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Making Your Website Donor-Centric

Are you missing a critical step in your donor engagement strategy? Your website is a key way that your donors – current and prospective – interact with your organization, and yet it can be one of the last places we focus our effort. To maximize your website for donor engagement, consider these ten aspects of your website’s structure and content:

  • Is it mobile friendly? Make sure that your website looks, and performs, just as well on a PC as on a mobile device. Double check that your menu options connect to the right pages in mobile format. Ensure you are utilizing a responsive design that will adapt seamlessly to different sized screens – no pinch and zoom!
  • Is it easy to contact you? Information in your header or “contact us” page should be hyperlinked for ease of use. Make sure to link to the corresponding application – phone numbers should be formatted as click to call, addresses should link to a map application, etc. Make sure all contact information is current.
  • Is it inclusive? Make sure your website is easy to navigate and engage with for all individuals, particularly the populations you interact with most. Visit for a toolkit to see how you can make your website more accessible.
  • Does it over-utilize pop-ups? We can all agree pop-ups are a little annoying, but the reality is they get people’s attention! So make sure to use them sparingly when it really counts – avoid using them as a prompt to sign up for an e-newsletter since it will be seen on every visit.
  • Does it grab your attention? Most visitors won’t stay on your page for longer than 45 seconds. Use your home page and “above the fold” content to grab their attention. Ensure compelling, mission and impact focused messages delivered through engaging videos, photos, or infographics are some of the first things they see.
  • Does it include donor stories? Websites often have audiences other than donors, so it can be tricky to find the right balance in incorporating giving-specific language throughout. Donor stories are a great way to do that! Highlighting your donors – why they love the organization and support it – is not only a great way to indirectly talk about giving, it’s also good donor stewardship.
  • Does it utilize varied content? Avoid big blocks of text and try to make liberal use of visually appealing content. Use videos, photos, stats, and bulleted lists to keep people clicking through your website. Make sure transitions between pages aren’t too jarring though – keep font and colors consistent and have some elements, like your header, that carry throughout.
  • Is the content current? Having outdated content, like event registration info for an event that already happened, won’t give the impression that the website is the place to go for updated information about the organization. Make sure that you’re updating content with an obvious timeframe and that you’re incorporating fresh content regularly. One easy way to accomplish this is through a blog or by hosting your newsletter on the website. Set aside time once a month to make updates so they don’t get put off for other day to day tasks.
  • Does it show how donor support impacts the organization? Give potential donors specifics on how their gift will impact the organization. Use your giving levels to show that impact at various dollar amounts. Include this alongside your donation form, if possible, or include a “support” button. Position impactful content so donors see it right before they enter the donation form to try to avoid drop-off – 4 out of 5 donors who start a donation form won’t complete it and make a gift!
  • Are all giving options highlighted? Make sure to highlight other ways people can make their gift, like recurring/monthly options. Don’t leave this buried in your donation form – highlight it with a donor story or by sharing your monthly giving club or program. Also include ways people can get involved without a financial contribution, like by volunteering or contributing in-kind goods, to bring them closer to the organization.

Just as you plan your events, communications, and one-on-one interactions with donors to maximize their engagement, you should also actively work to make your website an extension of that effort. In addition to these tips, look for inspiration by browsing the nonprofit websites that you support personally or that are within your sector or community and incorporate elements that stand out into your own site.

Events – Different Look, New Potential

Here at Kennari, the question we have been hearing the most is, “How can we shift an in-person event to virtual and still gain the projected revenue we need?”

It is true that fundraising events look different lately, and this shift is changing the way philanthropic events are going to look even into the future. A bright side to a virtual event is the opportunity to gain more exposure and a wider audience than you could have accommodated in person. However, there are also plenty of new decisions and barriers to work through ahead of time.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to virtual events. Most importantly, the virtual event must make sense with your existing event and for your existing audience. Below are some key questions you need to answer before moving too far down a certain virtual path:

  1. Will funds from this event support something specific, a new need, or just general operational support? In a crisis fundraising environment, offering donors a specific need this event will fund is often more compelling.
  2. Will the event be fully “live” and shared in real-time, will it be all pre-recorded content that is shared, or will it be a combination of both? If it is live, be sure you plan some sort of “reception” type time online so that people can tune in over the course of 15-30 minutes, as not all participants will be getting on right at the same time.
  3. What kind of platform will you host the event on? Depending on whether it is live or recorded, you may need hosting software to accommodate sharing of live content and real-time interaction. Pick a tool that is participant friendly and budget friendly – reach out to us if you need recommendations!
  4. How will you make sure the participants can interact throughout the event? People just “watching” won’t be as engaged, and then will be less likely to give. Identify some unique ways to keep people participating (poll questions, additional facts/figures shared via chat, trivia type games, cocktail/food demo, etc).
  5. Will there be some kind of tangible benefit given to attendees – e.g. dessert in a box, take and bake dinner, gift card to a local restaurant to pick up takeout, etc? It’s not critical to provide this, but for certain types of events this can be an important element. If there is some kind of tangible benefit, it’s more reasonable to continue to have an individual “ticket” price. Then you need to decide if a “ticket” will cover one guest or two, and if individual guests get the same or different benefits as sponsor guests.

