After a career as a professional dancer, I became an arts administrator so I could keep performing arts companies from folding the way that some of the companies I danced for had. Though my work has expanded to other nonprofit fields, for many years I raised money primarily in the arts. I am dedicated to supporting the arts to ensure we live in a culturally rich, diverse, and educated community. But when the COVID-19 virus came, I must admit that a voice in my head said, “Those things aren’t as important right now. People are sick, and need basic necessities to survive. That’s where help should be prioritized right now.”
So how do we balance the desire to support the nonprofits that are “essential” while making sure the “non-essential” are still here when we get through this pandemic?
The essentials of the now are inarguably the most pressing needs of the moment. But those nonprofits, like the arts, deemed “non essential” in the face of an existential threat, are essential for our future.
Beyond the economic impact of your activities and the number of people you employ, your nonprofit serves an important purpose, and your request for support is vital to its existence. It all comes down to making the right request to the right people. I have witnessed a number of “essential and non-essential” nonprofits receive increased donations these past few weeks due to their thoughtful engagement messages, innovative virtual communications, and “soft” ask for support, but there is likely a need to take your fundraising a step further.
Your request right now should be just as unique as your mission. Here are some critical things to consider when building a campaign to support your nonprofit during this crisis;
- Create an uplifting and clear message for your campaign. Do not sugarcoat the situation, but make sure you are telling people that you need their support now because you plan on being here in the future! People should know that you are forging ahead and creating a path towards a brighter tomorrow.
- Identify a current need and communicate it. Your campaign will most likely fund part of your general operating budget, something every nonprofit needs right now. So the question becomes, what do you need the most? Salaries for staff? Increased funds for necessary supplies? By making your request specific, it will convey operational information about your organization, which will bring people further into your organization and let them know exactly how they are helping.
- A specific ask will have more impact. Figure out how much you really need and share that goal. When doing a personal one-on-one request, give donors a number to consider. (I’ve never had someone get mad at me for asking for a gift that was out of their range.)
- Enlist your biggest supporters to champion your plan first. Before going public with your campaign, connect with your board members and most loyal donors and ask them to give towards the campaign to help launch it successfully. Having their support early on will encourage others to give, and it will strengthen your community by keeping them invested in the importance of your nonprofit.
- Develop a solid plan to back up your campaign.
- Plan a timeline for requests using different communications channels.
- Be creative with how you ask. Utilize video messages and live streaming opportunities. (But make sure the lighting is complimentary!)
- Establish financial milestones, and share with your donors when you achieve them.
- Create a meaningful acknowledgement strategy. These donors have stepped up in one of the most important moments in your history. Let them know how much that means to you.
The key right now is to stay focused on your mission. And remember, for those whose mission might not be considered “essential” at the moment, they are essential to what we look forward to once we weather the storm.