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.
Emilie, Principal and Owner