By Heather Hill
There’s a lot of advice right now about the best response to COVID-19. I’m not an epidemiologist, nor am I an economist. I am a seasoned fundraiser who’s faced some big challenges in our sector over the years. The details of each may differ, but the core elements are very similar—plummeting markets, disruption to businesses, and the most vulnerable populations being most severely affected. I’m writing from the other side of them, and you’ll eventually be able to do the same for this pandemic, too.
In the meantime, here’s what I’ve learned and what I suggest for you. Take what works, leave the rest:
- Communicate –and often! Acknowledge the situation. Talk about how you’re adapting. Talk about how you’re responding to concerns about health and safety. Talk about how this impacts your mission. Do your beneficiaries need your services even more now? Are you making adjustments to be able to carry out your work?
Be sure to have conversations internally as well as externally. There is nothing worse for morale and trust than silence. A close second is telling people how they should or shouldn’t feel right now. Listen to the concerns. Allow space for staff to express their feelings. Be honest and transparent. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers, and it’s okay to say that.
- Innovate. Social distancing is prompting many organizations to rethink how services are provided or business is done. This may be an opportunity to pilot ideas you’ve thought of before that incorporate digital resources. Can you stay connected to clients through an app or online portal? What about staggering service hours to help control the number of people in the building at any one time? For fundraising, maybe it’s time to move that event to a virtual platform. Livestream your speaker, use an online service for your auction, share a video that brings your mission to life. I saw one organization putting together “gala at home” kits—get creative!
- Ask. You know how much your beneficiaries need your services right now. You know how COVID-19 is directly and indirectly affecting your ability to serve them. You likely have a specific individual story about this. Share this with your donors. Don’t stop asking. No, not everyone will give but some will. And donors with Donor Advised Funds will have philanthropic resources available that aren’t subject to market fluctuations.
Some funders may have resources earmarked for times like these, and some funds may become available through government and other public initiatives. Stay on top of what’s happening and reach out for more information to see if you’re eligible. You can visit our dedicated page for international funding sources for the most current information.
It’s okay to have questions or feel anxious, but don’t let those feeling cause you to make rash decisions, or no decisions at all. You can’t predict the future, and neither can anyone else. You can, however, respond to the present.
We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.