No matter how you decide to move forward, the following best practices should help guide you to ensure you hit the participation and revenue goals you set.

  • Set goals and be clear about them. Be transparent internally with what your new expense and revenue plans are – you may need to allocate some of your food/venue budget to technology and videography. A virtual event does not mean it is zero cost. Use your messaging to reinforce that participation in the virtual event is an opportunity to financially support the organization – this is still a fundraiser. Highlight the impact of the dollars raised and the current funding needs you have.
  • Sponsorship is still essential in meeting financial goals. Find unique ways to recognize your sponsors. Get creative with their benefits! Some ideas include:
      • Encourage them to record a short (30 second) promo video to send out before the event.
      • Place their logo in unique places within other videos.
      • Highlight a behind-the-scenes tour of their company after the event.
      • Offer some kind of professional development opportunity for their staff/guests.
      • Give some kind of gift/food item for their attendees to enjoy while participating online.
  • An online event page will be critical to your success. Drive everyone to the event page on your website and share the specifics and registration details. It is very important to have guests register ahead of time, even if they are guests of sponsors or are not paying a ticket price. The more you know about your attendees, the easier it will be to keep them engaged so they are more likely to participate on event day.
  • Personally call/reach out to donors that were at last year’s event and make sure they have seen the info and are planning to participate this year. Some of these could also be good prospects for offering a matching gift – consider that before calling and then make the ask when appropriate. Plan ahead and establish a hierarchy of which staff or board members will call donors. Block sufficient time on calendars and commit to this step now.
  • Communicate A LOT before the event. Having a virtual event means communicating clearly to your audiences and implementing strategies to help your organization ‘rise above the noise.’ Participants and supporters need to know what it is you expect from them. This will require planning ahead and establishing priorities. For example, your sponsors should be the first to know what the new game plan is. Your event attendees should have clear information about how and where to access your event. Participants should receive multiple teaser emails: 2-6 months ahead, send at least one a month; in the month leading up to the event, send 1-2 per week; in the week leading up to the event, send almost daily reminders/quick videos/previews.
  • Ask regularly throughout the event. Rather than creating a program that leads up to an ask, ask throughout the event and make it very clear/obvious how people can give. If you have a match, talk about it in the beginning and then throughout the event. Highlight the different giving methods verbally, on screen, etc. Most donors will give online or via text in a virtual event, but mailing former givers an envelope ahead of time can be a good idea for those that typically write a check or give through the mail. Make sure your website donation form is easy to find and user friendly. Update all emails/auto receipts – do a test donation to be sure you’re ready!
  • Have a clear and prepared thank you plan for those that support the event. Put some energy and creativity into how you will follow up with donors after the event.

The more personal touches and individualized communication you do, the better. Remember, your supporters still value the good work you are doing, you’re just sharing the impact differently than you have in the past. Despite all the recent and upcoming challenges, we are encouraged and excited by the many ways nonprofits are creatively changing up their events and meeting, or exceeding, their goals.

Giving USA 2020 – a look at philanthropy in 2019

Giving USA is the longest running annual philanthropy report and is published by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. This report is trusted by nonprofits across the country and helps the sector make strategic decisions about fundraising. It provides important statistical information about the economy, charitable dollars, and trends in the nonprofit industry. What did the most recent report on 2019 giving have to say? How is the 2019 data still relevant despite all the changes of 2020?  Below is a brief summary.

The report continues to reinforce that individuals are the primary source of charitable dollars in the United States. And building relationships with individuals also impacts Foundation and Corporate giving, so focusing activities and efforts on individuals makes a lot of sense. With 2019 bringing another record year of giving, $449.64 billion in fact, individuals still make up the greatest percentage at 79% (including 10% from bequests).

While individuals are still at the core, we should also pay careful attention to other avenues of individual giving such as foundations, bequests, and donor-advised funds. The more you know and understand your donor, the more you can cultivate and steward funds, providing opportunities for giving that are meaningful to them.

Some key findings:

  • 79% of funding is from individuals (which includes bequests). While this has changed considerably since the first findings in 1980 (with 89% from individuals, including bequests), the increase in Foundation giving (only 6% of the total giving in 1980) has made up that difference.
  • 16% of funding is from Foundations which is comprised of independent, family, community, and operational foundations. Giving by family foundations (essentially individuals) is estimated to be 46% of total foundation giving in 2019.
  • 5% of funding is from corporations.

