Fundraising When Your Nonprofit Is Not a Disaster Relief Agency
Disaster philanthropy is in full swing. People are giving everything they can to help their fellow humans after hurricanes, earthquakes and fires. We’re seeing the best example of why nonprofit organizations exist—to be the conduit that makes it possible for people to help other people.
In normal circumstances, when we are not in situations that demand episodic disaster giving, I believe in the abundance mentality in fundraising. Yes, most people have a certain amount of money that they plan to invest in charities each year, which would seem to indicate that if a donor gave to Charity A, that money would not be available to Charity B. In the strict budgetary sense, that is true. However, fundraising with an abundance mentality provides opportunities to expand giving through nonprofit partnerships and varied giving channels.
I’ve written before about abundance theory in fundraising:
“Charitable giving does ebb and flow based on factors like the economy, political climate and the occurrence of natural disasters. But in general, people give based on a few things: 1) passion for a cause; 2) the charity’s ability to connect them with the mission and show the positive results of donor investments; 3) when and how they are asked and by whom; and 4) how they are stewarded. They don’t give just because you want them to or because your organization needs funds.
Donors want to feel like they are investing in something that is good for the community—and in an organization that has sound business practices. They don’t want fundraisers fighting against each other to ‘get’ the donor’s dollars. They don’t want sniping and backstabbing. They don’t want to feel like a piece of meat in the lion’s enclosure during feeding time at the zoo. And what they really don’t want? Redundant services that arise because nonprofits won’t work together.”
Why do I bring this up now? Because we are in an extraordinary time of disaster-related giving, and I still believe abundance mentality in fundraising is possible (dare I say necessary). People are giving stretch gifts to help their friends, neighbors and people in different countries. They are doing so because the interconnectedness of people compels them to.
It’s All About Communication
What is everyone else to do? What about arts organizations, agencies that provide support to the LGBT community, youth sports teams? These organizations still need to fund their services.
This is why it is up to nonprofit organizations to widen the ways in which they interact with supporters—not just current donors, but all supporters. We can no longer communicate in just the ways we’re comfortable with or the way we always have. If we aren’t telling success stories by video, it is time to start. If an organization has been building its online presence, but has not yet tried an online campaign (such as the relatively new Facebook campaigns), now is the time to make that leap.
I’m not advocating haphazardly trying every single tactic you can think of to engage supporters. What I’m suggesting is that nonprofit organizational leadership take a hard look at their strategy in terms of service delivery, community interaction and fund development, and then take measured chances on varied tactics to support that strategy.
One thing we don’t want to do is “victim blame” disaster-related charities for the harder road we must travel this year to fund our budgets. Nonprofit leadership must acknowledge that the extraordinarily high number of disasters this year may make it a bit more difficult for non-disaster-relief agencies to raise funds, but it will not reflect well on any nonprofit organization to be perceived as complaining about the amount of money that was raised to help people rebuild their lives after disaster.
Expand Your Thinking
What we want to do in response is 1) expand the avenues by which we engage donors, supporters, volunteers and the community in how we deliver services, share outcomes and show impact and 2) exhibit abundance-in-fundraising mentality, wherein we act as a community, partnering with and helping other nonprofits achieve success.
Fundraising does not need to be a zero-sum game—for one nonprofit to “win,” others need not lose. But, if there are a number of agencies delivering redundant services, this may well be the year to evaluate the possibility of merging those efforts.
There are enough resources to support the many important missions that exist; we just need to expand our thinking and actions in order to access those resources. We need to accept that the “old” way of giving isn’t the only way anymore. We need to embrace the concept that just because someone gives in a different way or at a different level than our historic donors, does not make them any less valuable. And we need to learn to steward all levels of donors effectively, not just those at the top of the giving pyramid.
Maybe this year, one of our historically large donors gave their biggest gifts instead to Hurricane Irma relief. Instead of begrudging that, we should identify if that donor can still give a significant gift to our organization, what other ways they would like to support the mission this year. Maybe they are willing to tie their American Express card to a round-up donation program. Great! It may not amount to as high of a dollar amount as their gifts have in previous years, but it is a new way for them to engage with the mission and every time they shop, they are thinking about the organization. That is an important shift for a nonprofit to be willing to make.
Whether in response to variances in environmental or societal factors, our organizations must be able to adjust if we are to survive—and thrive.
Tracy Vanderneck is president of Phil-Com, a training and consulting company where she works with nonprofits across the U.S. on fundraising, board development and strategic planning. Tracy has more than 25 years of experience in fundraising, business development and sales. She holds a Master of Science in management with a concentration in nonprofit leadership, a graduate certificate in teaching and learning, and a DEI in the Workplace certificate. She is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), an Association of Fundraising Professionals Master Trainer, and holds a BoardSource certificate in nonprofit board consulting. Additionally, she designs and delivers online fundraising training classes and serves as a Network for Good Personal Fundraising Coach.