Uncertain Times Demand Strategic Response
By Keith Curtis, President & Founder of The Curtis Group
Last month, everything was still percolating. Now, however, the coronavirus and oil industry events are impacting our economy and, more importantly for philanthropy, the market. We are hearing from clients and the community with questions about what fundraising should look like during these uncertain times. While we won’t know the extent of the potential impact from these events for some time, we are monitoring the situation closely.
In light of these uncertain times, you may hear from potential donors who want to postpone a giving decision to see how the uncertainty plays out. That is okay! Historically, data shows most people continue their philanthropic giving even in challenging economic times.
It is not okay to bury your head in the sand. We know from past experience that it is critical for a nonprofit to continue to communicate with their donors. Often, situations like these present unique needs for your organization and those benefiting from your organization, so you want your donors to understand those needs. If you are approaching a solicitation call with a donor, you don’t want to make assumptions regarding a donor’s thoughts; it is up to each donor to tell you what they are or are not ready to commit.
In times of uncertainty, following fundraising best practices becomes even more critical.
- Don’t panic… communicate – Remember the mission and purpose of your organization. We live in an information-rich society where news is instantaneously available. We have written about the importance of transparency and building trust. This is a time when transparency is critical. Call your stakeholders, schedule time with your key supporters and share updates about how this uncertainty is impacting your organization and what your plans are to weather the storm. Continue to ask for support and demonstrate impact. Now is a time to strengthen engagement with your board, tell your story and be proactive.
- Be informed – Stay on top of the latest news and stock market trends and read about how other nonprofits are handling this uncertain time. Discuss with your team how this is impacting them personally and professionally. Understand how this is and could impact your organization and make sure that your entire organization is on the same page regarding priorities, plans and communication strategy.
- Be prepared – Are your leaders ready to quickly make decisions and effectively communicate those decisions to your stakeholders? Do you have diverse funding streams, cash reserves and an endowment? If not, while now might not be the right time to create an endowment, nonprofits with the foresight to become more robust organizations during this uncertainty will be able to grow even more afterward.
- Reschedule, don’t cancel – If a donor indicates that they want to wait on a meeting or making a gift decision, ask about timing for a follow-up rather than letting them cancel altogether. If your fundraising event is not getting the traction it needs, look for a future date or different approach. If you worry that your mailing or email announcement would get lost, consider another time frame.
In our 31 years of business, I have been through a number of uncertain and challenging times. Even in the Great Recession, giving only decreased 5% and has since surpassed pre-Recession levels. This current situation is real but will pass. The challenge is, we don’t know how long it will last. The work that your organization does is critical, so keep up the good work and employ some of the tactics above at your organization through this tough time.