Posts tagged ‘COVID Fundraising’

November 17, 2020

Amy Coney Barrett Knows Something You Need to Know

This post has nothing to do with politics or judicial philosophy. Instead, I want to share an important story I heard during the US Senate hearings for Amy Coney Barrett. The hearings ultimately led to her confirmation as Associate Justice to the US Supreme Court with the support of a majority of Americans. That story can help you ensure the happiness of your donors, which could result in better retention and upgraded support.

Amy Coney Barrett being sworn in before the US Senate Judiciary Committee.

Laura Wolk, a former student of Barrett’s at the University of Notre Dame, testified during the final day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. Wolk, who is blind, said that she uses adaptive technology and alerted the law school of her needs in advance of her attendance. Unfortunately, the University did not provide the needed accommodations, and Wolk’s own computer was failing. As she struggled to keep up, she grew increasingly frustrated. Not knowing where to turn, she approached Barrett, one of her professors, to ask for assistance navigating the University’s system.

A retinal disease in her infancy caused Wolk’s blindness. By the time she went to law school, she was certainly accustomed to having to be her own advocate. She didn’t expect much from Barrett, but any help would ease her burden. Wolk described Barrett during their meeting:

She sat silently, listening with deep attention as I explained my situation. She exuded calm and compassion, giving me the freedom to let down my guard and come apart.”

Wolk shared what happened when she finished explaining her situation:

‘Laura’, she said, ‘this is no longer your problem. It’s my problem.’” (3:00 minute mark)

Wolk said she expected to be directed to bureaucratic channels. Instead, Barrett made her feel comfortable to share all of her challenges and, then, she solved the problems. Wolk went on to graduate law school, clerked for Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, and now has a successful practice.

So, what does this story have to do with fundraising? Plenty!

If a donor comes to you with a question or problem, resist thinking of it as an interruption to your day. Instead, of passing them off to someone else or quickly brushing them aside, take the time to really listen. Don’t offer an automatic, institutional response. As an alternative, offer a warm, compassionate response. If it’s within your power, take on the donor’s issue as your own.

What might this look like?

Imagine you’re at your desk working on the final touches of your fundraising report to the board as your deadline draws near. Your phone rings. You answer, and are greeted by a donor. The donor wants to know how to make a gift of appreciated stock to your organization before the end of the year. Here are some courses of action you could take:

  1. You can put the donor on hold and transfer her to your assistant.
  2. You can direct the donor to your organization’s website where the instructions exist.
  3. You can thank the donor, commiserate about the somewhat complex process, explain the process to the donor and, then, offer to email a summary of the instructions to the donor, perhaps with a link to the appropriate web page as well.

While Option 1 would let you get back to your board report more quickly, which option would make the donor feel most loved? I believe the best course of action is Option 3.

If your donor feels you truly care about him, he will be more likely to care about your organization. He’ll be more likely to renew and upgrade support. Yes, loving your donors takes more time and effort, but it will yield powerful results.

What should you do?

When someone approaches you with a question, challenge, or problem, follow these five steps:

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October 27, 2020

So, Wake Me Up When It’s All Over

There’s a line in the well-known Avicci song that goes, “So, wake me up when it’s all over.” It nicely sums up my feelings about 2020. It’s been a stressful year for us all in so many ways. Yet, despite the strain, I keep seeing articles and webinars full of unfounded optimism, particularly as they relate to fundraising in the post-COVID-19 world. Here are just a small number of the titles I’ve come across:

  • Rebooting and Managing After COVID-19
  • How to Keep Your Donors Once the Crisis Ends
  • Fundraising Predictions for After COVID-19
  • Fundraising Post-COVID-19
  • How Nonprofits Should Approach Grant Makers Post-Covid-19
  • After the Pandemic Fundraising

So, when is this post-COVID-19 time supposed to arrive?

No one knows. However, we do know it’s not going to arrive anytime soon. As I write this, the USA, and much of the world, is experiencing a coronavirus pandemic resurgence following efforts to reopen economies. We still don’t have a vaccine. While there might be a viable vaccine by the end of this year, experts say broad distribution will not be possible until probably the middle of 2021, at best. In the meantime, we still do not have solid, reliable therapeutics to treat the disease.

Even once people are vaccinated and the pandemic is brought under control, economists tell us it will take months, if not years, for the economy to recover. The Federal Reserve says that the jobless rate will remain elevated through 2022. The Congressional Budget Office believes it will take two years for the economy to recover to a pre-pandemic level. Even once things do return to “normal,” we do not know what that new normal will look like. For example, “about 2 in 5 Americans in a nationwide Bankrate survey from May, for instance, said they expect to shop less at traditional in-person retailers.”

While it will take time for the overall economy to recover, it will also take time for individuals to recover from financial as well as other physical and mental health issues made worse during the pandemic. For example, the percentage of individuals experiencing depression doubled even during the early months of the pandemic, according to the US Census Bureau.

