ACN News & Industry Trends

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  • 01/05/2021 10:14 AM | Lidia Varesco Racoma (Administrator)


    This was a challenging year for everyone, including membership organizations like ours. But despite the challenges, we found new ways to keep our members connected and supported by embracing the new virtual world.

    COVID-19 Response

    As in-person events were being canceled in March 2020, we launched an initiative to support our members virtually. We implemented weekly member resource emails, free flash webinars, networking opportunities in our private Facebook group, as well as virtual speed networking events.

    We had record-high attendance at our flash webinars and our happy hour speed networking events were a hit.

    2020 Board and Committee Changes

    In our Annual Meeting in May 2020 (our first virtual event), we announced changes to our board and committee structure, including the implementation of Board Liaisons and co-chairs for each committee.

    We also welcomed three new board members, Brad BallDon Raack and Shailushi Ritchie.


    2020 Committee Highlights

    Marketing & Communications Committee

    Board Liaison: Lidia Varesco Racoma; Co-Chairs: Aashi Mital & Annisa Wanat

    • We launched a National Volunteer Week social media campaign in May, sharing stories from our current volunteers (getting our highest engagement, to boot).  
    • We continued to remain active on Facebook and LinkedIn (make sure to follow us!) and bumped up activity in our private member communities on Google Groups and Facebook.
    • We shared monthly guest blog posts by members.
    • We are in the process of revamping the ACN website in both structure and content to make it more user-friendly, both for our members as well as nonprofits seeking consultants.

    Nonprofit Relations Committee (NPRC)

    Board Liaison: Emily Taylor; Co-Chairs: Aashi Mital & Annisa Wanat

    • We further established our relationship with Forefront through our series of Ask a Consultant panels on COVID-relevant topics, getting ACN members exposed to Chicagoland nonprofits.
    • We created a Find a Speaker section on our website to direct our nonprofit partners to ACN consultants when they are looking to share relevant knowledge with their nonprofit members. 
    • We revised our RFP process to make it easier for nonprofits to fill out and gather more robust information for consultants to respond to.

    Membership Committee

    Board Liaison: Jim Javoricic; Co-Chairs: Fran Caan & Laura Weinman

    • We implemented virtual New Member Orientations on the first Wednesday of each month.
    • We sent emails welcoming new members and encouraging networking among members.
    • Our current membership is at a record high.
    • Membership has diversified by geography and membership type, including out-of-state memberships representing Colorado, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Washington, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Ohio, New York, Kansas and California.

    Programming Committee

    ACN Member Stories from 2020

    We are thrilled to share stories from our members about how ACN supported them this year.

    We are only as strong as our membership and we are grateful to work with such a dedicated group of nonprofit consultants.

    ******
    For the first half of 2020 I was a member of the Governance Committee and, later in the year, part of a working group to update the Conflict of Interest policy. As a past president, I know the importance of committee work and the mutual benefit—for members and ACN—derived from the experience. Committee work is a wonderful way to get to know colleagues and share expertise.

    I was also delighted to have the opportunity to participate in Ask a Consultant. It was meaningful to be able to share expertise with nonprofits and colleagues as we all were learning how to navigate during a pandemic. 

    Amy Wishnick, Wishnick & Associates, LLC

    ******

    As a board member, I have been able to take on new challenges that add skills to my business, such as better understanding the hard skills of governance and the soft skills of building a team. This year also brought big changes for me as I tried to manage my business while having a kid at home. Connecting and having conversations with ACN members in similar situations helped me think through how to retool my work to fit my capacity and still make a meaningful impact with my clients.

    Emily Taylor, teeny big

    ******

    ACN has been great for me as I just started my consulting practice. There was no comparable organization in NYC and I have found ACN welcoming, supportive, comprehensive and a great way to meet new people!

    – Kim Vaccari

    ******

    Participating in the ACN Board of Directors and Marketing & Communications Committee has helped me stay connected with nonprofit colleagues as well as fellow parents navigating remote learning. This year, I also got two new speaking opportunities and several new client projects thanks to ACN referrals.