It will be important for nonprofit organizations to pay close attention to, and build relationships with, foundations as wealth continues to stay concentrated among high net worth donors. Though the dollars continue to increase, the overall number of donors continues to decline.  Much of the individual giving comes from high and ultra-high net worth donors.  So, though it is important to broaden your base of supporters and diversify your approaches, spending significant time with individual major donors to your organization remains critical.

Another important trend is the continued growth of monthly/recurring giving. Connected to that is the fact that 50% of nonprofit websites are viewed through a mobile device, with 25% of online gifts made on a mobile device. If monthly giving is not a priority or your website isn’t extremely mobile friendly, it’s time to take some major steps in that direction!

Though 2020 has seen a tremendous amount of change and uncertainty, donors have historically responded to crisis – and we trust they will continue to do so. Giving is expected to grow, particularly to organizations working in health and social justice. There are certain long-term trends that have held steady and are again represented in the 2019 results. Though the uncertainty with the economy, political landscape, and giving overall is reason to be cautious, we also regularly see the people of our communities rise up to support nonprofits when they need it most – and we think now we’ll see that more than ever before.

Our favorite lines from the report on the relevance of 2019 data for 2020 and beyond:

Philanthropy is not just about generosity; it can also be about activism. Rather than simply supporting causes because ‘that’s what we always support,’ donors today are aligning their philanthropic support with measurable and demonstrable impact. Do not use the current climate as reason to pause asking for gifts and garnering support. The generosity of the American people is both profound and consistent.

To purchase Giving USA 2020: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2019, visit this link.

7 Tips to Make Your Year End Appeal Stand Out

2020 is a very noisy year and it’s about to get a little louder. Mail in ballots, Return to Learn, and the ongoing pandemic are a lot to contend with for your year-end fundraising efforts. Want to ensure your letter – your year-end ask – gets heard?

Here are 7 musts that will help you rise above the noise at this year-end:

1 – Mail after the Election. For sure wait until after November 3 to drop your letter. Most states are expecting 10 times the amount of normal political mail. Add that with the mail in ballots this year, and your letter will for sure need to wait. Best case, drop between November 5 and 10.

2 – Major Gift Strategy. If I could write ten pages on this I would. Spend some time here and really plan ahead; start in August. Review your top 20 donors and determine if this is the best time to ask them and for what amount (and ask for that increase!). Are you in the middle of a campaign and feel like your campaign donors are off the hook for an ask? They aren’t. Remember that annual giving is king and quite often, your campaign gifts are above and beyond gifts. If that campaign donor gives an annual gift every year, keep asking for that annual gift every year!

3 – Board Involvement. There, I said it. Yes, board members, you need to play a part in this. It is quite possibly the easiest way for you to be a part of the fundraising process. Keep reading on for important job description. Review a mailing list at a board meeting and choose which donor letters you can hand write a note on. That’s it. No kidding. It will take about 10 minutes of your time.

4 – Segment and segment. In order to stand out, talk to your constituents like you know them. For instance, let’s say volunteers are a segment. Your ‘ask’ in the conclusion of the letter may sound like this, “Thank you for being such a valuable volunteer! We so appreciate the time you devote to our mission. Would you please consider a monetary gift at this year-end?” What other segments do you have? Recent event attendees, monthly donors, or lapsed donors? Speak to them like you know them!

5 – Send a follow up reminder postcard. Keep the theme of your appeal and drop this sometime in December to remind donors that ‘Hey – there is still time to donate!’ Your colorful postcard will stand out in the mailbox and should include a QR code or the URL for your donate page as well as how to send a check.

6 – eCommunication is not a standalone. Your eCommunication plan for your year-end appeal is meant to compliment your hard copy letter and reminder postcard. You can’t have one without the other. (“Love and Marriage” will not leave my head today I’m sure.) Also, think of Giving Tuesday as a step in your eCommunication plan. You may not have the staff to have a flown blown campaign for Giving Tuesday and that is a-ok. I would much rather your small staff spend significant time on the major donor strategy and your appeal revenue will thank me.

7 – Lastly, it will help to rise about the noise when you follow up and follow up well. For instance, utilize board members to make thank you calls. And please, please, please, update your thank you letter! Maybe even tell the rest of the story that was is in your actual appeal letter.

Bottom line: start planning now! It will take you time to segment and figure out your major donor strategy. And it will take time to have your board review (a limited!) list and sign notes.

If you need help with your year-end appeal process, please reach out to the team at Kennari Consulting! We want to make sure you have the most successful year-end possible!

Use Video to Enhance Your Communications

Are you utilizing video as a key piece of your fundraising communication strategy? If not, you’re missing out on an opportunity to have personal, impactful engagement with donors and prospective supporters.

Because, Science!
Did you know that when we view images that trigger an emotional response, our brains get cued up to empathize through a release of oxytocin? That means the stories and messages we share in video form have a greater impact than if they were shared in writing. Since video is a tool that helps donors emotionally connect with your organization, make sure you always follow up a video with a call to action – this could be making a gift, signing up for the newsletter, or learning about becoming a volunteer.

