Like a lot of people, I'm concerned about the capacity of our mid-sized arts organizations especially to weather the COVID-19 crisis.
Last Wednesday I offered a free call session to NM arts nonprofits who want to talk through their response strategies for their annual funds, event cancellations, moving to digital engagement, big campaign planning questions, board response, and how to talk with donors right now. I intend to do that twice a month as long as it's useful.
This thing is evolving so fast, anyone saying they have all the answers isn't being honest. But I've started guiding several of my clients in New Mexico and Chicago through it, and I think there are a handful of tools that are critical to employ right now to weather this and the expected recession. I also think some organizations might come out of this stronger, with a few incredibly valuable new tricks they wouldn't have otherwise figured out. It's true that every crisis presents opportunities.
I've set up a video call at noon, two Wednesdays per month to take questions and share key advice for fundraising in a pandemic. It's limited to 13 callers. No charge.
Arts Fundraising in a Pandemic
Next calls: Wednesday, April 8th and 22nd
12:00 PM to 01:00 PM US/Mountain (60 min)
Concern #1: Donors might shift their focus to health-related projects.
Your Best Response: Your donor communications should explain how your organization is responding to the situation. Include details about what you’re doing to help protect the well-being of stakeholders at your organization that your donors care most about.
Your Best Response: State upfront that your organization puts your community’s health and well-being first. Then make the appeal that support now is more important than ever to ensure your organization is in a strong place when this lifts to get back to creating joy and great art.
Think about ways you might use digital events to engage your donors. A performance might not make sense, but what about a conversation with your artistic staff about how a project is developing? Could you do a virtual script reading?
Concern #3: Corporate giving is the first to contract in a down market.
Corporate donors should be a low priority now for solicitations. Put the top priority on family foundations and individuals. They’re most likely to take the long view on the markets and have some cushion. Reach out to the business partners and sponsors who you have very close, long-running relationships with. Otherwise, most corporate/business contacts will need time to see how they're impacted.
Concern #4: Older donors are totally self-isolated.
For major gift plans long in the works with individual donors, ask for the meeting when your campaign is ready, but start out by asking how they're doing first and listen. It's possible they might be willing to do a video call for a request if you've cultivated them well and recently -- and if they signaled that they were ready in the past several weeks to be asked for a big project. Be prepared if they say they need to wait a month or two for the meeting and be diligent about follow-ups.
Isolation means many major donors likely welcome your update call or email. Everyone is answering their phones right now. Reach out to your top priorities to keep the relationship warm and keep them updated on how you're managing through this.
Concern #5: It’s uncertain how long this will affect daily life.
Develop contingency plans for the efforts that really matter. Your board should have an emergency meeting if it hasn't already to plan 2-3 different scenarios. One of those should anticipate a six-month recession. How much capital do you have to get through the next months without new revenue? What can you do to stretch what you do have? Can you create new revenue streams with digital content? Are there any major restricted grants or gifts that you can talk to the donors about, asking them to loosen restrictions right now? How much would your fundraising team need to raise exactly to fill the gaps? By when? What if the fall appeal is impacted? They can't fundraise without goals and a clear picture. Larger donors will want to know.
Remember that since 1980, the US has been through five official recessions. Donors have continued to give through all of them, but with more focus on the organizations that earn their love and trust. We still saw growth in giving over those periods – but it was slower.
Concern #6: We don’t know where to cut the operating budget if we need to.
The last place to cut is where you’re still generating revenue. A strong fundraising effort needs to stay in place no matter what. Meet with your board, make sure they understand that their focus and collaboration are critical to help keep your fundraising programs strong to weather this. Can they call lapsed donors at the higher levels and ask for a renewal? Can they assist in nudging donors thinking about bigger requests? This is the time to make sure that the organization's leaders pull together.
Did you know that 20% of individual donations could be matched by employer companies? That adds up to a LOT of money left on the table every year.
Why? Most donors aren’t even aware their (or their spouse’s!) employer matches gifts, or they forget about it when they donate, or they aren’t sure how to request it. Few companies push the benefit, meaning it often goes untapped. The frequent users tend to be top executives.
That’s why it’s so important for your donation forms to ask for the names of your donors’ employers. Not just a box to check.
We love our local businesses in NM, but only a handful have these programs. This is where big companies from out of town are an asset – many have them and they’re surprisingly generous.
Here’s the process:
My husband works for a company that matches 100% up to $2,000. I make a gift to a local shelter for $2,000. I fill out a company form detailing that gift, and my husband emails it to his internal contact. Then they cut a check for an additional $2,000, including our names, and send it right to the shelter. The shelter credits us for the full $4,000.
A few matching gift companies operating in the Albuquerque area:
Intel – will double a gift by matching it 100% up to $10,000 for all employees, full-time, part-time, or retired. Not bad!
Bank of America – matches 100% up to $5,000 for full-time, part-time, or retired.
Quest Diagnostics – 100% up to $5,000 for full-time employees.
Progressive – 100% up to $3,000 for all current employees.
HP – 100% up to $2,500 for all current employees.
Wells Fargo – 100% up to $2,000 for all current employees
PNM – matches 100% up to $1,000 for all current and retired employees.
CBRE – 50% match with no limit for all current and retired employees.
There are hundreds more in NM.
Update your donor forms to ask for company names and follow-up with the ones who could be matching! At a minimum, take a look at the list of companies where your board members work. Are they all matching where they can?
