We take the health and safety of our clients and the people they serve very seriously. As such, we are closely monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and taking necessary precautions. We are following the advice of the Kent County Health Department and the Ottawa County Health Departments, both of whom are working closely with the CDC and the MDHHS and we are following their advisories for businesses and their employees. Visit accesskent.com for more.

Keep calm, but keep moving

That said, it is understandable that nonprofit leaders may feel especially uneasy during this time of uncertainty with regard to fundraising. Should we keep meetings with volunteers? Should we make asks? Should we hold our events? We know that you have put a lot of time and energy into planning your fundraising strategies to ensure your organization has the financial resources to deliver on your mission. We can all remember previous times of uncertainty and how those same feelings surfaced and impacted our decisions. It is a normal reaction because we are all passionate about our organizations, our staff, and those we serve.

What we know from previous national emergencies (such as 9/11) and economic downturns is that, while giving detracted, it certainly did not go away. Organizations that remain present through these times, maintain communication with their donors, and are thoughtful in how they engage donors will come out of this period stronger and more resilient. That was certainly the case for our clients that endured through the 2008 recession. So, what can you as nonprofit leaders do to ensure continued fundraising success? We have some practical advice for you as you contemplate your fundraising work over the next few months.

First, as much as possible, maintain business discipline, even if your work becomes remote. Look to your local health department for recommendations and advice. If your local conditions call for social distancing, come up with alternatives for meetings and activities currently on your calendar. For example, don’t cancel your board meetings. Instead, use a conference or video service. Share information with your clients/patrons about alternative ways to reach you if needed. To the extent it is possible, keep your organization moving forward.

Second, keep communicating. Your supporters and volunteers want to know that you have a plan. You can’t reassure them if you go dark. The first thing you should address in your virtual meetings or communications is, “how are we preparing for or responding to the challenges caused by this health issue?” The worst thing you could do is pretend it’s not happening. This issue matters to your stakeholders. Make sure you respect and help allay their fears.

Third, keep fundraising! People don’t stop giving during times of crisis, though they may shift their priorities. Your supporters need to know that their gifts are more important than ever. Keep cultivating donors, even if you do it through one-on-one phone calls instead of face-to-face meetings. Keep planning your events but develop a Plan B to take into account potential complications caused by the inability to continue your event “in person.” Start getting pieces in place now (e.g. recording videos of your Executive Director, CEO or planned keynote speakers, drafting communications, aligning other digital assets) so they are ready if you need them. If you are unable to hold an event, consider options like postponing, hosting it virtually, or sending a communication via mail instead.

And fourth, create an ROI from this gift of time, as much as we may not wish for this gift of time.  You might not be as busy with day-to-day activities in the next months. This is a perfect time to do those things that get pushed aside during the craziness of everyday life:

  • Write that newsletter that’s overdue.
  • Update your thank you letters.
  • Update and fine-tune your mailing list.
  • Spend a little time updating your development plan.
  • Update your website.
  • Refresh your major gift program
  • Encourage your board to spend time thinking about potential board candidates.
  • Send your volunteers a sincere thank you.
  • Evaluate your progress against your strategic plan.
  • Contact your donors and donor prospects by phone or video call

During this challenging time, your job is to keep your organization moving as much as possible, even if you must shift into a different gear. It will be easier to ramp back up when the crisis has passed if you have continued making progress during this difficult time.

Think of this time as an uphill bike ride. Don’t stop peddling! Keep moving, even if at a slower pace. The organizations that keep peddling will be ready to pick up speed once we reach the crest and will be stronger on the other side.