Finding The Next Steps In Uncertain Times

This is a blog post I never expected to write. Many of you probably feel the same way as you craft emails to donors, staff, and maybe even clients. What do you say when you are in the middle of something so foreign to most of us? So much of our daily life has been altered by the pandemic. For example, I was on over fifty flights during January and February alone. Now I work exclusively at home. I’m on Day 14 of staying home and I have eaten 28 meals with my wife and children (my four teenagers don’t get up for breakfast). As you can imagine, this is a drastic change for me, and not all of these changes are bad. 

But what does this time look like for non-profits? I’ve hosted many webinars over the last two weeks helping clients answer this question. I’ve said it over and over, and I will keep saying it: Now is the time to care for donors and put their needs first. Your donors are feeling just as uncertain about the future as you are. Check on the people who support you and ask them how they are doing. Ask them how their families are doing. Ask them about their hopes and fears. Maybe they are getting to eat more meals with their families, too!  

When you reach out to your donors, if they ask how you are doing, tell them! Tell them about the new normal you are trying to find, and then tell them how your organization is adapting. If our goal is to foster our relationships with donors, inviting them to take ownership of our mission with us, that is still true now, even during a pandemic. Is this the time to ask for the lead gift toward your capital campaign? Probably not. But is this the time to get creative and involve your donors in your work? Absolutely! Invite your donors to join a virtual meeting you are hosting on Zoom, or plan a coffee date with them over FaceTime. While many things are being put on hold or canceled, your relationships are not. We are adapting together. Share that with your donors! 

You might be thinking, “That sounds great, Brad, but we’ll have to show our donors a building with the lights cut off if we don’t figure out something soon.” That’s fair. I hear you. But here’s the thing: I believe that generosity is a gift that some people have. Generous people crave the opportunity to be generous like hungry people crave the opportunity to eat. 

But don’t take my word for it! Here are two examples I have witnessed in the past two weeks:

Last week, the Head of School for one of our clients made a point of reaching out to their top ten donors to see how they were doing. During the conversation, he was able to share how he was doing, and how the school was doing. When he shared with one of the donors that many of the students’ parents had lost their jobs, that donor committed to cover the rest of the year’s expenses for all students whose parents could no longer afford tuition.  

The CEO of another client, a large urban rescue mission, reached out to his top donors and board. Again, he asked them how they were doing, and they asked him how he was doing. While updating them on how things were going with the rescue mission, he shared that the mission has had to start buying food, because restaurants no longer have leftover food to donate. He shared that the ‘shelter at home’ mandate is especially hard for the homeless as they have no homes. One of the donors was so moved that they immediately committed to pay for all of the food for the foreseeable future – which amounts to a gift of several hundred thousand dollars. 

What you are doing matters. If you are willing to be creative, you can still share your work with your donors, and they will still respond. I know this is a difficult time, but I have never been more certain that the work you are doing is truly important. Your work will continue long after this crazy and uncertain time has passed. We will get through this together.

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