    Lidia Varesco Racoma, Lidia Varesco Design

    Thank you for your support of ACN in 2020—here's to a healthy and successful 2021! 

  • 12/07/2020 4:00 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By ACN member Mary Anzilotti

    COVID-19 has changed the way we work.  With most nonprofit employees now working from home, managing and motivating them to function well as a team is more crucial than ever. When a team works well together, the organization wins.  When an organization wins, so do their clients, employees and the community at large. 

    “Crucial” is an interesting way to think about leading a team. Let’s take a close look at how to motivate and manage your team in a CRUCIAL way.

    C- Communication.  Communication needs to be clear, concise and consistent. This is especially true when working remotely or during times of crisis.

    R- Relationships.  Build relationships by reaching out to employees individually and as a team. Ask how they’re doing, and show a genuine interest in their personal lives.

    U- Understanding.  Help employees understand what is expected and why. Ensure that all stakeholders understand your organization’s immediate, short-term and long-term goals. 

    C- Celebration.  Celebrate successes, celebrate birthdays, celebrate anniversaries and celebrate creativity.  Just be sure to celebrate!  

    I- Intentionality.  Wake up each day and think about how you can be better and how to make your team better. Small, positive, actionable items every day make a huge difference over time. Be intentional for you and your team.

    A- Accountability.  Hold yourself, your employees and your team accountable. Giving clear guidance on what is expected, and why it is expected will lead to a motivated team.  No need to micromanage, just give guidance, and trust. Provide corrective feedback when needed.

    L- Listening. Solicit feedback from employees on how to improve the organization and your team. Listen with an open mind as even seemingly impractical ideas can serve as a springboard for new thinking. Let your team know that you’ve heard them, and then act on the best ideas.

    Here are a few examples of how we manage in a CRUCIAL way at Stanton Blackwell. We have a video meeting every Monday morning to help shift from the weekend to the work week. We use this meeting to build relationships by briefly talking about our weekend and then communicating our company’s priorities for the week. To stay accountable to our priorities, we schedule short meetings throughout the week to peer review our work.  A fixed calendar deadline to screen share work helps us to be more intentional and focused on our deliverables.

    If you are struggling as a leader in this new operating environment, don’t be too hard on yourself.  Motivating your team remotely can feel overwhelming at times, but using these CRUCIAL tips will help make it manageable.

    Mary Anzilotti, principle at Stanton Blackwell, has nearly 30 years of experience in the non-profit sector with a proven record as an executive for strategy and operations. Her areas of expertise include leading strategic planning, managing organizational change, and driving quality and cost effectiveness.

  • 11/01/2020 4:01 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Amy Schiffman, ACN Member

    Are you growing a little tired of statements prefaced by words like “In these uncertain times …?”  Me too. But it’s a little hard to avoid these days. So, I’ll just come right out and say it: the world is in a state of upheaval, so if your board of directors is not firing on all cylinders, your nonprofit is in deep (or at least deepish) trouble.

    Let's focus on how you get to a professionalized, focused, strategic board – one that concerns itself with capacity building and is able to help the organization withstand troubling times. As a fundraiser, you might think I’d be most concerned with your resource development committee, but you would be wrong. As a consultant who has spent over 25 years working with nonprofits to build sustainable futures, I believe that your board development committee (aka committee on trustees/nominating/by-laws/governance) is the single greatest asset on your board – no contest. And it’s the key to a great fundraising program, because if the governance committee is not doing its job, it’s likely nothing else is working.

    What do I mean by “not doing its job?” If the governance committee is either a) not meeting, b) not well managed or c) has no idea what it’s there to do, it’s not far-fetched to assume that your standing board committees aren’t in great shape, either. Why? Well, let’s review the governance committee role and function and then revisit that question.