For my New Mexico clients and past trainees, I provide a free look-up service on matching gift companies. If you’re curious about a company that you know a donor works for, reach out, and I can tell you if they have a program, plus the contact info for that employee to request the match.
What a great group training on major gifts solicitations in Santa Fe yesterday. For those of you seeking the slide deck, download the attached. Thank you!
I'm thrilled to be doing my Making the Major Gift Ask solicitation training later this month at the Santa Fe Community Foundation -- my first one in Santa Fe. While it's already full (!), you can live stream it at no charge. Details are:
Tuesday, April 30th
2:00-5:00pm Mountain time
Remote access info here.
I'm incredibly honored to have been appointed to the City of Albuquerque's Arts Board last week, and to celebrate the remarkable history of this public art program in the US! As the 100th person to ever accept this role of public service, I'll join 10 other Burquenos in advising Mayor Tim Keller and the City Council on public art acquisitions and programmatic funding.
ABQ was founded -- amazingly -- in 1706, so it's no surprise we have one of the oldest public art programs in the country. I adore that! It might surprise you though that our city has one of the largest departments of Cultural Services in the US. Pretty phenomenal for a mid-sized metropolis.
ABQ Journal article on the history of the program here:
It’s the peak of summer and for many working in nonprofits, there’s breathing room in the schedule. The high seasons of spring and fall events have settled down. Staff, board members, and donors are rotating in and out of town on vacations. There are fewer formal meetings on the calendar and it’s an ideal time to step back, grab a glass of lemonade, and look ahead to the next several months.
Not to ruin your lemonade sipping session, but I bet I can guess the next two big things you’re looking at to the end of 2018: you have to convene that post-summer board meeting, and you need to run the fall annual fund campaign through December.
Both these things take a lot of preparation, and I’m going to suggest some steps now to make the last one smoother and more successful. Why? Because chances are, more than 30% of your contributed revenue comes in between October and December. If you’re rushed to run your fall campaign, you’ll get jammed up, run late, or take shortcuts. And any of those will increase frustration and lose money.
1. Plan to launch in mid-September to early October. This gives you more time to ask for the gifts and more time to follow-up on those asks. It also means less competition when every donor is inundated with requests starting right around Thanksgiving, and you can make adjustments along the way depending on response.
2. Start mapping out the fall campaign timeline. Which channels will you use? Snail mail? Online page, with a popup on the front page? Email blasts? Social media? Pick two or more and think about the prep time you need to get ready. Are there important calendar dates you need to integrate or work around? Can you line up a match or two from a faithful donor to boost response and give donors deadlines in October or November? Those are proven revenue boosters.
3. Clean up your donor lists now. Purge bad emails and the unsubscribes. Update the physical mailing list. Look at your main donor segments – is it members versus outright donors, alumni versus current parents, leadership level versus smaller gifts -- run the lists and check that they’re clean.
4. Craft your storytelling. This is the mojo that makes this year’s pitch different from last year’s pitch, and it takes time to develop. Pull together your key program people and a few highly engaged volunteers/board members, and brainstorm stories from this past year that can articulate the WHY of this year’s goals. Shift into different perspectives. Play with the narrator voice. Create a big list of ideas and work from abundance. You’ll need to craft the messaging and choose images for the winners -- then pair them with the communications channels where they make the most sense. This also gives your board members a better way to solicit their personal contacts for a renewal – they have a few great stories to share about your organization’s impact this year.
See, you’ve totally got this. Now for that hammock.
How could I possibly resist a Buggs Bunny pun?
After many months of providing my major gift training slide deck and sample briefing memo for free download, I've decided it's time to charge a price for them over on the new DOCS page. They're valuable tools that several people have told me they reference all the time for requests. That's really wonderful to hear. Here's to seeing big gifts make magic happen in New Mexico!
About a year ago, a colleague recommended that I look into The Cycle, Michael Kaiser's management method for running high-performing arts organizations. At the time, I was just starting up my practice and needed to focus on other things, so I put a mental pin in it. This spring, after finishing up a house renovation and moving in, I was hungry to focus on some meaty professional development while *not* thinking about the miles of trim that I have yet to paint.
I was DELIGHTED to see that The Cycle isn't just a book now -- it's a free online course on Coursera. And WOW. It's excellent work well worth the time to watch the lectures, if not complete all the exercises.
Who's Michael Kaiser? He's the executive director that brought Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater back from the brink. And then he ran the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, for about 13 years. He started a management institute there, honing this method of focusing tightly on making great art (the easy part!), marketing institutionally, and building relationships with what he calls the "family." Guess which part is my favorite? As Kaiser acknowledges, the lessons apply to all sorts of organizations beyond arts and culture - that just happens to be his bailiwick.
The institute how lives at the University of Maryland, and has expanded its scope. I can't say enough about the quality of this course. And hooray for free!
Talking with clients and potential clients, I'd say that these are without question some of the most common comments that come up in our conversations:
- No one on our board fund raises. We don't have anyone who wants to.
- Our board members don't seem sure what to focus on. I wish they'd do more.
- Our board meets a few times a year. That's about the extent of their involvement.
- We want everyone on our board to give, but they don't always. It doesn't seem like we should have to have the same conversation every year.
Comment below with your most common board-related frustrations, and I'll pick a couple to focus on in subsequent posts!
Emilie, Principal and Owner