Use Video to Keep Online Engagement Up
The changes the pandemic has brought about have forced us to get creative and find new ways to stay connected with donors. For many organizations, this has included greater digital engagement. Video is a great way to continue to engage larger and more active followings on social media and to keep people interested in the emails you’re sending out. Plan out your video content ahead of time, ideally when you’re developing your annual communications plan. Make sure you’re taking a multi-channel approach and using video for different parts of the donor engagement cycle. Video is a great way to say thank you to donors after they’ve made a gift and is as easy as recording a message on your smartphone! These kinds of authentic videos feel genuine and heartfelt and don’t come with a significant price tag.

Making Video Work with your Budget
If you are working with an outside company to produce video content, maximize your budget by having them get extra footage – make sure it’s flexible enough that you can use it in other ways. Communicating with the videography team and coming up with a plan before the day of production will help ensure you are prepared to get the most out of the video shoot. When it comes to incorporating great video into your communications, remember – plan, plan, plan! Planning ahead will help you identify good content (like powerful storytellers or organizational champions), ensure you are using the right channel to share it, and that you are timing it out to complement – not compete with – your other communications.

Check out LakeFX Media to learn more about how they may help you tell your story!

“You Talking About Us?”: Third Party Endorsements

A third-party endorsement is becoming a must have for any nonprofit who wishes to stand out above the crowd. With over 1.57 million registered nonprofits in the U.S., you almost can’t afford not to!

A third-party endorsement is the nod of approval for your organization from an outside source. It could be another organization you work with, an association to which you belong, or accreditation from one of several charity oversight organizations. Your partnerships and accreditations are an indication of success and best practices. From a philanthropic perspective, donors are more comfortable making use of your services and supporting your work when they see you are transparent.

There are several charity oversight and accreditation organizations you can pursue. Each involves a process of making sure you have established policies and documentation of those policies. Once you have these endorsements or accreditations, show them off! You did the good work, now showcase the endorsement logos on your website, your letterhead, social media posts.

Another way to “endorse” your organization is to include your collaborations with other nonprofits so visitors to your website will see your active role in the community. As you may know, funders love collaborative nonprofits. This is an indicator that you don’t work in a vacuum, but rather are part of the larger picture regarding your area of service. Showing these collaborations and accreditations will show a level of recognized expertise and professionalism but also show that you value community.

To a funder, collaborations show you’re not afraid to ask for help in an area you may not be an expert in; rather than trying to provide a service for a need you’re not equipped for – financially or programmatically. It builds trust among your greatest potential allies in the community. This holds such importance that funders are showing financial support for collaborations by funding the initial exploration process and the actual implementation. (Source:

Some of the following endorsements and accreditations we recommend are:

  • Better Business Bureau: their charity review process is rigorous and well-respected and has 20 standards to meet. Thousands of funders are looking to BBB to see if their benefitting organization is accredited. The BBB standards concern policies and practices with regard to governance, oversite, and transparency fundraising. Check out the full list of accredited organizations here.
  • GuideStar: while this isn’t an evaluator or watchdog, they do hold your information including a place for you to keep your 990’s up to date. Your donors and those who utilize your services can also review you on GuideStar. GuideStar offers information on Financials, Programs, Missions, Expert Reviews, and more. Another pro for GuideStar, each organization has its own profile page which can be edited and added too.
  • Charity Navigator: a non-profit must meet certain criteria before being rated by Charity Navigator. Some of these requirements include charities with revenue of at least $1 million in revenue for two consecutive years, US Based charities, or charities that have been in existence for at least 7 years with corresponding 990’s. Their website lists all criteria markers.

While each of these endorsements require time and documentation, you will be glad you did and your donors will thank you!

Our Nonprofit Community Continues to Innovate and Inspire

Over the past few months, we have experienced an unprecedented period of upheaval. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives and has forced businesses and nonprofits to rethink their operations and quickly adapt to a very different social and economic landscape. In West Michigan, as in many communities across the state and country, nonprofits are facing new challenges as they continue to serve and connect with the communities they are part of. Through this effort, we have witnessed the incredible tenacity and resourcefulness of our nonprofit community. We have seen the passion of our clients play out as they have taken on these challenges to ensure their programs and services continue to be available and accessible. While the news may at times feel overwhelming and highlight all the ways we are disconnected, we have been so grateful to be able to participate in the inspiring and uplifting work happening at the local level, putting action to the sentiment “we are all in this together.”

Kennari works with clients across five pillars of nonprofit service: healthcare, education, social services, arts & culture, and faith-based organizations. Each sector is experiencing this crisis differently – and while every organization and their response is unique – these stories are representative of the challenges and opportunities we are seeing across various sectors.

