Posted , by Marissa Monell, Client Manager. Topic: Arts & Culture, Careers in Philanthropy, COVID-19, Donor Communication, Donors, Fundraising, Major Donors, Nonprofit Management.

A Day in the Life of an Executive Director During These Uncertain Times

How Shawn Puller Keeps Garth Newel Music Center Moving Forward

Shawn Puller 2

By Marissa Monell, Client Manager, The Curtis Group, and
Shawn Puller, Executive Director of Garth Newel Music Center in Warm Springs, VA

We are excited to continue “A Day in the Life of…,” a series where we step into the shoes of a nonprofit executive.

During this crisis, our team has been sharing how nonprofits should be reaching out and engaging with their donors. Today, I interviewed Shawn Puller with Garth Newel Music Center. As executive director of this unique performing arts center in Warm Springs, VA, Shawn acts as the primary fundraiser as well as the operational leader. Shawn and his team have been thinking creatively about ways to continue serving their patrons and donors during this time when many arts organizations have been forced to cancel programming. We hope you gain some insight, ideas and inspiration from Garth Newel’s story.

What has been your approach to fundraising during this time of uncertainty?

We have been continuing with our fundraising plan but making adjustments as necessary. For example, since we don’t have development staff, our mail appeal is one of the best ways to reach our donors. This month, we made adjustments to the letter to update our donors on Garth Newel’s current state and how important their support will be during these trying times. We wanted to make sure donors are aware of our current need due to our loss in revenue from cancelled events so that they can help support this special place if they are able.

What has been working to keep your patrons and donors engaged and informed about your need?

  •  We are reaching out to our donors and patrons through many avenues during this time. We have sent handwritten notes, formal appeal letters, and weekly e-blasts.
  • We are setting up a “fireside chat” video to update everyone on Garth Newel’s current situation and let them know the ways that we are still here for them.
  • The musicians are spending most of their time focused on creating virtual concerts and creative content for our YouTube channel to engage and entertain our followers.
  • Our resident chef, Josh Elliott, will be creating some cooking demos and classes for followers. He is even working on a Garth Newel concert and dinner cookbook.
  • I am also planning to put together a walking video tour of the historic grounds to share some interesting stories about Garth Newel’s history.

What has been the most inspiring moment from the past month?

My staff and I have felt very uplifted by our supporters during this time. Donors that I have personally called have been very grateful to hear from me. They have a strong emotional connection to Garth Newel, and it is clear they want to hear how we are doing. You can sense their delight when they pick up the phone. The most rewarding thing has been the reaffirmation of the connection between Garth Newel and our supporters.

What lessons have you learned?

The biggest way to fail right now is to do nothing. Action will make a difference. At Garth Newel, the artistic directors instantly pivoted, came up with a plan and took action. With each effort at engagement, we are learning and making it better the next time.

What is one piece of advice you would give to other nonprofits during this time of uncertainty?

Lean in – All our hearts are struck with fear during this time, but don’t let fear keep you from engaging and connecting with your supporters. Lean in to the support from your donors and lean into the connections with your board and staff members.

As always, we are here.

During this challenging season, we want to help. We can share ideas, past experiences, and provide suggestions for fundraising in uncertain times. Email a member of our team with your questions. Check out our resources on fundraising during these uncertain times.

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