By Drew Fox Jordan • March 17, 2020

    Fundraising During a Crisis - Q&A [UPDATES]



    Fundraising During a Crisis Webinar


    Please note that this blog will continue to be updated as our panelists are able to answer all the questions that were asked.

    It's understandable there are a lot of questions around how fundraisers can and should continue to raise funds for the causes they hold dear. Fortunately, we are able to answer some of these questions. Thank you so much to those able to provide their expert and professional insight:

    karin washmcgKarin George, Managing Principal, Washburn & McGoldrick



    chris washmcgChris Biehn, Senior Consultant, Washburn & McGoldrick



    Daniel GraduwayDaniel Cohen, CEO & Founder, Graduway



    Bonnie Devlin, Principal & Co-Owner, Washburn & McGoldrick Bonnie washmcg




    Trent iwaveTrent Beattie, VP of Strategic Alliances, iWave



    adam gravytyAdam Martel, CEO, Gravyty



    Donor Reactions
    Question: I have a strong assumption that donors and corporate partners won't want to hear from me during these stressful times. I feel that they have so much going on, and I won't be a priority. Is this valid? How can I reframe this belief?

    chris washmcgAnswer: Donors won’t blame you for what is happening in the world, but they will evaluate your response. During this time it is prudent to over communicate but do it thoughtfully, with empathy and, if possible, explain how donors could help. Be specific when doing this.

    -- Chris Biehn, Senior Consultant, Washburn & McGoldrick

    karin washmcgAnswer: Donors/volunteers also look to their solid institutions (schools, hospitals etc) for reassurance. We still have a long view and they want to know that we are there. I found this to be absolutely the case on 9/11/01 when I was VP for Advancement at Smith (also my alma mater). 

    --Karin George, Managing Principal, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Question: How do major donors react in times such as this? Give more based on the need? Hold back?

    chris washmcgAnswer: What we know from the last economic crisis is that donors stepped up with their regular giving but did hold back on larger gifts. They will respond to the authentic needs of your organization if you communicate clearly with them and demonstrate your specific needs. Be sure to provide concrete examples of impact.

    --Chris Biehn, Senior Consultant, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Bonnie washmcgAnswer: Board members and others closest to your organization will recognize how challenging this time is, both for your organization and the clients you serve. They will ask how they can help. Be ready with a clear and compelling response. For an organization whose mission is to provide meals to home-bound individuals with critical and chronic illnesses, the answer this week is two-fold: healthy volunteers to help pack an extra week’s worth of meals and donors to help pay for the extra food. For a major university, the answer is flexible emergency funding now to help students with unexpected travel costs and stepped up financial aid for next semester.

    --Bonnie Devlin, Principal & Co-Owner, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Question: Do donors expect capital campaigns to continue through challenging times such as this? (In 2008, I executed a very successful capital campaign yet I feel our current scenario is unique and am asking for any new insights).

    chris washmcgAnswer: I think the answer here depends a lot on what continues to evolve. However, I wouldn’t recommend making any key decisions at this point. Campaigns in progress in 2008 continued but many of them had longer public phases or delayed the launch to meet the leadership phase goal. The good news with this crisis is that it is evolving and the end won’t be a status quo--rather a point of departure for important decisions around campaign strategy. 

    --Chris Biehn, Senior Consultant, Washburn & McGoldrick


    Question: I am very concerned about charity clients NOT directly concerned with fallout from the virus. What about the reduction in available donor funds due to stocks bear market? How is that addressed?

    Trent iwaveAnswer: This is a great question as the stock market swing will certainly have an impact on some donors' ability to support organizations to the same degree. With that said, I think it's important to recognize that there are also many donors that will choose to increase their impact during times of amplified need. A well-balanced rating system can help identify who those donors are most likely to be and help you fill the potential funding gap. Be sure to consider all three keys in your donor rating system. The combination of capacity, propensity and affinity can help you focus your energy on the donors that are able, but also most willing to support your mission. 

    --Trent Beattie, VP of Strategic Alliances, iWave

    karin washmcgAnswer: The reality is that nobody will be spared from the impact of this virus and the economic challenges it accelerated. This is all so interconnected and is definitely a global emergency. All charity clients should be both concerned and strategic. It is also true that there are still donors out there and some who are doing very well as noted by Trent. The combination of our internal processes like the ones driven by ratings must always be paired with our ability to listen and truly understand donor inclination.