    It is the job of the governance committee to promote, maintain, and ensure the health and well-being of the board of directors. This work generally focuses on four to five major areas. They include:

    1.    Helping to ensure board members know what their job is this includes standing board committees:

    • Regularly update the board member role description and train board members on what is expected of them.
    • Ensure that all standing board committees have updated charters or role descriptions, annual goals and work plans. Provide training on an annual basis to all standing board committee chairs so they know how to do their job. Don’t assume they do.
    • Assist the board in periodically updating and clarifying the primary areas of focus for the board and help shape the board’s agenda for the next 12 – 24 months, based on a current strategic plan.

    2.    Ensuring a healthy board member pipeline and a diverse representation of voices:

    • Regularly examine board composition and develop an “ideal candidate profile.” Current board members should be aware of the characteristics, attributes, skill sets, network, demographics and access to resources available on, and missing from, the board. Once you identify the skill gaps, you know who you’re looking for.
    • Develop and “work” the board candidate pipeline to ensure that new volunteers are introduced to board and committee work, and promising board candidates are cultivated and educated.
    • Manage the board nomination and election process and create and manage an onboarding program that includes a board manual for new members.
    • Ensure that term limits are enforced and assess individual board members’ interest in continuing on the board. Help board members assess their board and committee work and identify ways in which they can help the organization reach its goals. This includes helping board members choose a role on a standing board committee.

    3.    Helping to educate, professionalize and build team spirit:

    • Provide a mentor for new board members.
    • Ensure board members receive ongoing professional development and training on topics such as fundraising, financial literacy, donor cultivation, policy updates and sector-specific information.
    • Bring the work of the organization to board meetings via “mission moments” and regular opportunities to hear from clients, students, department chairs, clinicians, alumni, etc.
    • Provide regular board retreat and team building opportunities.

    4.    Setting goals and evaluating the board’s effectiveness

    The board should self-assess on an annual basis, both as a team and as individuals. If you’re not setting goals and taking the time to determine whether or not you’ve reached them, how will you evaluate success? How will you identify challenges and opportunities for growth? 

    • Ensure the board is working from a current strategic plan. If there isn’t one, work the executive committee to develop a strategic planning task force. The work of your standing board committees should be guided by the goals established in your strategic plan. No plan = no roadmap + no vision to share with donors and key stakeholders.
    • Review periodically the board’s by-laws as well as practices and policies around confidentiality, conflict of interest, term limits, fundraising expectations, etc.

    5.    Ensuring healthy leadership succession

    • To ensure strategic board leadership succession planning, track current board roles and forge a path for promising future leaders. This process should outline the ideal steps to be taken toward executive committee and board chairmanship engagement.
    • Create a nominating subcommittee process that drives the nomination of new board members, the election of board members to leadership positions and the formalization of renewed terms. Track terms and term limits, ensuring that the board is continually focused on the development of diverse new leadership.

    So now back to our question. Why is this committee so critical? If the governance committee is doing its job, then the rest of the board is engaged in meaningful committee work, board members are focused on capacity building, and the board is provided with the training and resources they need to do their jobs well. If the governance committee is either dysfunctional or inoperative – well – I’m guessing you know what happens. If that feels a little too familiar, let’s give your board development committee the role description I’ve outlined above. It’s a start. J

    Amy Schiffman is president and CEO of Evolve Giving Group. She and her rock star team can be found at www.evolvegivinggroup.com so feel free to reach out with comments or questions.


  • 10/06/2020 1:53 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By: Allison Wong, ACN member

    Six months into the pandemic, it’s clear that meeting in person isn’t an option for fundraising. Planning and executing a virtual fundraising event can seem like a daunting task but it doesn’t have to be. With proper research, planning and partnerships, your virtual event can be wildly successful.

    At Forever Ready Productions, we specialize in telling mission-focused stories for nonprofits.   Here are the five most important things we’ve learned from live streaming virtual events since the pandemic began:

    1. DECIDE ON A CONTENT THEME. I’ve seen many events that don’t have a clear direction and that usually leads to things feeling out of place and disjointed. If you decide on a theme for the evening, you’ll have a guide for selecting the right content. Pick something that will compliment your message and help you accomplish your goals, all while keeping viewers engaged and entertained. For example, we helped the Center for Enriched Living host a “Virtual Chefs’ Night” which included a live cooking demonstration from a chef.

