Editor’s note: This is Part II of a two-part response to questions posed by participants of a GG+A webinar. For Part I, 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 with GG+A CEO John Glier 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. This is the second part of an edited transcript of her responses.
Q. What is the effect of the public health crisis on the expectation of fundraisers as it relates to metrics? Including dollars in the door, proposals, and substantive contacts?
Obviously, we’re all having to rebalance our metrics. Dollars in the door and proposals likely need to be modified in the short term and we’re going to have to really interpret from the current data how we project forward for the rest of this fiscal year and beyond. This is the time to try and focus on closing a few things if we can. The focus should be on substantive contacts of a stewardship capacity, and the metrics focused around trying to bring closure around gift conversations that have already advanced far enough that they can be concluded during this crisis. I honestly don’t see how we can start many new major gifts proposals now unless we are able to showcase how the beneficiaries are engaged in the response to, or affected by, the pandemic.
Q. What kind of virtual alumni events can we host?
We won an international CASE award for our Virtual Alumni Day in the fall of 2018, so we know programming can be done creatively. UCLA’s diversity networks are bringing interesting speakers to the alumni population via Zoom. We’re doubling down on a lot of career-oriented programming for alumni at every stage of their professional lives because many will experience loss of jobs and other professional disruptions. We’re also offering a steady diet of programming around resiliency. I invite anyone who wants to learn more to reach out to Julie Sina, our Associate Vice Chancellor for Alumni Affairs and Advancement Services. Julie has graciously offered to field specific questions about our virtual programming and the tools we use. You can contact her via email: email@example.com.
Q. Other than phone calls, what is UCLA doing to stay meaningfully connected to its top donors during a time when face-to-face meetings aren’t possible? What creative strategies have you used?
Not just phone calls, but Zoom calls. Face-to-face is possible! Last week, we invited over 1,000 volunteers across the campus to a virtual town hall with our chancellor and three other campus leaders to provide our greatest advocates with a dedicated look at the various campus responses to the crisis. It was a one-hour session with 15-minute blocks assigned to each participant inclusive of Q-and-A (questions were solicited a day in advance of the session). Our Health System has been hosting these forums for their volunteers for several weeks and they have been highly appreciated and effective.
Q. When do you think development officers will feel comfortable traveling again? I don’t see that lifting until a vaccine is in place.
I honestly don’t know. You’re probably right about the vaccine benchmark. We might have to do more localized work, staff with people already living or willing to move into key regions, perhaps. Anxiety about travel will no doubt be a big issue for many people in many business sectors. This is an area where I think our HR professionals may need to provide guidance regarding reasonable accommodations.
Q. I would love to hear more about how you are walking the fine line between pulling solicitations, even online ones, versus softening the language and making sure the donor knows that we know their pain in the current situation.
If you can, figure out a way to convey your institution’s response to this moment in time and ask humbly and in context. If you’re working at a high school, you can talk about the importance of delivering online learning to students for as long as needed, as well as supporting the faculty. If you’re a cultural institution, never underestimate the healing power of the arts. I don’t believe we should stop our work, but we do need to be sensitive to the time, as you suggest—and just pause, pivot and then pitch accordingly.
Q. With limiting direct asks, how have you adjusted your fundraising goals for this fiscal year (and next) and presented those adjustments to your governing board, etc.?
We are not there yet in regard to limiting direct asks for the fiscal year. We need to look at the data and what it tells us this spring, along with all sorts of economic forecasts for our region, before we can anticipate goals for the coming year. And, no doubt, we’ll all still be flying a bit blind. We’ll have to make our best estimates. But there clearly are things that won’t happen that do drive immediate revenue.
I sit on the board of my college, as well as the high school that my sons attended. At the board meeting for the latter several weeks ago, we had to adapt and simply postpone the annual May gala. To have waited any longer would have appeared foolish and tone deaf. Similarly, I see key fundraising events postponed at colleges across the country.
At UCLA, we ended our campaign in December and postponed our celebration. But when we are able to move forward, we know that these are the types of events that inspire and reignite the next round of major and principal gifts. But we’re all going to have to accept where we are while still adapting our plans for programs at a date to be named later.
Q. When is it appropriate to contact someone in your portfolio from your perspective? Where you have an established relationship? When you’ve made some previous contact? No previous outreach?
I think anyone with whom you’ve had any previous contact is fair game to reach out to for a stewardship call or wellness check. However, I believe you should find someone to make an introduction before you reach out to someone you’ve never contacted before.
Q. Have your advancement officers outside of the science arena and public health engaged in solicitation? Have you noted any particularly successful strategies? I work at a museum and we certainly have programs for arts and wellness, but I wonder about maintaining our annual operating support.
Your Board should obviously be asked to continue—if not elevate—its support as needed. We have our Student Affairs staff advocating for students experiencing economic crisis. Our staff in the College is actively engaged in seeking support for the tech needs of our students who find themselves in a remote learning environment without sufficient tools. But you are right, annual operating support will necessarily be needed to continue the programming your constituency has come to expect.
All programming and all budgets will take on a post-pandemic reality, and so again, I believe we’ll need to humbly ask—and in context—but it’s a context that the entire world understands. For so many of us, the organizations we serve are part of the long-standing social fabric of our communities. It is the enduring quality of those institutions that are our strength. Our goal will be to build the proper appeal around those touchstones that I believe many will seek to preserve.