Healthcare – Cherry Health
Healthcare organizations and the services they provide have become even more critical during this public health crisis. The frontline medical workers, leadership teams, and support staff at healthcare organizations have shown their grit and dedication, now more than ever. Cherry Health is a key player in the local fight against Covid-19, currently providing on-street screening for the novel virus as an official testing site. In addition to this new service, Cherry Health, a federally qualified health center, continues to provide comprehensive healthcare for our community’s most vulnerable populations.

Education – Grand Rapids Public Schools
With schools across the state closed for the rest of the school year, districts have had to quickly assess how they can continue to provide academic instruction for students virtually. As one of the largest school districts in the state, Grand Rapids Public Schools also recognized the need for a solution that would reduce disparities that could keep some students from successfully participating in distance learning. Staff and teachers have worked to develop an accessible online learning platform for the nearly 17,000 GRPS students and to make additional resources available to families with technology barriers or students with special learning needs. They have also continued to provide nutrition services, operating seven grab and go meal sites across Grand Rapids for GRPS students and local youth under the age of 18.

Social Services – Meals on Wheels
For many social service organizations, ensuring continued access to critical resources during this pandemic means keeping their existing programs and services running under more challenging circumstances. Addressing food security and food access continues to be a critical service, and Meals on Wheels Western Michigan is working diligently to ensure community members have reliable access to nutritious food. Meals on Wheels provides nutritionally balanced meals for seniors through their meal delivery service and through the operation of food pantries dedicated for those 60 and older. To ensure the safety of this vulnerable population, Meals on Wheels has implemented enhanced protocols to maintain the safety and hygiene of all food being distributed. In just one week, Meals on Wheels delivered 41,209 meals and 1,800 emergency shelf-stable food boxes. They expect to deliver a total of 80,000 meals to area seniors this month.

Arts & Culture – Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
The Grand Rapids Civic Theatre is an example of an organization providing a sense of “normalcy” in this difficult time. Though the theater has had to cancel or postpone their regularly scheduled productions, they have continued to offer a connection to the arts through their Midday Play series. These bite-sized videos offer the chance to learn about different aspects of theater and even try things yourself. Each week features a unique theme – such as dance, puppets, Broadway, and more – and is presented by current Civic Theater staff as well as some Civic Theater alumni who have gone on to work on Broadway! The Civic education team has also worked to transition some of their most popular classes to an online format so thespians young and old can continue to learn, grow, and connect with their theater community.

Faith Based Organizations – King’s Table Ministries
During this challenging period, individuals and families impacted by disabilities may be feeling particularly isolated and overwhelmed. King’s Table Ministries provides support services and enrichment opportunities to over 350 students in special needs public schools throughout the year. With schools closed due to Covid-19, they are still providing compassionate support throughout this crisis, finding creative ways to meet the needs of students and their families. This includes connecting with them over the phone to offer support and delivering donations and care packages to their homes.

From All of Us at Kennari – Thank You
We are incredibly inspired by the creative ways our clients are adapting their programs and services to best meet the needs of their communities and those they serve during the pandemic. In challenging times, it’s important not to lose sight of the moments of hope, courage, and community that are taking place every day. We are so grateful to these organizations, and each one of our clients, as they continue to advance their missions for the betterment of our communities.

Seven Emerging Fundraising Trends in the Current Climate

While it can feel like there is no roadmap to direct us through this period, the nonprofit world has weathered past challenges that have offered valuable lessons that continue to be relevant. These past lessons, along with trends we have seen so far during this latest crisis, can help us make good decisions and avoid reactive responses. As the weeks of quarantine have turned into months during the COVID-19 crisis, trends have emerged and developed. We hope that knowing these trends both validates your own experience and helps to illuminate a path forward for your organization.

Fundraising from the general public is more similar to 9/11 than the Great Recession of 2008.
The current giving behavior more closely resembles a “disaster” or “wartime” response rather than one resulting from an economic downturn. To this end, donors at all socio-economic levels are making gifts, and some are even contributing to the COVID-19 response by making masks and other equipment/supplies needed by first responders. Donors feel like they are making a difference and are part of the solution when they are involved and engaged at this level. After 9/11, fundraising remained strong for some time as a response to the tragedy and, like today, saw donations being made by people at all levels of capacity.

In contrast, the giving response during times of economic distress and recession can contract overall. Historically, the technical definition of recession has been two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the GDP. The Giving USA Foundation annually canvases giving in the United States and for more than 60 years has produced credible data on giving patterns by individuals, corporations, and foundations across all nonprofit sectors. In all those years, the Giving USA Foundation has only reported three years where overall giving has contracted (1987, 2008 and 2009) despite the existence of technical recessions during other years. This means that during some economic downturns – during wartime, during civil unrest, and during disasters (manmade or natural) – fundraising has marched on. It is probable that we will experience the historical technical definition of a recession in 2020, but it is not necessarily probable that we will see an overall contraction in fundraising. In fact, with the outpouring of support to date for COVID-19 causes, 2020 is likely to be another year that overall philanthropy advances in the United States.

