By Chris Carter, published March 2020
First I should clarify: we all know this virus has the potential to take a devastating toll, and we all have a duty to protect everyone in our communities, no excuses. So that means social distancing, working from home, universal paid sick leave, ending non-essential travel, cancellation of events and conferences, and ending in-person pressing of flesh and working cocktail parties.
1. Don’t stop fundraising, whatever you do
In past times of crisis, many organizations have put direct marketing on hold, delayed mailings, scaled back social media, etc. Usually it’s for one of two reasons: first, there’s fear of being inappropriate if your organization’s mission doesn’t seem directly tied to the crisis; and secondly, there’s a belief that maybe money will dry up and fundraising could become prohibitively expensive.
Both of these reasons are nonsense. As fundraisers, we have a moral obligation to raise as much money as we can for our respective organizations. And think about it—the missions of an awful lot of organizations will be playing a crucial role, whether providing immediate aid, research and relief, or helping to reduce the likelihood and impacts of future pandemics; or secondarily, helping those who are affected by cancellations and general social distancing. Yes, that means the need will include not only health and healthcare organizations: anti-poverty, education, development, environmental, conservation and social justice non-profits will be crucial. Yes, it’s all hands on deck, and that means all organizations on deck as well. Therefore, funding your organization will help.
For point two, the belief that available funding will ‘dry up’ persists. There’s a perception that giving to other causes goes down during times of a well-known disaster/crisis. In fact, net giving usually remains flat (or perhaps goes down slightly). There is likely a lot of new donors making one-time donations directed to aid or relief organizations. But it’s not zero-sum: your supporters don’t stop supporting your cause because there is also a different need, nor does your org’s need decrease because other needs are arising concurrently. However, if you stop asking, your donors will definitely stop giving.
2. It’s time to shift away from traditional major giving and event fundraising
As mentioned earlier, those big walks, golf tournaments, parties, and even smaller in-person networking activities need to be put on hold in the interest of public health. Now really is the time to think about boosting specific mass fundraising activities. That means more direct mail, more TV, more emails, and more digital advertising.
Consider: responsible community members will be stuck in their homes, scaling back social activities, bingeing on Netflix, scrolling the web, and glued to news networks, and the arrival of the mail will suddenly become a welcome reprieve from the monotony. (Yes, for millennials too.) So boost that investment in direct mail acquisition! Now might be the perfect time to re-launch TV and digital video fundraising and get those emails sent.