    2. PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE. Once you have a theme, date, and time, let people know it’s happening. It seems obvious, but I think people forget this is important. Mail invitations, send emails to all of your supporters, post on all of your social media platforms and more. When we worked with the Center for Enriched Living to live stream their Virtual Chefs’ Night, the staff did an amazing job of texting reminders to their supporters leading up to and on the day of the event. That resulted in nearly 1,000 viewers across two platforms!

    3. KEEP THINGS ACTIVE. I know you have a lot of important information to communicate to your audience, but try to strike a balance between talking and doing. You could have live music, a live interview or a giveaway, and all could be done safely. Even having two hosts can help liven things up!

    4. HAVE HEART. This is probably the most important advice I could give. Featuring heartfelt, authentic videos will take your event to the next level. You need to show your audience why they should support your work. Working closely with the Center for Independence, we created four videos that played throughout a virtual event, each featuring a parent sharing their own authentic story. Executive Director Patricia Herbst said it was critical in helping them raise nearly $80,000.

    5. DON’T FORGET THE ASK. In a virtual event, make sure you’re explicitly asking people to donate, just like you would during an in-room pledge. Let them know what their money will do. You should also frequently remind people where and how they can donate throughout the broadcast. Showing reminders on screen is even better.

    By following these tips and working with a strong team, you’ll be able to plan an entertaining, impactful and memorable event. Happy planning!

    Allison Wong is a client manager and video producer for Forever Ready Productions. Allison joined the Forever Ready team in January of this year after working as a broadcast journalist. She’s enjoyed sharing her passion for storytelling with her nonprofit clients and bringing their missions to life through video.


  • 09/07/2020 8:01 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Alex McDonald

    A great feature of virtual galas is that donors can join from anywhere with just a single click. The flip side is that donors can also leave with a single click.

    In this post, I’ll show you how to leverage the chat window to keep donors engaged for the duration of your virtual gala.

    Why Do You Need a Lively Chat Window?

    Regardless of how entertaining and inspiring your virtual gala’s broadcast is, donors will miss the interactivity of your in-person gala. The chat window fills the need for interactivity by allowing donors to engage with your organization and with each other.

    Furthermore, a lively chat window communicates to all attendees that your organization has broad support from a passionate donor base. Donors want to be part of success stories.

    Finally, social media streaming platforms, like Facebook Live, use engagements (comments, likes and reactions), to determine whether to suggest your live stream to a broader audience. Lots of comments means more people see your live stream.

    3 Simple Ways to Encourage Comments

    Fortunately, mixing things up in the chat window isn’t difficult - it just takes a little forethought.

    “Salt” the Chat Window

    Ever notice how there is always money in the tip jar at your local coffee shop? Baristas add their own money to show that tipping is the normal thing for customers to do.

    This is called “salting the tip jar.”

    Similarly, you should “salt” the comment window by arranging for some volunteers and especially dear donors to kick off your event with a flood of comments.

    The comments can be simple notes like “So excited to be here!” or “I like the host’s outfit.” If streaming to Facebook Live, commenters can share a Facebook Live Reaction (e.g., like, love, laugh) as well. 

    Other donors will want to get in on the action and submit their comments.

    Dedicate a Representative to Responding

    In addition to salting the comment window, you’ll want a gala representative to respond to donors’ comments and acknowledge generous donations.

    This role is especially necessary if your gala is prerecorded and the hosts can’t acknowledge attendees on air.

    Your representative should be quick witted and well known to donors. Not only will donors submit more comments, they’ll stick around to see the reply.

    Incorporate the Chat Window into the Live Presentation

    Online attendees love when the live hosts acknowledge their comments. Here are some simple ways to facilitate this interaction:

    • Ask a trivia question about your organization and give a prize to the first correct response.
    • Encourage viewers to submit funny phrases which hosts try to work into their monologue.
    • Solicit questions for an organizational leader to answer in your broadcast.

