Fundraising campaigns in the time of COVID-19: Q-and-A with UVA’s Mark Luellen

In the webinar, “Fundraising campaigns in the time of COVID-19,” guest Mark Luellen, vice president for advancement at University of Virginia, discussed the complexities involved in running an ambitious campaign during COVID-19. (You can watch the entire webinar, by clicking here.)

UVA’s campaign has continued its momentum through dedicated campaign leadership and volunteers, despite widespread uncertainty, Luellen said during his conversation with GG+A CEO John Glier. The webinar explored how UVA has focused on communication and collaboration throughout the current crisis.

Here we share Luellen’s answer to an often-asked question from webinar participants:

  1. What fundraising advice would you give during COVID-19 to a nonprofit that is not a university or school, which doesn’t have a pool of alumni to draw from?

Nearly every institution within the philanthropic community has had to modify its strategies and tactics to respond to the global pandemic.

While there are differences between institutions such as independent schools, colleges, and universities that have the benefit of a deep donor base of engaged constituents and nontraditional institutions, my overall advice wouldn’t differ much regardless of the audience.

Here are a few ways that every nonprofit institution can meet its objectives at this moment:

Be bold. In times of crisis, it is easy to retrench. While many are scared and anxious (which is completely understandable), our organizations need us now, more than ever, to be bold, creative, and pivot. In my opinion, very few donors over the long run want to simply save an organization. But they will invest in a bold vision—while appropriately adjusted—that focuses on the core mission and vision of the entity. The needs we communicate may be different, but they have to be grounded in vision.

Be proactive. We need to communicate with those that are closest to us in an authentic and proactive manner. When possible, look for ways to provide existing donors “inside baseball” insights and opportunities to connect with leadership—not just advancement professionals. Donors want to hear how leaders are thinking about their plan forward. While our leaders are being pulled in many directions right now and the speed of decision making is staggering, proactive outreach using all possible vehicles is more important than ever—including texts, phone calls, videos, e-mails, Zoom, in-person (if feasible and safe), and handwritten letters.

Be creative. While challenging to embrace, none of us will likely be able to avoid trimming our budgets and expenditures. While we want to preserve our collective teams as much as we can, we probably have had no better time to think outside the box. Are there others within our organizations that can be helpful? Are we leaning on our volunteers enough? Can we outsource non-mission critical work? Are we talking with our colleagues about transferrable skills that can be explored to help the broader organization in a time of need? This is a time to avoid turf wars and work across our teams to lead our organizations. What worked in our business 12 months ago, may not work now and we need to be willing to adapt and be nimble.

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