Fundraising through the COVID-19 crisis has been strong but redirected.
While overall giving appears to be robust, donors were initially most interested in responding to the COVID-19 crisis by providing gifts to organizations that provide critical and essential needs, or to organizations that are first responders to the crisis. Some organizations have made it clear that most or all their first quarter and perhaps their second quarter giving was or will be directed in this manner. More recently, donors pivoted towards Arts and Cultural nonprofits as well as Educational institutions when the breadth of the impact on these organizations from the COVID-19 pandemic became known. Donors became concerned about the long-term viability and sustainability of the organizations they have loved and supported over many years, and many donors have now provided these institutions with some level of support through spontaneous giving. We expect this trend to continue as nonprofits struggle with lost earned income that cannot be recouped.

Emergence of the “mini-campaign” to achieve annual fundraising goals.
In a typical annual giving program, the concept of a “mini-campaign” is generally not favorable. A mini-campaign within the context of annual giving for a specific purpose can cannibalize existing annual giving and cause significant cash flow problems down the road. However, mini-campaigns under the current circumstances are different – and can be effective. Start the process by identifying what revenues you will lose through the year (such as ticket sales or program costs; anything that is dependent on people showing up). Concurrently, identify what operating expenses will increase as a result of working in a different environment. Subtract savings garnered from staff working at home or other operational savings and you will determine the gap in your annual operating budget needed to ensure you finish the fiscal or calendar year in the black. This gap may range from a few thousand dollars to a few million (generally, gaps in the $250-$500k range are not unusual).

Once you have identified the gap caused by lost revenue streams, increased expenses, and subsequent operational savings, first consider opportunities that are available to regain revenue (for example CARES Act opportunities, MCACA, Chambers of Commerce or United Ways) and apply for each opportunity available to your particular organization. Donors appreciate that organizations are trying to mitigate their gap through these opportunities before coming to them. Once these opportunities are exhausted, then fundraise towards the remaining gap.

Like all fundraising, successful fundraising to the gap begins with a winning strategy. If your organization conducted a “one and done” online appeal in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis it most likely was not successful for any number of reasons. Fundraising appeals that are very specific and targeted, recurring over the course of a few weeks with an accompanying digital strategy and a matching gift have been much more successful. Further strategies to meet the gap may include turning events that were intended to be “in person” into virtual events, major gift solicitation, and grant writing.

Individual major donors are more important than ever.
In any given year, according to the Giving USA Foundation, the percentage of gifts that come from individuals is approximately 80%, with 15% of gifts coming from foundations and 5% of gifts coming from corporations. In a downturned economy, the percentage of the pie given by individuals grows as corporate giving and foundation giving declines or stays steady. This means that it is more important than ever to seek gifts (of all sizes) from individuals. It is important to take time to identify donors that can help make up the fundraising gap and reach out to them. Begin by discussing their personal experience with COVID-19; many people want to share what they have experienced. Let the donor know what your organization is doing and how it is adapting to the ever-changing circumstances caused by the pandemic. Outline the steps the organization has taken and is taking to mitigate financial challenges caused by the crisis. Ultimately, use your judgement about the final step to take in donor calls. Your call may be a cultivation call, but if the conversation goes well and their personal circumstances warrant it, you may have the opportunity to discuss your funding gap. If support is offered, be specific; give donors tangible examples of what their support would allow the organization to accomplish. Donors can become overwhelmed when a problem feels too big. Show them how their gift will make a difference to your organization’s constituents.

You now have time to plan.
Under our normal everyday circumstances, we are pulled in many different directions and rarely have the time to strategize and plan. As you consider the current situation for your organization and how the pandemic may impact operations and fundraising going forward, use this time as a valuable planning opportunity. The organization that carefully thinks through what lays ahead, will be legions ahead of organizations that believe they will be able to pick right up where they left off before the pandemic gripped our worlds. Think about all aspects of your programming, operations and fundraising and create realistic, achievable plans for the remainder of this fiscal year and the next.

Opportunity to do things in a new way to move your mission forward.
One of the most inspiring aspects of the COVID-19 crisis is the overwhelming commitment and dedication on the part of nonprofit organizations, hospitals, educational institutions, and faith-based organizations to deliver their important missions to their constituents. From the rise of telehealth to online learning platforms and programs to Zoom rehearsals, organizations have been creative and innovative, helping to move them forward for the future.

This is, of course, the silver lining to the current crisis, and the thing many of us will remember far into the future as a turning point to delivering services in a different way to potentially far more people. As organizations have learned, the work is still important – it just must be delivered in a different way. Share these new approaches with your supporters and how you anticipate continuing to use them in the future. They will be happy (and relieved) to hear that you are still moving your mission forward.

But most importantly, if your organization is not doing these things, your organization may lag far behind others when we finally return to “normal.”