    Obviously, time these games as to not compete with your Fund-a-Need or live auction.

    If donors wanted purely scripted entertainment, they could log in to Netflix. The chat window gives your event an X-factor so you can entertain guests while communicating your mission.

    Brainstorm with your committee how to apply the above strategies to cultivate a lively chat window for your virtual gala. 

    Alex McDonald, director of customer experience at TravelPledge, connects nonprofits with auction items posted by generous businesses. He also shares his extensive marketing experience by developing educational content for organizers of benefit events.
  • 08/03/2020 2:43 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Don Raack, ACN Member

    If you are like most nonprofits, 2020 was a year of great aspirations. Funding patterns were trending upward, bolstered by low unemployment and higher disposable income.  You were ready to add that new program, hire that new manager, expand that facility . . .

    . . . and then March came . . . and then . . . whoa.

    In a matter of a couple of weeks, many nonprofits went from strong service and growth to a fight for their very survival.  Many have been left wondering what to do when it seems like there is nothing to do.

    The answer is to pour 100% of your organization’s energy into an agile and transparent fundraising strategy. Sustainer donors are the backbone of your organization’s operations, and they are the priority. Your mission has been built upon their loyal generosity, and now is the time to engage them with a new sense of urgency and purpose.

    The most effective, immediate action you can take is to focus on the fundamentals of donor relationship management:

    1.      Engage – Get into your donor data.  Get on the phone with the top 10% of your donors. Recognize their past contributions, thank them in a special way and remind them of why they have supported you to date. Then move to the next 10%, as 80% of your funding likely comes from the top 20% of your donors.

    2.      Ask – Have your message organized in three simple statements answering these three questions: “Why us? Why now? Why you?” Re-establish the importance of your work, communicate the immediate challenges and needs, and remind them of why their specific support has been so critical before and especially now..

    3.      Recognize – Over-communicate the impact of the donor’s gift. Update them continuously and thank them personally for their continuing support.

    Whether your funding comes from individuals, major donors, or private or corporate foundations, there is funding out there for you to obtain. Prioritize your existing sustainers, endeavor to create new sustainers, over-communicate and make them feel good about your mission and its future. The re-start is coming sooner than you think, so get your sustainers thinking about you!

    Don Raack is managing director of AltruNext, a consultancy specializing in fund development strategy and execution. He is an expert in business and operations management for nonprofit organizations.


  • 07/02/2020 8:49 AM | Lidia Varesco Racoma (Administrator)

    At our 31st annual meeting on June 16, 2020, we announced the election of three new ACN board members.

    FY21 New ACN Board Members


    Brad Ball is Vice President of Big Buzz Idea Group where he serves as Executive Director to the land economics society Lambda Alpha International Ely Chapter and is the project lead for two major events the company coordinates, Ribfest Chicago and Chicago Hot Dog Fest. He enjoys strategic planning and thinking and has extensive experience managing organization finances from both an executive and program level.



    Don Raack oversees brand awareness and all business operations as Managing Director of AltruNext, a consultancy specializing in fund development strategy and execution. As a former user of consulting services, he has the perspective of one who would benefit from ACN's services. As a provider of various consulting services over the past 12 years, he also has the perspective of how best to engage the community served as well as listen to the issues faced and outcomes desired.



    Shailushi Ritchie is founder & CEO of Sevah Consulting and has spent her entire professional career working for nonprofit organizations, developing deep bench strength in the areas that make nonprofits unique. She brings a systems approach to all of her work and tries to find elegant solutions to problems. She believes in service, learning, and service learning. She asks questions to uncover unspoken or even unacknowledged issues that could cause problems and collaborates with all the key stakeholders to come up with solutions. She also brings both her connections with agencies across the state and the country and her unique perspective as a woman of color.

    Welcome to the ACN Board, Brad, Don and Shailushi!

    Current board members Jill Misra, Elizabeth Richter and Lidia Varesco Racoma are returning for another term.

    See the full list of ACN Board of Directors.

