, my wish is for the large corporations across this country to step up and make some meaningful contributions to the nonprofit sector—not through corporate tax breaks, but by sharing their profits for the good of the communities they work in. While the economy is suffering, there are still many large companies that are profiting, and this is their chance to share the burden the nonprofit sector is experiencing, and prop them up for a brighter future. 

By Deborah Crocker

After a career as a professional dancer, I became an arts administrator so I could keep performing arts companies from folding the way that some of the companies I danced for had. Though my work has expanded to other nonprofit fields, for many years I raised money primarily in the arts. I  am dedicated to supporting the arts to ensure we live in a culturally rich, diverse, and educated community. But when the COVID 19 virus came, I must admit that a voice in my head said, “Those things aren’t as important right now. People are sick, and need basic necessities to survive. That’s where help should be prioritized right now.”

So how do we balance the desire to support the nonprofits that are “essential” while making sure the “non-essential” are still here when we get through this pandemic?  

The essentials of the now are inarguably the most pressing needs of the moment. But those nonprofits, like the arts, deemed “non essential” in the face of an existential threat, are essential for our future.

Beyond the economic impact of your activities and the number of people you employ, your nonprofit serves an important purpose, and your request for support is vital to its existence. It all comes down to making the right request to the right people. I have witnessed a number of “essential and non-essential” nonprofits receive increased donations these past few weeks due to their thoughtful engagement messages, innovative virtual communications, and “soft” ask for support,  but there is likely a need to take your fundraising a step further. 

Your request right now should be just as unique as your mission. Here are some critical things to consider when building a campaign to support your nonprofit during this crisis;

  1. Create an uplifting and clear message for your campaign. Do not sugarcoat the situation, but make sure you are telling people that you need their support now because you plan on being here in the future! People should know that you are forging ahead and creating a path towards a brighter tomorrow. 
  1. Identify a current need and communicate it. Your campaign will most likely fund part of your general operating budget, something every nonprofit needs right now. So the question becomes, what do you need the most?  Salaries for staff? Increased funds for necessary supplies? By making your request specific, it will convey operational information about your organization, which will bring people further into your organization and let them know exactly how they are helping.  
  1. A specific ask will have more impact.  Figure  out how much you really need and share that goal. When doing a personal one-on-one request, give donors a number to consider. (I’ve never had someone get mad at me for asking for a gift that was out of their range.)
  1. Enlist your biggest supporters to champion your plan first. Before going public with your campaign, connect with your board members and most loyal donors and ask them to give towards the campaign to help launch it successfully. Having their support early on will encourage others to give, and it will strengthen your community by keeping them invested in the importance of your nonprofit.
  1. Develop a solid plan to back up your campaign.
    • Plan a timeline for requests using different communications channels.
    • Be creative with how you ask. Utilize video messages and live streaming opportunities. (But make sure the lighting is complimentary!)
    • Establish financial milestones, and share with your donors when you achieve them.
  1. Create a meaningful acknowledgement strategy. These donors have stepped up in one of the most important moments in your history. Let them know how much that means to you. 

The key right now is to stay focused on your mission. And remember, for those whose mission might not be considered “essential” at the moment, they are essential to what we look forward to once we weather the storm. 

By Deborah Crocker

March 18, 2020

It is an uncertain time, to say the least. For nonprofits, it makes an already delicate business model that much more unstable. 

I have spoken to a number of nonprofit leaders over the past week, and one question that comes up time and time again is,  “Should we ask for support right now?”

All nonprofits need support right now so of course you need to be thinking about this. From social service organizations that are providing the most basic needs to individuals to arts organizations that create a thriving culture in our cities, they all need help right now. So the question really becomes when to request support, how to ask for support, and what to do before you ask for support. I think that last part is critical, and doing it well will set your nonprofit up for the best chance at success. 

Everyone is in a panic, and you have every right to be in a panic as well, but you also need to think long term. What will be the overall effect of this crisis on this organization? And more optimistically, what can we do now to keep our mission alive and ready to thrive in better times? If you run out and ask blindly for support, your message will get lost in the crowd. So I recommend taking the following steps first:

  1. Create a Communications Strategy: Empathy should be fully present in all of your communications right now. Reach out to your donors and community to let them know how you are taking care of your staff, how you are prioritizing your services, and what you are doing during this difficult time. I recommend weekly emails and/or social media posts. This doesn’t have to be full of details, because you probably don’t have many details in this day-to-day situation. It’s just a general check in to give them an idea of what your nonprofit is doing during this time and to send them well wishes. As this situation progresses, you can let them know about the financial toll this is taking on your nonprofit. 

** Remember, you can’t ask people for donations before engaging them in a meaningful way. You know you will need to ask for their support so do this important engagement work now!

  1. Prioritize personal check ins: Call and check in with your most loyal supporters and prioritize by age. Who is elderly and might feel really lonely and isolated right now? Call them. Let them know you care.
  1. Develop plans for the short term: This is the hard part, but you need to start asking the “what if” questions. What if we don’t have any new income for three months? What if we can’t make payroll? Ask these questions, and then brainstorm solutions. What type of virtual fundraiser might work once this situation calms? How might you ask vendors to spread out payments? How might your board members and volunteers be able to pitch in? How might your landlord or bank support your need for more time for payments? As hard as some of these questions are, it will feel better to get them out there and start coming up with options. 
  1. Clean up your infrastructure:  This is a time to do all of that database clean-up that has been on the back burner! Prepare your fund development infrastructure for when things start getting back on track!
  1. Connect with other nonprofits: Reach out to your peers and connect with others in the field. You are all in this together and there might be some ways to weather this storm together. I foresee partnerships between like minded nonprofits being key in an organization’s ability to move forward. 

Once you are actively taking these steps, and as you gain new information, you will be ready to go to your donors and make a meaningful request for support—a request that will both resonate with your donors and fully support your mission for the long term.