Arts and Non-profit Fundraising in These Times: What’s okay to do right now?

It is an uncertain time, to say the least. For nonprofits, it makes an already delicate business model that much more unstable.

I have spoken to a number of nonprofit leaders over the past week, and one question that comes up time and time again is, “Should we ask for support right now?”

All nonprofits need support right now so of course you need to be thinking about this. From social service organizations that are providing the most basic needs to individuals to arts organizations that create a thriving culture in our cities, they all need help right now. So the question really becomes when to request support, how to ask for support, and what to do before you ask for support. I think that last part is critical, and doing it well will set your nonprofit up for the best chance at success.

Everyone is in a panic, and you have every right to be in a panic as well, but you also need to think long term. What will be the overall effect of this crisis on this organization? And more optimistically, what can we do now to keep our mission alive and ready to thrive in better times? If you run out and ask blindly for support, your message will get lost in the crowd. So I recommend taking the following steps first:

  1. Create a Communications Strategy: Empathy should be fully present in all of your communications right now. Reach out to your donors and community to let them know how you are taking care of your staff, how you are prioritizing your services, and what you are doing during this difficult time. I recommend weekly emails and/or social media posts. This doesn’t have to be full of details, because you probably don’t have many details in this day-to-day situation. It’s just a general check in to give them an idea of what your nonprofit is doing during this time and to send them well wishes. As this situation progresses, you can let them know about the financial toll this is taking on your nonprofit.

** Remember, you can’t ask people for donations before engaging them in a meaningful way. You know you will need to ask for their support so do this important engagement work now!

  1. Prioritize personal check ins: Call and check in with your most loyal supporters and prioritize by age. Who is elderly and might feel really lonely and isolated right now? Call them. Let them know you care.
  2. Develop plans for the short term: This is the hard part, but you need to start asking the “what if” questions. What if we don’t have any new income for three months? What if we can’t make payroll? Ask these questions, and then brainstorm solutions. What type of virtual fundraiser might work once this situation calms? How might you ask vendors to spread out payments? How might your board members and volunteers be able to pitch in? How might your landlord or bank support your need for more time for payments? As hard as some of these questions are, it will feel better to get them out there and start coming up with options.
  3. Clean up your infrastructure: This is a time to do all of that database clean-up that has been on the back burner! Prepare your fund development infrastructure for when things start getting back on track!
  4. Connect with other nonprofits: Reach out to your peers and connect with others in the field. You are all in this together and there might be some ways to weather this storm together. I foresee partnerships between like minded nonprofits being key in an organization’s ability to move forward.

Once you are actively taking these steps, and as you gain new information, you will be ready to go to your donors and make a meaningful request for support—a request that will both resonate with your donors and fully support your mission for the long term.

Deborah Crocker is the principal of Grounded Consulting, a consulting service for non-profits.

2 Replies to “Arts and Non-profit Fundraising in These Times: What’s okay to do right now?”
  1. So what type of revenue into a non-profit does not have to follow the spend what you raise rules annually. I realize you can be awarded a multi-year grant but it will be distributed in annual chucks. We have been able to negotiate the size of each chunk sometimes when the funding agency is flexible enough (when the money is in the bank) but not always. We have also had grant line items that could with permission be carried from one fiscal year to the next. The point being that that revenue was then removed from the current fiscal year but added to the next. So the current fiscal year balanced on less revenue and the next will presumably have to balance on more.

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