Fundraising beyond COVID-19

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It was the month of February and I was browsing fundraising galas to attend. We were in the mood to dress up for a night out and supporting a good cause seemed like a cool way to go about it. I was drawn to fundraiser for the AGO, 20s themed parties, and several women-centered events in the beginning on March. Then everything changed.

Now, everything is about to change again.

Intellectually, I always knew it was going to be a while before things went back to normal, lock downs were not going to be for only two weeks…and so on. Emotionally, a part of me always thought we will eventually go back to normal. I even felt optimism that my beloved tennis tournament in August ( The Rogers Cup in Toronto) will escape the cancellation tsunami that has hit large public events.

And here we are, with no end in sight and decidedly less in a “back to normal state”. It is time to re-imagine what normal is. And we probably need a new word for it, because the new normal may have nothing to do with the old normal. It seems like a daunting task with so much uncertainty, especially in the non-profit sector. Let’s face it – innovation in non-profits has always been out of necessity, “dragged by the heels” exercise for most organizations. It is not that we do not want to be innovative, or that we don’t come up with new initiatives all the time. It is that we are painfully afraid of failure. The scarcity mindset inherent to so many non-profits, combined with societal pressure to account for how every donor dollar is spent, makes it difficult to fearlessly try new things and occasionally fail at them. Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity and a necessity of a different kind. For the first time in our lifetimes we are all experiencing the same thing, albeit living a quite different reality. And we are all trying to figure it out, every industry, every household, every human being. So perhaps this is the time for the non-profit sector to embrace innovation, fearlessly.

So here are a few guiding principles:

  • Have a strategy, not a knee-jerk reaction: This is true of any kind of planning, pandemic or not. Perhaps the strategy will stay the same or it will be completely different. It is important to take ownership of the direction your organization is going. Whether you are re-imagining your fundraising events, direct mail appeal or major gifts, keep the goal in mind and adjust if needed.
  • Create virtual engagement, don’t simply re-label your existing engagement opportunities. If you simply put virtual in front of your “walk-a-thon” event, it won’t make it a virtual engagement opportunity. Virtual engagement does not have to abide by the same rules of engagement, so re-examine the success of your engagement opportunities and whether the same still applies.
  • Try new things and expect to fail. If governments around the rule are spending billions on funding over 100 different vaccine candidates, knowing full well that at least 95% will fail, it is ok for you and your organization to try something different and fail. It will also be necessary for you to try many new things before you find the right approach for you.
  • Listen to your community, your donors, volunteers, and audience. It is crucial and asking for their feedback along the way is going to be important. Many of our donors are “trained’ by us, to interact with our organization in a certain way, so if we are going to introduce new ideas- we must be prepared to receive their feedback. Now is not the time for interruption-marketing techniques and volume-driven email marketing which put our donors in a “fight or flight” position.
  • Know that you most definitely do not know it all. Regardless of how many years of fundraising experience you might have or how accomplished your skill set might be, this is a new reality and it bears an examination on skill sets and expertise. You may need to get new training (i.e. digital marketing, social media engagement, etc.) or need to add different talent to your team. If you expect your fundraising event managers who have strong project management and attention for detail skills to create virtual engagement opportunities, you must provide them with an opportunity to develop a new skill set.
  • Acknowledge and deal with your grief. It is ok for you to pine over the things that might have been or reminisce over the good old days. So, take the time to do that and let go of the past, so that you can shift focus on the future and re-imagine a new way of engaging with your community. When we lose a pet or a job, for example, we do not look to replace them with the same We grieve for their loss, keep their memory alive and move on to different things. Consider the same approach for whatever fundraising activity you are currently grieving.

None of these strategies are mind-blowing or pandemic specific. It is what is necessary to shift your way of thinking on a certain issue. So we may live in a new world, but the principles of good planning, strategy, community engagement and innovation still apply.

Maybe next February I will be researching fundraising galas again or maybe I would have found a new engagement opportunity yet to be invented by my favourite cause.

Join me on Thursday, May 21st at 2pm for a Free Webinar on Virtual Donor Cultivation, to delve in deeper on re-imaging your donor cultivation activities in an increasingly virtual world.

Mariya Yurukova

Mariya Yurukova