  • 06/30/2020 2:30 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Stacy Harker, ACN Member

    In these socially-distanced times, many nonprofits are debating whether to move a planned in-person event online. Before you take the leap, consider these questions.

    Could you?

    One of the first questions your team needs to ask is COULD WE put on a virtual event? Are you able to pivot from an annual in-person event to a meaningful virtual experience? As you and your organization pose this question, there are several logistical considerations that you need to evaluate:

    • Do you have the necessary technology?
    • Can you present your mission and impact visually?
    • Do you have the staff/team/volunteer capability?
    • Is there a budget?
    • Can you repurpose content from your in-person event?
    • Is your event sponsor flexible about moving online?

    Do you have access to experts who can help you with the logistics of moving online?

    Would you?

    If you think you CAN, the next question is would postponing your in-person event would do more harm than good compared to pivoting to a virtual event? Before making a decision, here are some vital questions to ask your team:

    • Does this event fit in with your overall plan for the year?
    • Can you whip up the strategy, timeline and back-up plans in time?
    • Do you have a host or emcee?
    • What will your actual programming be?
    • Can you still share the impact of your work?
    • Do you have tech support for attendees?

    Should you?

    Let’s say that yes, you WOULD change course and that you COULD logistically pull it off, you really need to ask yourself SHOULD your organization do this?  Whether or not you have the capabilities, all this boils down to is whether or not it is fiscally responsible and within the scope of your organization’s mission to conduct a virtual event. These questions are not just about your “return on investment” but also your “return on energy” since this most likely means going where your organization has probably not been before:

    • Does leadership champion the transition?
    • Is your constituency likely to attend a virtual event?
    • Will you be able to dedicate appropriate marketing support?
    • Have you built in enough time to test your presentation and technology with your team, and test, test…and test again?
    • Can you build and manage a good virtual events team?
    • Can you be SUCCESSFUL?

    The biggest question you need to ask for your organization in the current climate is can you be successful?  What do you define as success? Is it hitting revenue targets? Is it adding more donors?  What definable goals can you use to benchmark your event as a success?  Have your organization’s goals been adjusted to reflect this unprecedented time? Are you providing the next best avenue for connecting with your donors if this is your main event of the year?  Asking your organization all of these questions will put you on the right path to determine whether or not you could, would and should take your event into the virtual realm.

    Stacy Harker, an associate at KEES, provides interim staffing services to nonprofits going through the executive search process. Stacy has more than 19 years of nonprofit experience in education, performing arts, media, consulting, interim staffing and executive search.


  • 06/25/2020 5:38 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)


    We were thrilled to see so many of our members at ACN's first-ever virtual annual member meeting on June 16, 2020. 

    After realizing we couldn’t hold our in-person meeting, our committees quickly pivoted our 31st annual meeting to an online format that featured association updates, as well as Q&A and networking opportunities. 

    ACN board president Jill Misra kicked off the meeting with a State of the Association—including the following record-setting stats and notable differences from the last fiscal year:

    • 2019’s 30th Anniversary Celebration & Annual Meeting drew a record-high number of attendees 
    • Current membership is at a record high—and includes a 7% increase from this time last year
    • Membership has diversified by geography and membership type, including out-of-state memberships representing Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Kansas and California
    • 3 of our in-person events sold out
    • 44 of our members volunteer on the board of directors or committees

    Next up were committee reports, an overview of key accomplishments in the past year and and plans for FY21 from our Finance, Governance, Marketing & Communications, Membership, Nonprofit Relations, Programming and Strategic Planning Committees. 

    After that, we announced and welcomed our new board membersBrad BallDon Raack and Shailushi Ritchie. (Stay tuned for a post to learn more about them and their roles on the board). 

    The meeting wrapped up with a Q&A session to answer members’ current questions and concerns about the association, as well as small group networking in breakout rooms

    Though of course we prefer to be together in-person, we are pleased that we could bring our community together virtually. We look forward to making ACN even more beneficial for members and nonprofits in the coming year! 

