Lessons From the Past Can Inform the Future of Fundraising
It has been said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, and then as farce. In times like now, however, it is important to look to lessons of the past in order to inform the future of our organizations. With the advent of COVID-19 and a global pandemic, leaders and staff from nonprofit organizations are looking for direction, clarity and hope.
By looking at where we have been, it is possible to glean strategies and tactics that will serve our organizations and make us much stronger than we were before. Let’s unpack a few key lessons from a few times in our history.
The Coming of Mass Philanthropy
Going back to the early 1900s, the idea of creating a campaign that would be funded by small donations from individuals was relatively new and innovative. Yet fundraising pioneers Charles Sumner Ward and Lyman Love Pierce helped kickstart approaches to donor engagement that are still being used today.
In 1905, Ward and Pierce were tasked to secure funds to help finish an important capital campaign for the YMCA in New York City. Utilizing a combination of publicity, urgency, crowdfunding and cause marketing they were able to hit their goal of $80,000 within the 27-day timeline they established.
Some of the lessons we can draw from this:
- Narrative clarity: Creating a cohesive story that draws the donor in will be key, especially in times of uncertainty.
- Urgency: Donors need to know what they can do now to help the causes they believe in, so establish clear reasons.
- Remembering to ask: Now is not the time to assume donors will not support your organization — it’s quite the opposite. Don’t forget to ask donors; just be meaningful when doing it!
Resource: Communication with your donors is more important now more than ever. Read about how to engage donors at every stage of their life cycle with your organization.
Coming Together in Times of Crisis
During World War I and the period following was where the true structure of how we fundraise today was established. While the idea of a “community chest” was established shortly before this period in which one organization served as the coordinator of many different causes, the effort to raise wartime bonds took on a heightened role and “made it possible for its drives to reach all the way down to virtually every American at the county and city levels.”
What stands out during this period of time is how much coordination occurred between private foundations, individual causes, businesses and the federal government. Being able to have a consistent message on the impact that contributions would make helped raise an extraordinary $181 million for the Red Cross during this time for wartime and tuberculosis efforts. Yet the large amount of money being raised also led to questions about expenditures and impact, leading to the creation of several oversight committees around how nonprofits utilize their money.
The lessons we can learn here are:
- Lean into your mission: There are a lot of similar messages going out right now when it comes to what organizations are doing around the pandemic. What your donors and stakeholders want to hear is what your organization is doing specifically to help your communities.
- Omnichannel engagement: Even though many physical events are being pushed back or cancelled, there is still the possibility to have a meaningful engagement with all your stakeholders. Bringing together all the facets of your community will be important to drive impact.
- Financial transparency: A recent study from Barclays cited that 25% of high-net individuals were not giving again to nonprofits because they worried about financial mismanagement, and this was before our current crisis. Financial reporting and management of your funds is more vital now than ever before.
Resource: Need to get clarity on how to prepare your organization for the next few months? Check out Gail Perry’s key tips on how to approach fundraising in the coronavirus period.
Light in the Darkness
Historical examples of generosity showing resilience are numerous, but sometimes people may not link them to our current reality, saying that was from a time long ago. Yet what about the lessons of just 12 years ago?
Both Blackbaud and the Fundraising Effectiveness Project recently analyzed what occurred during the 2008 financial crisis and found encouraging news. Here are a few key breakouts that leaders and their staff should keep in mind:
- The impact on the charitable giving sector showed a lag of about nine to 12 months from when the larger financial crisis occurred, which means speculating on immediate impact is unhelpful.
- Analysis of several economic factors, such as the S&P 500, showed that while the stock market may have fluctuated and dipped, charitable giving remained steady and even increased at the start of the recession
However, history should always be applied with the lens of current context and these studies are not an apples to apples approach. Yet, encouragingly, this time is the fact that nonprofit organizations have much more equitable and affordable access to digital technologies. Moving events online, creating virtual town halls, working remotely are much more easily obtainable when compared to the Great Recession.
Resource: if there’s one book that every nonprofit needs to read right now, it would be the new release by the late and great John Haydon. Get “Donor Care: How to Keep Donors Coming Back After the First Gift” today.
Tim Sarrantonio oversees Neon One’s ecosystem of software, consultant, and institutional partners that can address any nonprofit need. Neon One provides best in class products with NeonCRM, Rallybound, CiviCore, Arts People, and an ecosystem ensures that over 27 product integrations and over 90 consultants are working to solve problems specific to nonprofits.