So, if the lovely post-COVID-19 world is not going to arrive anytime soon, what should you really be focusing on over the next several months or longer? Here are just a handful of ideas:

May 20, 2020

Your Charity’s Greatest Opportunity is the Rising Need of Donors to Connect

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has presented fundraising professionals with a large number of significant difficulties. One of those challenges is trying to figure out where to get solid, actionable information to help nonprofit organizations raise much-needed funds.

Now, Prof. Jen Shang, Co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, comes to our rescue. On Friday, May 22, 2020, she will be presenting a special webinar: “How to Love Your Donors During COVID-19.” I recently received an email from Prof. Shang, along with three tips, that she is kindly allowing me to share with you.

Prof. Shang, the world’s only philanthropic psychologist, has found that the pandemic is causing donors to feel a lack of wellbeing. This is due in large part to a decrease in the sense of connection that people feel during the lockdown. Interestingly, this presents an opportunity for your charity.

When you help your donors feel a sense of real connection, you will help them feel a greater sense of wellbeing. When they associate that greater sense of wellbeing with your nonprofit organization, they will be more likely to renew and increase their support now and well into the future. In other words, by taking care of your donors, you will be taking care of your charity.

One of the things that will make this webinar a valuable experience for you is that it is based on scientific research rather than simply relying on war stories or opinion. In other words, the many bright ideas you’ll learn will be solid and safely actionable. As someone who has taken Prof. Shang’s Philanthropic Psychology course, I can personally assure you that you will get meaningful information that will help you enhance your fundraising efforts.

Here is Prof. Shang’s message:

 

COVID-19 has created such uncertainty in our lives that many are wondering how and when life will ever get back to normal and how we will survive it all in the meantime.

At the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, we have not stopped collecting data since the first country locked down at the beginning of this pandemic. And we have been collecting data on how good people feel every other week since.

This [post] will give you a first sneak peak of the findings, and three tips on what to do NOW that you’ll find at the end.

We will release the full results of these studies in a webinar that we will host twice this Friday, May 22 at 6:00 am UK time and again at 3:00 pm UK time.

We studied over 4,000 adults in the US and other countries.

We measured about 30 feelings that people experienced on a daily basis. We found that people’s feelings significantly worsened during the first six weeks of the pandemic. As the lockdown continued, people felt progressively worse.

Specifically, people felt less connected to others.

Psychologists have known for decades that feeling connected to others is one of the three most fundamental needs we have as humans. Our need to have this fulfilled cannot be changed. It is as certain as our life exists. Our sense of connectedness declines when we are isolated in lockdown, when we cannot physically see anyone or talk to anyone, and when we cannot hug anyone or kiss anyone. We have seen our connectedness score declining for over six weeks now.

There is no uncertainty in any of it. When humans are locked down, their need to connect rises. With data, we also know what they need and in what quantity.

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April 28, 2020

Warning Signs You Need to Know About

While the nonprofit sector continues to raise massive amounts of money, danger lies ahead for fundraising professionals as the coronavirus health crisis leads us further into an economic calamity.

As the COVID-19 pandemic gained traction, individuals, corporations, and foundations have responded with robust giving. For example, individual giving revenue through direct mail, processed by Merkle RMG, has increased 5.8 percent year-over-year even while the volume of donations dropped by 15.5 percent, according to Merkle RMG’s Impact Report, COVID-19: How the Coronavirus Pandemic is Impacting Direct Mail Fundraising (transactions through April 19, 2020).

The initial philanthropic response to the pandemic is not surprising for those who have experienced major challenges in the past. Giving lags changes in economic conditions. For instance, during the Great Recession (2007-09), we also saw a similar philanthropic pattern with revenue initially increasing while the number of donors declined. The following graph from Target Analytics, a Blackbaud company, illustrates the point:

Now, let me just mention that no one has a crystal ball or time machine. Therefore, no one, including me, can precisely predict what will happen and when it will happen. Nevertheless, we do know that during past crises, we saw that charitable giving fell after an initial surge.

The overall economy has a profound effect on philanthropic giving. We know that overall philanthropy correlates with Gross Domestic Product at the rate of about two percent. Furthermore, historical data shows that individual giving correlates with personal income at the rate of roughly two percent. In other words, when the economy is strong, giving will be strong; when the economy falters, giving will slow.

Because the coronavirus pandemic has caused a major global economic disruption, we can anticipate that this will eventually have a negative effect on philanthropic giving. Consider these warning signs:

As corporations see profits eroded, as foundations see investments decimated, as individuals see personal income slashed, charitable giving will likely decrease. However, there are some mitigating factors in play:

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April 14, 2020

10 Fundraising Strategies for Complex & Major Gifts During COVID-19

The following guest blog post is from philanthropy researcher Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP®. He originally posted it on LinkedIn, and I’m reposting it here with Russell’s kind permission. I’m reposting the piece because of the enormous importance of the subject and the valuable information it contains.

