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Keep calm and carry on fundraising during uncertain times

This unprecedented health and economic crisis that we are all facing leaves us mindful of the vital leadership role our research universities and medical centers play in the welfare of our global communities. They are uniquely positioned to not only provide leadership in the critical delivery of health care to those affected by this virus, but also to enable and sustain the research needed to understand and resolve this health crisis, and to play a role in regaining the economic vitality of our country.

While we are all cognizant of the pressing need for even greater levels of philanthropic support, our most immediate concern has also been focused on the health and welfare of our own employees and colleagues, and that of our many stakeholder constituents and friends. These same constituents and donors look to our institutions as a critical resource, and will likely continue to support them philanthropically—both for a wide range of COVID-related initiatives, and for the core mission to which we remain committed.

With that in mind, we encourage our Advancement and fundraising clients to sustain what they began before this pandemic’s breadth came to light. Here are 15 ways to do that:

  1. Be present: Reach out to your constituents in every possible way; be present to them in any way you can. This is not the time to stop communicating, or to go silent.
  2. Show empathy and concern: Donors want to know that you value them and are concerned about their welfare. Offer ideas and resources that might be helpful to your stakeholders. Look to your donor to signal what they are prepared to do with gift discussions, and when.
  3. Reaffirm your institutional mission: Remind donors and prospects of your impact on global communities, and the reach of your core mission. Wherever appropriate, explain the many roles your institution plays in responding to the current public health crisis – be it delivering health care, generating research, or providing resources to students or to the community that surrounds your institution.
  4. Double down on what you communicate: Keep your donors informed and engaged. Your stakeholders will be interested in how their medical center or university is affected by COVID-19 and what actions are being taken. Above all, they will value transparency, and proactive initiative on your part.
  5. Revise your messaging, and keep revising: It would be tone-deaf not to acknowledge the constantly evolving impact of this health and economic crisis.
  6. Stay the course: Fundraising does slow down when market volatility persists, or assets decline – but it never stops. Don’t stop soliciting, just listen harder. Ask permission, reformulate your propositions. Be bold!
  7. Go digital now: Incorporate virtual conferencing and meetings, podcasts or video briefings that enable and sustain personal experiences regardless of distance. Consider social media and other virtual platforms as alternatives to face-to-face gatherings and events, and perhaps even the new norm in developing major gift relationships.
  8. Continue to inspire your donors: Repurpose what you have; profiles of distinguished scholars, student challenges, narratives of inspiring health workers, “Case” materials, White Papers, Town Hall presentations, thought leadership panels with academic and clinical leaders. Include all of your many stakeholder communities. Donors who feel engaged and connected will continue to support you, especially in times of crisis.
  9. Adjust your tactical objectives: Adhere to your overall fundraising initiatives, but understand what was important yesterday, may not be as important today. Priorities may shift dramatically as this crisis unfolds. Campaigns should not stop, but their time-frames and focus will likely change.
  10. Bring key leadership donors closer: Treat them as insiders, set up regularly scheduled briefings with key potential supporters, be transparent, tell them both the good news, and the challenges. Build “dialogue” with your broader constituencies – launch surveys. Your donors will embrace you if you treat them as trusted partners.
  11. Be flexible and creative with your donors: Accept longer pledge periods, accommodate their anxieties and “conditional” pledges, and be responsive to the “shifts” in their focus that come in times like this.
  12. Think stewardship: In times of stress, donors might give less, but much more often they give more to fewer institutions – the institutions with whom they are more deeply engaged, and those that matter to them. Recraft your stewardship, take the time now to thank them for their past support.
  13. Keep your Board and volunteer leaders informed: Be mindful that they have a role to play in conveying institutional messages, in reinforcing mission; provide them with reassurance, transparency, ideas, confidence, direction, navigation, and re-calibration where it’s needed.
  14. Motivate your staff: Redouble efforts to motivate your team and unit leadership by reminding them of the resilience of philanthropy in difficult times and the decisive rebound we have seen in the wake of past recessions. Step back, recraft, reposition, refocus all of your available resources, and execute on both expanded engagement, and thoughtful solicitation.
  15. Build a post-pandemic plan now: Define how you and your team can emerge from the challenges you face today with new ideas, broader skills, initiatives that will be more focused, more efficient, and build a strategy for future growth on what we have learned in the midst of this unprecedented crisis.
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About the author

John Glier

Chief Executive Officer

John Glier is the Chief Executive Officer of GG+A, a global consulting firm in philanthropic management headquartered in Chicago and London. Mr. Glier joined GG+A in 1981, and has served as its Chief Executive for more than 30 years. Mr. Glier is recognized internationally for providing strategic direction and philanthropic…