Editor’s note: This is Part I of a two-part response to questions posed by participants of a GG+A webinar. For Part II, go here.
On March 27, GG+A hosted a webinar with guest Rhea Turteltaub, Vice Chancellor, External Affairs at UCLA, entitled, “Making Relationships Matter: UCLA Advancement Program’s Response to the COVID-19 Crisis.”
In the webinar, Rhea shared how UCLA is staying connected with its internal and external communities by creating opportunities to convene virtually and remotely. She also outlined fundraising and communications strategies designed specifically for the COVID-19 crisis, and walked through UCLA leadership’s decision-making process to protect its students and faculty, and establish an effective remote working environment in the emergence of the crisis.
We followed up with Rhea after the webinar to answer attendees’ questions. Read on for an edited transcript of her responses.
Q. How are you handling qualification/discovery meetings during this time? Are you finding it more difficult to make solicitations? What are some takeaways?
The stewardship/wellness call is a well understood technique, but “meeting” someone new will necessarily require more creativity and even more assistance than usual in this physical distancing environment. A friend at Stanford told me about a discovery tele-visit with two venture capitalists that a faculty member helped initiate. These are not cold calls, but rather facilitated conversations.
As we often do, now is the time to rely upon our closest donors and friends. You might ask them if they could broker the concept of an online salon, which can be a tool to gain insight into how other organizations are addressing this immediate crisis. They can also serve as new discovery opportunities where you use your existing community to build a wider one. For example, an independent school might have a board member or parent who is a non-frontline physician who can offer insight to your institutional family. Anything we can do to create a supportive community will be a benefit.
As for making new solicitations … the ones we’re doing now are directly related to COVID-19 crisis response. Frankly, I think it’s too soon to assess how new solicitations might go.
Q. What should I be asking my boss to do with our top donors and prospective donors? They are so busy and focused on operations and finances.
Ask your boss to take time to invest in relationships. The top person in your organization can conduct simple wellness checks among the donor and prospective donor community. At UCLA, we’ve asked our chancellor to do that. Give that top person a list of people and ask them to take five or six names over the course of a week. The calls are warmly welcomed, and by asking folks how they are coping, the conversation opens a door to learning about what our prospects are doing in their businesses or with their own families. It’s also a break that the boss needs for his or her own well-being, a needed respite that can be far more uplifting than looking at the finances of your operation right now. Just ask for a few minutes each day. You and your leader will be glad you did!
Q. How can I keep my team being productive remotely?
I just listened to a webinar that a friend of mine did called, “Working from Home: How to Be Productive and Professional.” The key strategies included: defining space to work at home, embedding a routine into your day, communicating frequently, projecting professionalism, demonstrating your productivity and highlighting your value. Trust between managers and teams is at the core of each strategy.
Ask your team to focus and report on three important things each week. Managers need to provide guidance. They should invite their teams to look at long-term projects that may have been previously languishing at the bottom of the “to do” list. Seek volunteers or assign projects from that list. Also, be accessible and lead by example. Let them know what you’re working on and focus first on weekly tasks that can be easy wins.
Q. I am a “management by walking around” manager. How do I adjust?
Reach out early and often. You have to do it virtually now. My newest idea, which I plan to implement soon, is to take our organizational chart and each day close my eyes and randomly stick my finger on one name in each of our four units, and then send that person an email saying, ‘Hey, just want to check in. Hope you and your family are well.’ You can ask that person what is the most fun thing they have worked on the past few days, or what’s a challenge they overcame. It’s not a hard thing to do and there’s an element of surprise. I know it might freak some people out, but my goal is to connect and I can make it fun!
Q. What is UCLA doing in regard to fundraising activities? Making goodwill contacts only with donors? Is the annual fund still functioning?
We are not doing outbound telemarketing. Call centers don’t lend themselves to physical distancing and, honestly, in this moment of high anxiety, solicitation calls are intrusive. I think we’ve all noticed the drop-off of political campaign calls. Also, it’s way more efficient to move things online. The Annual Fund is functioning, but our team has been working these past few weeks to get our COVID-19 response efforts up and running. As we settle into a more regular cadence, I think we’ll see other routine activities morph to this new setting. Many programs have hit pause on certain activities, but depending how long these stay-at-home orders last, we may have to simply “unmute” ourselves and find creative ways to resume our traditional fundraising routines.
Q. We have a little more than one year remaining on our campus-wide campaign. What are two or three key suggestions that you would offer development officers representing the foundation and athletics as it relates to engagement with donors?
Keep working your campaign milestones—you’re still in it. Assume you’ll likely have to extend your timeline—and there’s no shame in that adjustment! The spring of 2020 will be marked with an asterisk for everyone.
From an athletics standpoint, always remember that the donors who invest in those programs feel a sense of personal connection to the student-athletes they cheer for. Those student-athletes’ lives have also been significantly upended. The structure that goes into being a college athlete, especially a Division 1 athlete, started in childhood, and it can be very unsettling when that structure is disrupted.
Concerns about anxiety and depression with these student-athletes are real. So, champion what they are doing to adapt to our “new normal” and push this news out to donors and fans. UCLA’s athletic director recently sent a letter to fans highlighting three or four seniors’ social media posts that were very inspiring. They are missing out on the end of their college athletic careers, but many of them are very mature and great brand ambassadors. Their chance to shine off the playing field is a great development opportunity.
Q. Do you have a preferred mode of virtual conversations in lieu of face-to-face visits? Does phone call versus video call really matter?
The more video that you can do, the better. Face-to-face is always preferable. Besides, we know that when we walk into a person’s home or office, we learn that much more about who they are and what they’re proud of—so any opportunity to have that glimpse is a bonus. If not video, then phone call, then email. But it ultimately depends on the person and the situation. Always offer face-to-face, but let the other person dictate according to what makes them most comfortable.