Fundraising During This Time of Turmoil

In times of upheaval, it’s not unusual for a nonprofit organization or a political candidate to temporarily suspend their fundraising solicitations.

During my 35-year career, I have witnessed several events that triggered many nonprofit causes to take such action, including 9/11 and the beginning of the great recession in 2008. 

However, the year 2020 is prompting a reaction previously unseen within the fundraising industry.

Jim Hussey, Chairman

The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn caused many organizations to suspend their fundraising campaigns in March. Unlike the fundraising suspensions in 2001 and 2008, these interruptions were … and for some continue to be … much longer.

Following the onset of the coronavirus crisis, the murder of George Floyd was the catalyst for a new wave of protests in cities from New York to Los Angeles and everywhere in between – another reason to reevaluate fundraising campaigns.

And 2020 is far from over. The remainder of the year promises even more turbulence.

In addition to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus, the troubling and divisive political situation within the nation guarantees even more tumult, especially during the final quarter of this year. The election in November, as well as its lead up and aftermath, may be the most politically contentious period in modern American history.

So what do we do? Should nonprofit organizations constantly suspend and revive their fundraising efforts with each new, dramatic event? No.

For the sake of the causes we care about, we must continue on the path forward and push through the storms we are facing. We must carry on.

Even the temporary suspension of solicitation efforts can set your program behind by months or even years. A fundraising program is like a train … once stopped, it takes much time and effort to restart it and get up to speed.

In addition to the immediate loss of income, the suspension of donor acquisition efforts will cause attrition, instigating major downturns in your donor file that will further impact your efforts in future years.

Control packages and language atrophy without the constant testing necessary to keep them viable, necessitating further testing and smaller rollouts when the program is reinstated, until confidence in the market is rebuilt.

Decisions to suspend fundraising often come from outside the development office, by supervisors who too often are cynical about fundraising, and view it as a necessary evil.

More must be done to educate our nonprofit leaders that fundraising is about more than asking someone for money. It’s about empowering the donor and providing them with a chance to address an issue which is important to them. Suspending fundraising operations denies them that opportunity.

Nonprofit leaders often believe they are doing a favor for their donors by giving them a break. In reality, the donors probably don’t notice. But once loyal donors move on to other organizations that are less reluctant to ask for their involvement and help, and it is incredibly difficult to bring them back to the fold.

It’s best to address major events directly. If everyone’s attention is directed toward a particular issue … acknowledge it in your copy.

Don’t ignore the elephant in the room.

Your donors will not be angry with you for continuing to advocate for an issue that is important to you both, even in difficult times.

How are you fundraising right now? We’d love to hear how your organization has been reacting to and coping with 2020’s current events. Tell us in the comments!

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