Those who learn, grow, and become more resilient will be stronger on the other side.
One of the most important lessons I learned myself during 2008 was that growing, learning, and becoming more resilient made me stronger when the economy improved in 2010. And I watched as our nonprofit clients experienced the same thing. If they were bold, persistent and compelling in communicating with their donors, and continued to move their mission forward in creative and innovative ways, they not only weathered the storm better, but were able to grow faster when the economic crisis finally passed.

While this is an historic and challenging moment in time, it is also an opportunity to find new and creative approaches and to reassess how you have been doing things. Organizations that continue to make their case and continue to communicate with those who love and support them will learn, grow, and be stronger on the other side. Keep calm, and keep moving!

House Parties for Cultivation and Solicitation

The current climate is ever-changing – and it is ideal to consider smaller-scale ways to safely gather supporters or potential supporters of your organization, once we have been cleared to do so. House Parties are an effective way to gather a smaller, targeted group of guests on behalf of your organization. Successful house parties are hosted by an individual or a couple on behalf of an organization, with the host(s) covering all or most of the associated costs. Most of the time, these events take place in the host’s home, but there are times when an alternate location is used – especially under the current circumstances (we have seen them hosted in parks, country clubs, and so forth.) Invitations for house parties are sent to a very targeted and intentional guest list, determined with the goal for the evening in mind.

For purposes of this article, House Parties are smaller-scale events with a targeted guest list. (Large, ticketed events with sponsors are a separate tool, more similar to an evening fundraising event.)

House Parties in the Current Context

We are living in uncertain and ever-changing times. As gatherings become “normal” again, it will be increasingly important to consider the size of the event post-COVID19 – keep it small! There is a real possibility that we may not be able to host large gatherings in the fall (whether due to regulations or due to comfort of guests), in which case it may be ideal to hold a series of smaller house parties rather than your typical annual event. While planning, consider the best location to safely gather your guests, whether a patio, yard, large living room, or other large space. Also remember to consider other safety measures – how you will serve food and beverages (with minimal contact), how you can eliminate multiple touches of materials (such as pens and envelopes), etc. Making sure your host and your guests are comfortable in the party environment will be crucial.

Identifying Goals and Follow Up

Identifying your goals for the house party is the most important step in planning. Your goals and intended outcomes will help determine your host, your guest list, and your program. There are several reasons you might host a house party – building awareness; connecting with current or potential donors; making an ask.

For house parties to introduce your project or organization to potential donors, make sure to work with your host to identify the best way to get guests in the room. It’s also crucial to determine follow up steps for each prospect to keep them engaged; what cultivation steps are appropriate? Who will be responsible for those steps?

House parties can be a great cultivation tool for current or prospective donors. This party can be a stepping stone or a final step in the cultivation path for prospects not yet involved with the organization or current donors you may be asking for an additional or increased gift. Make sure to work with the host to identify next steps for each guest. You’ll want to identify what the ask is for, the amount, the appropriate method, and whether any guests should be primed prior to the event.

For house parties that include an ask, set your intentions in advance. What need will you share? What kind of ask will it be? If guests do not give at the event, how will you follow up with them? Regardless of what you determine to be your goals or intended outcomes, make sure they are clear to all involved. The goals shape every piece of the planning purpose, as well as the details of the evening.

What Makes a (Good) Host

The best hosts are long-term supporters who are passionate about your mission and happy to share their history with the organization. Genuine passion is a motivator and disingenuous interest is obvious.

Your host should be someone who has a connection to your target audience, is comfortable “working the room,” and is supporting the specific project or piece that you are presenting. (It is much easier, and more meaningful, to make an ask once you’ve given! If the host hasn’t given, why should their guests? Again, this includes if they have underwritten some (or all) costs of the event.) An added bonus is a host who wants to use their gift, or an additional gift, as a challenge to their guests.

It’s important to set expectations early with your host. How involved do they want to be? What specific tasks are they interested in managing? What is their preferred method of communication? Your host is helping your organization by hosting this party, and an easy way to show them your gratitude is to meet them where they want to be with respect to the party.

The Guest List

Your house party guest list is formed based on both your host and by the goals for the evening. Are you inviting cold prospects, prospects you are cultivating, current donors, community leaders, or a mix of all three? Current donors (or volunteers) can be a great tool, as they are already excited about your organization/mission/project and can share that excitement with prospects. Just be sure to find the right balance for your goals. And remember, a connection to the host will help get guests in the room.

A few tips from the field to keep in mind while planning your guest list:

• Identify the capacity of the venue – both the comfortable capacity and the max capacity (particularly observing COVID-19 restrictions).

• Not everyone may be able to attend, so make sure to invite more than your determined capacity. It is helpful to come up with a “B List” of guests. These aren’t people of less importance, but maybe have less of a connection the host and to your targeted goal. Determine the best time to invite that second group – it can’t be so late that they know they are B List! As the planner, you also want time for RSVPs and follow up before final counts are due.

