This past week my daughter asked if it was inappropriate to put a birthday post up on Instagram. She wants to support the Black Lives Matter protests and activism, but she is a teenager with a best friend who was turning 17. In a lot of ways, it is the same question we hear from nonprofits. “With the world on fire, how can I ask for a donation right now for my nonprofit?”
It all boils down to, how can we do what we want/need to do without distracting from the important funds directly supporting critical social justice issues like Black Lives Matter or essential services for COVID-19-related relief.
There are a few factors to consider before you ask for a donation right now for an annual fund, capital fund or special project:
- Check in with everyone. If your major donors have been affected by the Coronavirus, riots/looting, or job loss/furlough, they will appreciate the fact that you want to stay in touch – even when they can’t give. This shows you care about them, and not just their money.
- Your major donors might not have been directly affected. While there are many people who have been sick, lost their jobs, and/or shifted all of their philanthropy towards worthwhile Black Lives Matter related causes, many of your major donors still can give. It has been proven that wealthy people are more likely to have been able to
- ride out the stock market losses and gains (read: they still have wealth)
- been able to transfer their work to their homes (read: they are less likely to lose their jobs in layoffs and less likely to get sick from having to go into their jobs)
- and in better health (meaning they are more likely to survive COVID-19 if they were to get sick)
- People still want to give. Most people I know who have been able to retain their jobs and are healthy are acutely aware of how lucky they are. I include myself in this category. They/we want to help support nonprofits now more than ever. They/we want to donate to organizations that address current issues, but also the organizations we love. They/we know how important it is to step up right now because we can afford to do so.
- Supporters of your organization probably know that your fiscal year is ending. If they have been with you for years, this shouldn’t be a surprise. What they don’t know is how you ended this year, and what you expect for next year.
- Are you planning for reduced income in some or all areas?
- Are you considering how to keep your staff working at close to full capacity?
- Will other costs like cleaning or transportation increase as things open?
- How is all of this effecting your budget?
- And what can your donors do to help?
- Be aware of the timing but don’t use that as an excuse to stop asking at all. When quarantine first began, people were hesitant to ask for non-COVID-19-related donations and that was wise. It was a time to check in with people. But weeks went by and we found new routines for working from home, home schooling, and asking for donations. In fact, many organizations have been extremely successful in fundraising this spring. Fundraisers not involved in the Black Lives Matter movement have paused again. You can even use your social media to encourage people to support the movement. And then consider how you ask your supporters to donate your nonprofit. *Remember that in times like these, you are not asking for the piece of the giving “pie” that would have gone to shift policing policies. History has shown us that the total “pie” (or total annual giving) actually grows in challenging times.
- Many fundraising rules remain the same. People still want transparency, a reason to give to your organization, and a reason to give right now.
- If you are not asking them, someone else is. This is something I always tell people. You may feel uncomfortable or shy about asking, but the nonprofit next door may not and that is why they are still raising money. While an article in a newspaper or social media burst may increase new donations from people you don’t know, the general rule is still you don’t get donations if you don’t ask for them.
This is not an easy time. The asks will not be in person over coffee or lunch. You will hear a lot of stories that will make you laugh, cry, and scream. You will hear about the people that can’t give. But you will also hear how resilient your donors are and how they still love your organization. All that stewardship – and showing them the love – will be returned. But you have to ask for a donation right now, to get a donation.