Engaging donors in planned-giving conversations is still possible during the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, Russell and I shared our FREE whitepaper “Legacy Giving: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?” Now, I want to share Russell’s 10 charitable planning strategies you should keep in mind when seeking complex and major gifts during these challenging times:

 

The market went down. A lot. The economy is temporarily frozen. Unemployment may increase dramatically. In the past, all of these things have been bad for charitable giving. We can’t control that. So, what can we control? What strategies make sense for fundraising, in particular for complex and major gifts?

Here are ten charitable planning concepts to keep in mind.

1.    Crisis is the time to show support

A social/friendship/family relationship encourages sharing. A transactional/market/exchange relationship does not. We see this in fundraising experiments where family language (simple words and stories) consistently outperforms formal language (technical words and contract language). One of the defining moments that identifies a friendship relationship, rather than a transactional relationship, is during a crisis.

In our personal lives, we know this. When you might be in trouble, a good friend is one who reaches out to help. A friend visits you in the hospital. A friend comes to the funeral with you. A friend listens whenever trouble strikes. In time of crisis, reaching out with concern, help, or even a relevant gift reinforces this social/friendship/family type of relationship.

Ideally, the first contact with donors in a time such as this should begin with concern. Are you OK? Do you need anything? Can we help? Later, we can return to the typical donor-charity dynamic. (If you represent a cause related to public health or COVID-related assistance, that return may happen more quickly.) But, first we want to show friendship-like support during a time of crisis.

2.    The first giving conversations should be with DAF-holders

Requests made to donors with funded Donor Advised Funds will be successful earlier than requests made to others. During times of downturn and uncertainty, people are more likely to hold tightly to their wealth. This drives down charitable giving. But distributing funds already in a DAF doesn’t affect personal financial security.

During the last major economic downturn, many private foundations temporarily increased their distributions to help soften the blow for their grantees. The same reasoning can apply to individual donors who have already funded their DAFs. Due to tax planning strategies, many may have placed multiple years’ worth of future expected donations into a DAF. Given the current crisis, it makes sense to consider this as a time to empty those accounts earlier than originally planned.

3.    One-time special requests work, but be careful with a crisis

In fundraising experiments, people are more willing to donate in response to a special, one-time need than for ongoing needs. An appeal for one-time needs that arise as a result of the current turbulence may be particularly effective. In experiments, people respond more to appeals during a time of crisis. We are all sharing this experience together. We can work together to help overcome the effects of this hit.

However, it is important in such appeals to identify the crisis as a crisis for beneficiaries or for the cause, but not an organizational crisis. Projecting organizational instability might help get the $50 gift today, but it will come at the cost of the major donation later down the road. Major philanthropic investments don’t go to unstable organizations.

4.    Use planned gifts as your “Plan B”

During times of downturn and uncertainty, people are more likely to hold tightly to their wealth. Planned giving opportunities can help “lean into” this uncertainty.

Estate gifts take place only after the donor no longer needs the money personally. They can also be revocable. They can be a percentage of the estate, and thus can vary in size with financial ups and downs. These percentage gifts are actually much better for charities because they usually end up being much larger. (Fixed dollar gifts tend not to get updated for inflation.)

Irrevocable planned gifts can also help with financial uncertainty. These typically give the donor lifetime income or lifetime use of the donated property. Thus, the gift can be made while still protecting the financial security of the donor.

If a donor needs to back away from a commitment or feels that a future ask is too daunting, consider planned gifts as a “Plan B”. A response to such a refusal might include revocable or irrevocable planned gift options.

I certainly understand your concerns. I know others in your same situation who have decided to move their commitment into an estate gift instead. This provides flexibility with no upfront cost. There are even ways to do it that provide tax benefits. Would you be interested in learning more about these options?”

[This is followed by discussion of: 1) Gift in a will. 2) Beneficiary designation on an IRA/401(k), avoiding income taxes that heirs would otherwise have to pay. 3) Retained life estate, creating an immediate income tax deduction, discussed below.]

I certainly understand your concerns. I know others like you who have decided instead to make a gift that gives them lifetime income. With interest rates being so low and the market being so volatile, many people like the fixed payments coming from a charitable gift annuity. Would you like to learn more about this?”

5.    A charitable gift annuity as a two-stage gift

For those representing stable institutions offering Charitable Gift Annuities (CGAs), this may become a particularly attractive gift. A CGA usually trades a gift for annual lifetime payments to the donor (or donor and spouse). During times of uncertainty, the guarantee of fixed payments from a stable institution can be attractive. Following the last dramatic drop in the market in 2008, some large, stable organizations reported receiving exceptionally large CGAs. These very large gifts would normally have been structured as a Charitable Remainder Trust. But during extreme volatility, donors instead preferred the certainty and stability of payments guaranteed by the organization rather than payments tied to investment returns.

A charitable gift annuity can sometimes be presented as a two-stage alternative when uncertainty prevents a normal gift from being made.

I certainly understand your concerns. Another donor like you was in your same situation and she decided to protect against all this volatility by making the gift in two stages. First, she made a gift that gave her annual payments for life. If things go downhill, she has that income. But, if everything turns around and she ends up not needing the extra money, then she can donate those future payments as a second gift.”

Section II: Wonky Charitable Tax Planning Opportunities

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