Jim Eskin doesn’t mind challenging nonprofit leaders to consider the realities we face as a result of COVID-19. Here’s what this veteran fundraiser has to share about the health and well-being of your donors:
I fiercely want our nonprofits to raise as much money as they can so they can continue to champion — and even ramp up — their commitment to their noble missions, which touch, improve and help others who are struggling.
Regardless, nonprofits face a quandary over what to do about the large events on which their fundraising efforts have depended.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. But I have to admit to two major biases. First, I’ve never been a fan of special events based on fundraising efficiency. I advise it is much more productive to cultivate the same donors and prospects on an individual basis for major gifts.
Second, my wife, Andrea, and I continue to be cautious about COVID-19 and think we now live in a new reality.
Quite strongly, I don’t see how nonprofits can feel comfortable gathering 500 people inside a ballroom for a gala, luncheon or other kind of special event. The time isn’t right yet. There’s the option of requiring attendees to show proof they are double vaccinated and to wear masks, but that can introduce complexities and dampen a festive mood — and even this isn’t failproof against the delta variant.
Another huge concern is uncertainty as conditions change drastically month to month and even week to week. The brutal reality is too many things are out of our control. Each community needs to closely monitor its vaccination rate, hospitalizations, positivity rate and other essential measures.
Fortunately, nonprofits have several alternatives that will engage friends and supporters, tell stories and raise money. Let’s consider some options:
Phantom event: Ask friends to support your cause without having to dress up, go to the venue, eat a “rubber chicken” and endure a long program to glean what the nonprofit has accomplished with their gift dollars. Instead, email supporters a first-class video on what the organization has accomplished. It’s amazing the results you can get from just using smartphones and laptops.
Virtual event: This approach enjoyed enormous success and was cost-effective last year as donors continued to give and event expenses were held to a minimum. Essentially, the program is delivered through videoconferencing, combining live and pretaped components.
Hybrid event: This is more complicated as it involves staging a series of smaller gatherings, connected by technology. This offers donors a safe way to interact with one another, something many may be yearning for. On the other hand, expenses go way up.
Outdoors event: This is a much safer way to bring larger groups together than in ballrooms, but the weather can be unpredictable and inclement, and tents cost a ton to rent, so expenses may run very high.
Organizations adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local government guidelines will have to decide which option best fits their fundraising, public relations and stakeholder-engagement goals.
But donors are not going to criticize you for erring on the side of caution, emphasizing public health and safety as your highest priority. The nonprofit sector should more than mirror society. It should show leadership in embracing best practices. Last year, we learned people are more than willing to support hybrid, virtual and phantom events so their generosity can continue to advance their philanthropic vision and priorities while protecting themselves and others from the pandemic.
Jim Eskin’s consulting practice Eskin Fundraising Training builds on the success of his more than 150 fundraising workshops and webinars and provides the training, coaching and support services that non-profits need to compete for and secure private gifts. He has authored 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers, business journals and blogs across the country. He publishes Stratagems, a monthly e-newsletter exploring timely issues and trends in philanthropy. Sign up here for a free subscription. He is author of 10 Simple Fundraising Lessons, which can be purchased here
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