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Fundraising in the New Normal

By Mary P. Walker, Petrus Blog Contributor & Local Charity Board Member

Right now, my daughter is in our guest bedroom teaching 130 7th grade students math. To be effective, she developed new skills, tested new teaching methods, and ramped up communication with her students’ parents. She is adding some wonderful tools that will serve her well when she gets out of our bedroom and back into a classroom.


What tools are we, as fundraisers, adding to our toolboxes? Let’s take a few minutes and reflect on how our current ways of coping, ministering, and paying the bills might empower us to do our jobs even better when this crisis is over. The following are some things I’ve been thinking about.


Longing for Mass and the Sacraments

While we are now getting used to not physically attending Mass or receiving the sacraments, most of us can’t wait until that changes. Even if our benefactors and community did not always attend Mass every Sunday or receive the sacrament of reconciliation more than once a year, they derived comfort from knowing that Mass and the sacraments were available. Until they weren’t.


How does this relate to fundraising? Now, the case for your ministry is much easier to make. We have all experienced a world where the tangible manifestations of our faith were taken away. While God freely grants grace through Mass and the sacraments, we are experiencing a world where tapping into that grace became much more difficult. Our benefactors and community have experienced this too. As people of goodwill, they better understand how life-giving your ministry is, and will want to ensure that it continues.


Senior Citizens are Now More Tech Savvy

Just about everybody has developed new skills to communicate with friends and family, build community, and navigate their daily lives. This is especially true of our senior citizens. They video chat with their grandkids, even if they live in the same town. They use an app to order groceries. Their doctors’ appointments are conducted via telemedicine. DoorDash is how they eat out by dining in.


These skills empower them, and now we fundraisers have even more options in how to serve them in ministry and encourage them to support our mission.


We all know that personal interaction, such as face-to-face visits, are the most effective way to raise funds. However, none of us have enough time or a large enough travel budget to visit everybody. Virtual visiting is now mainstream, and our senior citizens, the most generous benefactors in terms of demographics, know how to meet with you virtually.


Without leaving their homes, our benefactors can enjoy a guided tour of our facilities, drop by the pastor’s office for his personal greeting, examine models and plans, and “attend” activities. They can have virtual reunions, and form ministry committees and interest groups. Even if they live far, far away, they can have up-close and personal experiences—almost as good as being there.


How will you use this capability in the future?


Follow the Money to Fixed Income Donors

Speaking of senior citizens—while they are in greater physical danger due to COVID-19, they are probably the least affected financially. They are still receiving money from their retirement pensions and accounts, and social security. Yes, the value of IRAs and 401ks are down. However, at this writing, the stock market is still over 80% of its record high. For those who had been in the workforce, unemployment benefits are only a fraction of a person’s salary. Our seniors are doing much better financially than the unemployed, those laid off or working reduced hours.


Now might be a time to do some special fundraising outreaches to senior citizens, and I would encourage any ministry to have an RMD (Required Minimum Distribution) program or outreach this year.


The Laboratory of Virtual Special Events

We have experienced a spring where just about every fundraising special event has been cancelled, and these cancellations are progressing into summer. With uncertainty about how long this crisis will last AND the need to raise money right away, some nonprofits are experimenting with virtual special events, with some success.


I volunteer for the local chapter of a national organization whose major fundraising initiatives are 5K walks. The chapters that scheduled their walks for spring have moved to a virtual format. The first walk was last week. Participants were encouraged to walk 5K (or not!) from the comfort of their home or neighborhood in a socially distant way. The walk exceeded its financial goal, which had been set before shelter-in-place was a reality.


Once we can physically gather together again, will these virtual events continue? Is this a new trend? Maybe all special events should be designed to have a “virtual” component as well? Definitely some things to consider going forward.


The Travel Bug is Biting

Being cooped up, we have a real longing for travel right now. When we can gather again, some simple excursions that relate to your ministry will be welcome. Museum tours featuring religious art, bus trips to shrines or spectacular churches, and picnics in parks to appreciate nature not only feed the soul, but offer a chance to reconnect with benefactors in a more relaxed environment.


BTW—if you need a “quick” fundraiser, a raffle or contest featuring a travel prize might work well right now. Travel agents are now preparing for clients to re-book their cancelled trips and/or embrace some new adventures. The travel industry is offering great deals, and the winner can book the trip for a future date. One of the nonprofits I volunteer for is in the midst of a very successful travel raffle.


Fundraising for the Rainy Day (or the next virus)

Everybody understands the need for the annual fund—to pay the bills and grow the ministry. It has always been a challenge to communicate the need for endowments or reserve (rainy day) funds. When there is unmet need, it is much harder to justify having a stash of cash “just-in-case.”


Until now. Our present experience shows that nonprofits that have healthy reserves or access to funds that can be used in case of an emergency are in a much better position to continue their mission and retain their employees. Benefactors who may not have considered funding endowments in the past might be more open now. Those who are considering making planned gifts may better understand the wisdom earmarking some of that gift for reserves.


We Aren’t Finished Learning Yet!

None of us are happy about the restrictions we face. As they continue or ease up, we will still be discovering ways to cope, and hopefully thrive. Our God is creative, and we are made in his image and likeness. This means we are empowered to be creative too!


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