    ACN MEMBERS: If you missed the meeting and would like to review the slides or watch the recorded meeting, click on the Member page of the website, then click on the Governance and Strategic Plan link. If you are not already logged in, you will need to do so using your email and ACN member password. If you have any questions, please reach out to our Executive Director Tricia Fusilero at ExecDirector@ACNConsult.org.

  • 06/15/2020 12:08 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

    By Edie Canter, ACN Member

    Should we fundraise now?” “Can we fundraise now?”  “How should we fundraise now?”

    These questions have been top-of-mind for nonprofit leaders during the COVID crisis. Fortunately, the answers may be simpler than you think.  And what we learn at this time can inform fundraising practices in the future.

    Yes, you should fundraise during crisis

    Does your organization need philanthropic dollars now or in the next several years?  If the answer is “yes,” then you must fundraise. 

    Some express discomfort about asking for money if their organizations are not on the front lines of crisis response. I urge you to put that discomfort to the side.

    Remind yourself of this: your mission was relevant before the crisis and it will be relevant after the crisis. Indeed, your work – even adapted for COVID – is relevant right now. If you believe in your mission, you owe it to your organization to fundraise. It is as simple as that.

    Yes, you can fundraise during crisis

    You can raise money as long as there are supporters who believe in your work, are generous, and have the capacity to give.  Let’s see how these three elements play out now.

    First, you can assume that supporters who believed in your mission pre-COVID still feel warmly toward your work. If you take care of the fundraising fundamentals, they will continue to care.

    Second, during crisis, people look for ways to be helpful. While some may not be able to give now, others are increasing their gifts. Supporters want to support, however they can.

    Third, while our country faces unprecedented economic anxiety, many people have maintained employment and wealth. As of this writing, stock market performance continues to be high, with stock prices significantly above the lows of the Great Recession. And even during the Great Recession, philanthropy continued, albeit at lower amounts.

    Let’s be realistic – you may not raise as much money as you planned for this year. But the requisite elements are present: supporters, generosity, and wealth. You can fundraise.

    Remember the fundamentals

    During crisis, key fundraising principles still apply.

    Build relationships: This is a great time to connect one-on-one with top supporters via phone or video calls.  Ask how people are doing, share how you’re coping, update supporters on your important work, and thank them.

    Engage donors:  Keep your supporters engaged with regular and authentic emails or newsletters (nice infographics and videos are a bonus, but not necessary). Consider offering a virtual opportunity for supporters to connect with your work – perhaps a 30-minute “get to know the staff” webinar or a panel discussion.

    Tell your story well: Provide personal narratives and stories that demonstrate your organization’s impact – and remind donors of the importance of their gifts.

    Special considerations during COVID

    Sensitivity to the times: Be thoughtful in your “asks.” If you do not know how individuals have been affected by the crisis, couch your request in compassion. “We know these are difficult times. If your situation allows, we hope you can continue your important support.”

    Special events fundraising:  In lieu of in-person events, virtual events have exploded, with success we could not have imagined a few months ago. These events are proving amenable to familiar revenue-generators such as sponsorships, paddle raises, tickets, raffles, and auctions. Here is a small sampling of creative formats:

    • Live events featuring pre-recorded speeches and performances or using breakout rooms to facilitate networking and dialogue.
    • Multi-day events with daily panel discussions.
    • “No-event” fundraisers – usually online campaigns over several days.
    •  Events marketed as happy hours, pajama parties, living-room activism, and more.

    When planned and managed well, special events raise money, build community, engage supporters, celebrate success, and elevate constituent voices. During the COVID crisis, we can achieve all these goals with virtual events.

    Take the COVID crisis as an opportunity to deepen donor cultivation, hone storytelling, and explore creative fundraising. All will pay off in the post-crisis world.

    Edie Canter, president of Canter Strategies, provides nonprofits with expert consulting in development assessment, planning and execution; strategic planning; interim leadership; Board/organizational management; and persuasive writing.  She brings to the table over 35 years of experience as an executive director, director of development and communications, board member, and advocate.


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