Party Program Components

Your host can help identify the best format and timing to appeal to the guests in the room. Common elements that we suggest are included in a standard house party flow include: • Mingling – Have your host and any volunteers introduce staff to prospects as they arrive and get settled. The host can also use this time to share their excitement, connection, and passion on an individual, more tailored basis.

• Introduction by host – Open the program with the host sharing their connection to the cause/organization/project and reasons for their support.

• Video to introduce project and/or organization – Videos are helpful to capture details of the organization or project in a visually-appealing way.

• Present gap, solution, and current status – This piece of the program will align with the identified goals of the party. Depending on the intended outcome for the party, you might be sharing your current project and campaign; an identified piece of the campaign; a scholarship; a specific program; etc.

• Call to action – The call to action is most effective if presented by the host; however, if they are not comfortable, a captivating staff or volunteer is another great option. The call to action will be based on your goals for the event and the guests in the room. Is it an ask? A soft ask? Is it a “watch for an invitation to our follow up party?” Is it ”tell your friends?”

As we may be social distancing for awhile longer, it will be increasingly important to consider ways to safely gather when conditions allow. House Parties can be a great tool to productively (and safely) spread the word about and support your organization. And now is a great time to start planning that next opportunity!

Messaging Through Challenging Times

In this challenging public health crisis, our community has been impacted in many unexpected ways. Nonprofit communications should be carefully considered to have the best results.

Donors Want to Know Three Things:

  • How has your organization been impacted?
  • What you are doing about it?
  • How can they help?

First of all, it’s important to assess your situation. You need to be able to communicate your needs; how is the COVID-19 situation affecting your:

Ongoing Programming
How are you continuing to serve your target population? How have you shifted or adapted your programming to meet critical needs? If you’re not meeting critical needs, keep blanket messaging minimal and instead focus on communicating one-on-one with your closest stakeholders. Segment and then communicate. Consider the volume of messages you’re getting right now as an individual.

Fundraising Strategy for Events
Communicate often as you progress with your plans. Evaluate other formats or postponing before cancelling. Develop a strategy for sponsors, especially for events moved online.  Virtual events will need extra reminders and outreach to pierce the extra “noise” online right now.

If an event is a trigger for a regular donor to give, contact them personally and ask them to renew their commitment. If you have donors that normally make their gift at the event, reach out to them individually and ask them to renew their support. Come up with targeted or personal outreach to those donors to drive their engagement to events offered in a different format.

Fundraising Strategy for Appeals
For many organizations, this is the time their annual spring appeal is going out. Before you send your appeal, make sure your content is relevant to the now. If you are meeting critical needs, share the increased need for support based on the way you have adapted/stretched to meet new or different needs in the community.

If you are not offering programs or services right now and are not meeting critical needs, you should still communicate with your top supporters. Communicate the need for operational support so you can resume your programming once the pandemic has passed and ensure you can continue to serve the community.

Capital Campaigns
Now is the time to share or re-share your vision for the future. Those who are in the planning phase should minimize outward communications and focus on project development. If you are already in the fundraising part of the campaign, talk about the project, not the campaign.  Communicate directly with major donors who have already committed, and with those who have pending asks. Let them know if you’re pausing or continuing the fundraising. Continue to talk about what you’re doing and the need/impact. Develop current talking points to share. Timing may not be good for a public phase to complete your campaign. Communications should not conflict with your current operational needs. Consider how donors and volunteers are impacted. It’s a good time to ask how they’re doing.

Make sure to let the inner circle know first about any changes in the campaign. You want the board, staff, and campaign leadership to be well-informed before pushing information out to others.

Major Disruptions take two different forms – External and Internal Challenges.

External challenges include broad disruptions such as COVID-19, 9/11, 2008’s Recession. Recognize that essential needs will take the lead — and always stay calm, and keep moving. Remember that this is temporary.

Internal challenges may include a change of leadership, such as your Executive Director retiring. When leadership is changing, donors still want to know that you have a good plan for finding their replacement and that there will be no disruption in delivery of the mission. One-on-one outreach to the top tier of your donors and “friends” is critical. Consider:

– Honoring them with a special fundraising initiative
– Communicating once you have a plan for hiring or once you have found the new leader

Communicating with Internal Audiences
Keep your board, volunteers, and partners informed during challenges. Be sure you have current information on the situation that you can share with staff/board/volunteers. If they don’t feel they can communicate your situation, they will hesitate to be an ambassador. Keep it simple and up to date if the situation is fluid.

You don’t want a Cabinet member or major funder to hear you’re making a significant change in the scope or timing of your campaign from someone other than YOU, so work from the inside out as you roll out messaging.

Challenging times require a strategic and flexible communication plan. How and when you share your story can make the difference in helping your organization come safely through the storm and ready to hit the ground stronger than ever once things settle out.