Money & Business

How Foundations Can Pivot Their Fundraising Strategy During the Pandemic

By / Jul 22, 2020 (choness/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

As the coronavirus crisis has dampened individual giving by members, foundations can keep on track with their fundraising targets by touching base with current donors, seeking out flush benefactors ready to give, using creative approaches, and staying focused.

For association foundations looking to keep the funding flowing even as the economy flounders, they must check in on current donors, look to new donors inspired by the crisis, and be creative in their approaches.

During the recent ASAE webinar “How Nondues Revenue Can Help Associations Thrive During (and Beyond) COVID-19,” Stephen Peeler, CFRE, executive director of the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) Foundation, discussed how his team stayed focused on fundraising targets while recognizing the challenges member donors faced.

“We knew that our challenge was going to be: How do we raise money from our current members during a pandemic when they are serving on the front lines with COVID and knowing that the hospitals—because they could not conduct the elective surgeries—are now faced with pay cuts, pay freezes, $50 to $100 million deficits, [and] layoffs?” Peeler said. “We really had to pivot from individual giving and look at our short-term as well as our long-term goals.”

Recognizing where member donors stood and knowing that the foundation couldn’t ask as much from them, Peeler said it was important to let them know they weren’t alone during this crisis.

“One of the things we decided to do was contact not just the major donors, but we let everyone know that we appreciate them, we are behind them, we support them, and we will do the work of the foundation and the organization behind the scenes as they are working on the front lines,” he said. “If they had multiyear gifts, as well as if they had corporate support, I asked them if now is still the time for that gift renewal and gave them … the option of whether they wanted to postpone that for later in the year.”

Peeler said donors were happy the organization reached out, and likely due to the role infectious disease professionals play in solving the pandemic, none asked to postpone planned giving.

After shoring up current donors, Peeler decided to pivot away from making new requests from members, whom he noted, “don’t want to hear from a fundraiser right now because they are worried about saving patients and saving lives.”

Instead, Peeler decided to “get creative” in his approach, understanding “the reality of COVID taking place today.” In addition to a cure for the virus, people also wanted racial justice equity. As a result, large donors are giving money to organizations working to address those issues.

“Knowing all the money that is out there for COVID funding right now, as well as Black Lives Matter and health equity… essentially what we did is say, ‘We are going to pause until November 1 our individual giving and major gifts, and we are going to focus on grant writing,’” Peeler said.

To that end, Peeler looked at his budget and slashed $230,000 worth of expenses with the help of the CFO. At the time, IDSA Foundation had five staff, which included one grant writer. Peeler was able to use the new budget to hire 23 temporary staff, including a project lead who’s written successful multimillion-dollar grant applications, to find and apply for grants this summer. Since June 1, the new team has identified more than 300 grants worth at least $100,000 that are in the scope of the foundation’s work.

“I think that at the end of the day, we will not only be able to show that we were able to raise a significant amount of money, but we were cognizant of our current donors … facing pay cuts, pay freezes, layoffs, [and we went] after some other money that is out there in the short term,” Peeler said.

Whatever choices an association makes when looking at ways to be creative, Peeler said it only works if you follow one key rule. “My one recommendation is just to focus,” he said. “You can’t go after all the shiny objects that are out there.”

What kinds of changes have you made to fundraising approaches since the pandemic began? Please tell us in the comments.

Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is an associate editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips. More »

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