When a crisis hits, it’s easy to get paralysed by the fear and emotion of the turmoil. But now is the time for considered action. The Chinese characters that make up the term crisis “weiji” have often been interpreted as a combination of “danger” plus “opportunity”. Even if those interpretations aren’t exact, the word certainly does refer to “a changing point”. And there’s no doubt that the world is facing this change, right now. Organisations able to respond effectively, including through fundraising, are more likely to survive the situation.
So, here are some tips about strategically fundraising during a crisis.
Know exactly where you stand – consider your existing funding
Carefully review your current funding model and cash-flow projections and carry out a risk assessment to identify where funding may take a hit, or where you will need more funding because of the situation at hand. It’s only once you have identified any risks and gaps that you can consider what you should do next.
Review your existing activities
You have identified the gaps in your current funding model. Perhaps existing funding is drying up because it’s being diverted to the crisis, or perhaps there is a much greater need (for your clients or within the community) and your projections show that funding will run out at a faster pace than forecast. Now is the time to review both your existing service and programs, and your fundraising plan, and to look at how your organisation might best act to deal with the changes.
Consider what you could do differently to increase your impact
Is there an existing service or program that could or should be stopped due to the changing circumstances we all face?
Could existing funding be better diverted to serve your community that is being hardest hit by the community?
What strengths can you leverage, possibly in new ways or using new technology or tools, that might reach more people, have more impact or meet new needs arising from the crisis?
You don’t want to rush into something new, especially if it doesn’t build on your existing strengths, but speed of response can matter, and some funders are already looking for ways to support people now and in the short to medium term. If you identify an expansion of existing activities or modified activities or new activities, in each case you will need to determine the budget and any shortfall to perform this work.
Build your business case
Now that you’ve carried out your risk assessment, identified the gaps, diverted funds and redone your projections, you can build your business case. You need to demonstrate to funders that you have a sound understanding of the need and how you are going to address the need (with the right funds). Use your Theory of Change, a ‘Case for Support’, business plans, and a summary of any data you have available, to create a sophisticated ‘ask’. Yes, this takes time, but it needn’t be complicated. Consider – if someone was asking you for money, wouldn’t you want to know that it was going to be used efficiently and effectively?
Revise your fundraising and donor engagement plan
Don’t abandon or reduce your fundraising and donor engagement plans. Fundraising can be a lifeline and a way to pilot new programs to maximise your impact. Don’t forget that, irrespective of bushfires, floods, economic volatility and coronavirus, that trusts, foundations and PAFs (private ancillary funds), by law, must still make distributions every year.
This means there is still funding available, and you must not lose momentum with your fundraising activities. (Watch Wendy Brooks’ video for more details).
Of course, it’s also a time in which your usual supporter base will also be under financial and other kinds of pressure. A good understanding of the environment that you’re asking in will assist in making good decisions.
As a result, you may need to modify what the ask is, who you are asking, and how you engage with prospective donors. But if you are not engaging with existing and new funders you can pretty much guarantee a decline in revenue!
Communicate with existing funders
Speak with your current funders and keep them up to date with how the crisis is affecting your organisation. Thank them for their funding and point out ways in which their money is helping those in need. Once you’ve got the data we mentioned above, you can talk with them about gaps, your risk assessment, and the business case, and reveal your considered approach for responding in this time of crisis.
If your funders are funding the programs or services that you’ve had to stop in response to the situation, tell them, explain the need at hand, and discuss when you’re going to be able to resume. Consider how all of this is going to affect your acquittal obligations. Think about what help you might need of the funder, to allow you to pivot to address the current need.
Ask existing funders
Reach out to existing funders with your specific ask. Make sure you thank them for the funding they have given in the past, identify why you think they may be able to help, and point to any synergies between the need in your community and their giving strategy.
Consider how you might best discuss with them the data you’ve collated in your business case, Theory of Change and Case for Support to gauge interest and their immediate ability to give. Don’t be scared to be aspirational in your ask; funders want to see blue sky opportunities and inspiring people-led organisations. Funders also want to know that their funding could really shift the dial and create significant change so consider how to best pitch your work in this way.
Build relationships with new funders
In a crisis, funders may make public announcements about how they’re pivoting their gifting strategy to best meet the needs coming out of the crisis. For example, the Ramsey Foundation just recently announced that they will be giving $9 million to those organisations working to tackle Covid-19.
When these announcements are made, you should consider if your organisation offers programs or services that fit within the announced categories, and if you have appropriate programs to position for this money. You should then work out the best strategy to build relationships with the funder to set up the ask.
When it comes to major gifts, your organisation is much more likely to be successful when your work is already known to the funder or there is an existing personal relationship. Work with your board, any corporate or philanthropic connections or with businesses such as Wendy Brooks & Partners to tap into existing relationships that will help you attract funding quicker.
Communicate with your community, the public and broader potential donors
Assess your marketing strategy and consider whether you’re communicating in a way that will attract broader support. Consider social media, funding campaign tech platforms and your mailout process as ways of communicating about the important work you’re doing and gaining more funding.
LinkedIn can be an effective way to attract support from the business community. The Our Community GiveNow platform can be a great way to get your message out there and source new funds. Lobby government for sector support and help for people in crisis.
Consider ways that you can collaborate with the community, government and the business sector to best meet the needs triggered by the crisis.
Philanthropists now want to see multiple supporters for projects and programs and are more attracted to funding an organisation where there is support from government, other philanthropists and business. It is also wonderful to see not-for-profits working together in innovative ways, putting competition aside, and focusing on need when shoring up funding.
As we continue to navigate uncharted territories, one thing won’t change: the need. This remains and is likely to become even greater.
There has never been a more important time to prioritise your strategic fundraising.
Rod and Catherine Brooks, of Wendy Brooks Consulting