Fundraising Online

How development professionals can pivot for success in the time of Coronavirus

By Sarah Fried

The Coronavirus pandemic is impacting the way everyone does business, including philanthropy. For development professionals, there are serious concerns regarding how to successfully fundraise. As an experienced development professional for Hillel International, the world’s largest Jewish campus organization, one who worked through 9-11 and the Great Recession, I still wasn’t prepared for the impact of Covid-19, especially on our fundraising plans. 

Now, a few weeks into our new reality, including the uncertainty of the current economic environment on fundraising, I have realized the need for development professionals to pivot. 

The Cambridge dictionary defines “pivot” as both a noun and verb. As a noun, it is defined as a “fixed or stationary support that helps others turn.” Used as a verb, “to pivot” becomes the action changing or turning the outcome. Those of us responsible for securing the financial resources that allow an organization to provide critical services, must immediately pivot from our current plans in order to succeed.  

While current restrictions require us to be socially distant, we can find new approaches to help us stay close to our donors. Fundraising during the Coronavirus pandemic requires development professionals to transition their skills, talents and relationships from in-person to online. 

For many development professionals, fundraising remotely feels foreign and impersonal – the opposite of the intimate, face to face approach our work is built on. Here are my suggestions for mastering remote fundraising in the time of Coronavirus:

Stay positive – In times like this, with so many heavy, depressing headlines in the news, our instinct is to communicate a message of crisis. Sharing positive news makes you stand out. At Hillel International, we are sharing with our donors the stories of thousands of students interacting with Hillel’s new online platform, Hillel@Home

Remaining focused on the positive stories about how your organization has navigated providing continued support during this pandemic will instill confidence in your donors about your ability to be nimble and remain relevant in times of crisis.   

Spark inspiration – Fundraising remotely does not preclude inspiring donors to continue or even increase giving. Right now, with everyone staying at home, fundraisers have a captive audience. This is a unique opportunity to connect with donors. Seize this moment to reach out to all your stakeholders to share moving and impactful stories that their dollars helped create. 

Engage virtually – Online experiences are the name of the game during this crisis but doing them right is essential. Treat virtual experiences with the same care as in-person gatherings. Successful engagements include compelling content that demonstrates the impact your organization continues to have, testimonials and timely, need-to- know updates. Keeping in mind the technology platform being employed, match the size of the audience to the intended format and create an exclusive feel by limiting participation and encouraging stakeholders to turn on their camera whenever possible.

Maintain excellence – With limited philanthropic dollars, it is crucial to ensure that donor interactions remain exceptional during a time of crisis. At Hillel International, we have increased briefings for frontline fundraisers to ensure they have real-time information on how our organization is responding to the pandemic and what interruptions, if any, there are to services. While you may feel stretched during a crisis, prioritizing your donors is critical. That means maintaining consistent communication through a variety of methods, including personal phone calls, short email briefs and virtual stakeholder gatherings.

Interact thoughtfully – Before soliciting donors, you must take the time to listen to them as human beings. Many donors are dealing with new concerns in their lives and a solicitation might seem tone deaf. Demonstrating that you hear a donor and understand their reality will be remembered long after the pandemic. Prioritizing relationships above the ask might mean you skip a year of giving but this display of compassion will set you up for future success.

These are truly scary times, but it is imperative that we not let fear paralyze us from doing our work in creative, new ways. The need to pivot in fundraising has never been greater if we are to ensure our organizations and services remain strong for those we serve. I hope these suggestions will help you do just that. 

Sarah Fried is senior vice president for advancement at Hillel International.