    --Karin George, Managing Principal, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Bonnie washmcgAnswer: We learned in other economic downturns like the Great Recession that people don’t stop giving, but they will give to fewer charities. They will give to those organizations to whom they feel the closest, so stay in touch during this time. Think creatively with them about different ways to accomplish what they want to do -- is it a longer pay-out period for their pledge? Different assets? Perhaps a different way to structure the gift? In the last recession, hybrid gifts were great options for donors and can be useful now. For example, a donor who wants to endow a $100,000 scholarship gives you the cash equivalent of what the endowment income would be (say $5,000) and then makes payments into the endowment when the stock market improves. Your school gets the cash to help a student immediately, while the donor has flexibility on when to donate the large portion of the gift. Later this year will also a good time for individuals with donor advised funds to recommend gifts from their donor advised funds.

    --Bonnie Devlin, Principal & Co-Owner, Washburn & McGoldrick


    Question: Lack of sensitivity during these times. How do you fundraise during these times and not appear insensitive about what's going on around us all while trying to keep the ask on the table and hopefully close?

    chris washmcgAnswer: Donors won’t blame you for what is happening in the world, but they will evaluate your response. During this time it is prudent to over communicate but do it thoughtfully, with empathy and, if possible, explain how donors could help. Be specific when doing this.

    --Chris Biehn, Senior Consultant, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Question: Can you be too sensitive? Is it ok in these times to be a friend-raiser?

    chris washmcgAnswer: We should always think about engagement before fundraising. Moving quickly to the ask even in good times is not a great idea. Yes, by all means, engage your donors and prospects in the news about what your organization is doing right now in the midst of a crisis. (i.e. orgs on the frontline, how are you supporting your workers; educational institutions, how are you evolving to online learning; social service organizations-what are the innovative ways you are meeting the needs of your constituents?

    --Chris Biehn, Senior Consultant, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Question: Should we be posting non-Covid 19 items on our social media fundraising pages?

    chris washmcgAnswer: Yes, we have a responsibility to be sensitive about the pandemic but there are other things happening right now that will endure and persist beyond the crisis. It will balance the information and maintain optimism.

    --Chris Biehn, Senior Consultant, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Bonnie washmcgAnswer: Social media postings can be a very useful way to continue to build and maintain community during this time. One of our clients, an art museum, is sending its members tips from its education staff about art activities related to items in their collection to do with children who are home from school. The museum’s education staff is encouraging their members to post their kids’ artwork on the Museum’s social media. A museum in the middle of a major anniversary year, whose upcoming regional celebrations had to be cancelled, plans to use social media to celebrate the anniversary in virtual fashion.

    --Bonnie Devlin, Principal & Co-Owner, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Question: How should we present non-Covid 19 initiatives?

    chris washmcgAnswer: In the context of the current crisis. For example if an event has shifted to virtual, acknowledge why this has happened but then focus on the purpose of the event. Celebrate your institution and the impact it has. Don’t ignore what’s happening, but don’t stop everything else.

    --Chris Biehn, Senior Consultant, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Question: Could the panel address fundraising with families of international students? Specifically in China, but other countries as well.

    karin washmcgAnswer: The same rules about sensitivity apply. Connect with your current donor international families. Think less about forging brand new relationships with international families perhaps, but they are members of our campus communities and will want to help as well. Many of our international students are “stuck” here, so your outreach will be appreciated if sensitive and focuses on making a connection first and listening for opportunities about giving second.

    --Karin George, Managing Principal, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Question: What messaging should we consider using to inspire donor investment?

    chris washmcgAnswer: Messaging that is straightforward and authentic and tells the story of the impact your organization is having at this important moment in our history. Language that clearly articulates the need and connects the donor at a visceral level.

    --Chris Biehn, Senior Consultant, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Question: Is there preferred or recommended phrasing/messaging when following up with major donors on proposals/asks?

    chris washmcgAnswer: Always check in with the donor first. Consider language at the beginning, “You have had a major impact on our mission over the years, thank you. This is an important moment for _________ and I would like to share more about how you can make a difference today.” “Is this a good time to continue our conversation?”

    --Chris Biehn, Senior Consultant, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Question: For those charities whose impact is not related to the virus--how do we keep mindshare?

    chris washmcgAnswer: It’s hard to imagine an organization which isn’t affected by the pandemic and also will help humanity move through this difficult time. Think about the connection and then build mindshare.

    --Chris Biehn, Senior Consultant, Washburn & McGoldrick


    Question: We have an event planned in July - a crowd of 250 plus. I see some local organizations canceling events through April. At what point do nonprofits consider whether or not an event in July will be a go?

    Daniel GraduwayAnswer: Deciding how soon before an event to cancel can be a tricky decision. We have seen over the past few weeks different organizations take different approaches to it, some leaving the decision until the last minute. I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule to this, but I do think we should all be prepared for a plan B in case. We are seeing many schools building digital communities up today in case they need to cancel their event in the future. In case an event is cancelled, a virtual community can still come together to connect and give.

