By Robyn Kress, EVP, Campaign Readiness

The current global health crisis is unprecedented in our lifetime. At August Jackson, we are thinking about our clients and the challenges you are facing both personally and professionally. Our university partners are trying to ensure the safety of their students and campus communities, while our hospital partners are working to protect current patients and staff from COVID-19—and also preparing for a likely influx of new patients who may require specialized care. Our thoughts are with you as you tend to this important work and take the necessary steps to protect your families.

This situation has escalated quickly, and there is an initial emergency phase that we are all working through. When this first dust settles and you return to thinking about fundraising strategies, our campaign consulting team has a few thoughts to consider from our collective experience as we all adjust to a new normal:

1. First, be human.

All of fundraising is relationship-based. Forget about the money for a minute and check in with your donors as people. How are they doing? What do they need? When something sudden and frightening happens at this scale most people just want to talk and know that you care. It is a time to drop some of the professional pretense and connect with each other on a more personal level.

2. Be a source of information.

In times of uncertainty, people are desperate for trusted information and facts. Universities and hospital systems have expert medical professionals and researchers. Double down on being a trusted source of information and communicate often.

3. Create opportunities for donors to be useful.

There is an inherent feeling of helplessness that comes with times of uncertainty. Most major donors have had great personal success and tend to be in leadership positions where they are used to being in control. Creating focused opportunities for them to give to initiatives that have immediate impact not only helps your organization, but restores their sense of purpose.

4. Postpone the events, but not the goals.

Fundraising events and galas are canceling across the country for the spring for all of the right reasons. But this is not the time to forget why you were planning the event in the first place. Were top donors being recognized? Was a new initiative launching? Were you saying farewell to a legacy leader? There are ways to accomplish these goals without doing an event.

5. Don’t freeze, innovate.

When you can’t follow your regular routine, there is a temptation to stop. We would like to suggest instead that this is your moment to innovate. Can’t bring board members to campus for the May meeting? Explore virtual meeting platforms and enhance the experience through more interesting visuals and interactive voting. Canceling your presidential tour around the country? Create a forum of faculty TED-like talks that alumni can watch online and participate in virtual discussions. Can’t travel to visit top donors in a region? Send a package of local coffee or tea ahead of time and meet for a face to face discussion on Zoom or a similar platform.

6. Be a source of joy.

As we practice social distancing, are there ways to still create community—and moments of joy? The NCAA tournament is canceled—can you invite alumni to a virtual watch party where you replay a classic championship game from their era? Is there a beloved English professor on campus who can send out a suggested book list for spring? If the hospital 5K is cancelled, can you coordinate a community ride on a platform like Peloton? Be creative: people will appreciate the fun distractions and being connected in purposeful ways to your community.

7. This too shall pass, and it’s time to get ready.

We have all chosen the development profession because we see profound ways that our institutions and society will benefit from philanthropic support. No matter where you were in your fundraising and campaign planning before the COVID-19 virus struck – if the philanthropic need hasn’t changed, you must keep going. In our experience the campaigns that paused planning during the 2008 financial crisis did not achieve the same success as those who pushed through. As always, you need to review your top giving priorities, create internal stakeholder alignment, and be prepared to tell the story of your vision for the future—a future we can all be excited about.

supporting your campaign planning

Our team of trusted, strategic communications advisors delivers a nimble, highly-evolved approach to help you inspire today’s donors to invest in your mission. Before your campaign launches, we help align institutional leadership around the mission, prepare for an efficient campaign, and focus resources in ways that will effectively engage constituents and activate donors. Learn more about our campaign readiness offerings or contact us – we’re happy to talk with you!

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