    --Daniel Cohen, CEO & Founder, Graduway

    karin washmcgAnswer: Most of our clients are cancelling/postponing in-person events for the rest of the semester and in some cases that’s being mandated at the state level. The sooner you can get word to everyone involved, the better. Thank everybody profusely for their hard work, but let them know as early as possible and not last minute. The anxiety of waiting for the decision is really terrible and not a great way to treat our donors and volunteers. Think about virtual options when and where possible and start planning for the fall (talking about school clients here). Our donors never want to disappoint their schools and especially their school’s leadership. Make the decision not to attend easy for them.

    --Karin George, Managing Principal, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Bonnie washmcgAnswer: Each organization also has to do the financial math. In some cases, contracts with hotels and caterers may require a substantial prepayment sixty to ninety days before the event. If you cancel earlier and/or reschedule for a later date, you may save money for your organization and secure a good space for a fall event.

    --Bonnie Devlin, Principal & Co-Owner, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Question: What can best replace gatherings, such as fundraiser live events, ineffectiveness for those who are not comfortable with online meetings, such as certain older populations, or those with vision or hearing issues?

    Daniel GraduwayAnswer: When it comes to alumni events bringing your community together virtually can be a great way to give them a space to still network and build relationships, without physical presence. Unfortunately many fundraising events and galas are also being cancelled. Creating an online fundraising ‘event’ such as a giving day can be a very impactful way to ensure people are still engaged and giving even in times like these. Just yesterday, a school approached us after they decided to cancel their main annual fundraising gala with a weeks’ notice. We were able to step in and within 24 hours, created a Giving Day site for them so they can still meet their fundraising goals.

    --Daniel Cohen, CEO & Founder, Graduway

    karin washmcgAnswer: Give people a way to replace what they would have contributed at the event. I am a runner and was able to convert my race entry to the charitable recipient of the event by clicking on the link embedded in the cancellation notice. That could be a giving day or a direct transfer process. Have gift officers and volunteers reach out to all who were planning to attend to thank them and/or  aren’t as comfortable on-line. Keep the personal outreach going even if the event gets cancelled.

    --Karin George, Managing Principal, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Bonnie washmcgAnswer: Many of us have older family members who are not tech savvy but respond well to phone calls, letters, postcards, and other old-fashioned ways of staying in touch. Right now many retirement communities are closed to visitors and asking their residents to stay in their own apartments. Thoughtful and personal correspondence from you will be appreciated and will stand out among the large quantities of impersonal direct mail they receive from charities and political parties right now.

    --Bonnie Devlin, Principal & Co-Owner, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Question: What do you envision as most needed after the social isolation phase is passed?

    karin washmcgAnswer: Great Question! I think a sense of “normalcy” and however that’s defined for your organization will be important. Thank people for staying in touch with you all throughout this crisis, send news of your organization’s immediate plans and priorities- whether they’ve changed so you need to get this information out there --- or whether you have the same priorities. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

    --Karin George, Managing Principal, Washburn & McGoldrick

    Bonnie washmcgAnswer: Thanks and praise! Thank everyone who has helped in any way during the crisis, and tell great stories about how your organization was still able to carry out its mission even under great adversity. And managers, thank and praise all your staff. Maybe it’s the gift processing staff who came in and took care of any checks arriving by mail. Maybe it’s the IT staff who got everyone up to speed quickly on Zoom or Teams. I think you should mark the end of the social isolation period with a simple celebration - maybe a summer-time Thanksgiving!

    --Bonnie Devlin, Principal & Co-Owner, Washburn & McGoldrick


    Question: I’m in a major gift role, working with individuals. How can we request virtual meetings for introduction, proposal follow up or the like without seeming insensitive to what is going on around us?

    Daniel GraduwayAnswer: Though the initial shock of the outbreak may seem that normal activity is coming to a halt, in reality most people are now adapting to a new reality and will be looking to maintain a sense of normalcy. Now more than ever I think people are more open to giving, especially to institutions who are there to solve the world’s problems.

    --Daniel Cohen, CEO & Founder, Graduway

    Question: How do we best use technology like Zoom to build brand new relationships? To those of us who are used to face to face visits, it feels impersonal.

    Daniel GraduwayAnswer: Going digital in alumni relations and development may seem strange and impersonal but in reality it is closer to the way people behave in their daily lives. From mobile apps and Facetime, to online forums and social media platforms, today young and old are digital first. The current situation is forcing our industry to take strides into digital engagement which are actually more in line with the way are constituents are used to engaging and this can be a big opportunity for us if we can quickly adapt, connect and engage digitally.

    --Daniel Cohen, CEO & Founder, Graduway

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