COVID-19: Philanthropy in a Changing Landscape

COVID-19: Philanthropy in a Changing Landscape

March 13, 2020 by Angela E. White, CFRE

We hope above all that you and yours are safe and healthy.

With the escalation of COVID-19, we know that you are facing many complex decisions and processing information at a fast pace. We want to assure you that JGA is here to help you think through the complex donor situations and the potential impact of COVID-19 on philanthropy. As always, our JGA team is accessible; whether we are working with you in your setting or remotely, we will stay in close touch to assist with this fluid situation. We have considerable expertise in remote work and anticipate there will be no disruptions to our service.  Webinar COVID 19 RECORDED

While it is too early to predict the full impact COVID-19 will have on giving and volunteering by your friends and supporters, we recommend that you and your colleagues focus on the following key areas in these days:

1. Stay the course.
The mission of your organization will last well beyond this pandemic and the current economic downturn. Continue to emphasize the importance of your mission and the role that philanthropy plays in fulfilling your mission. This is particularly true for those of you in campaigns. Your campaign is based on years of planning and a vision designed to last well beyond this current crisis. While there is no way for any of us to predict the duration of this current disruption, it is important for you to stay the course, even if the journey may look different in the immediate future. You might need to adjust the timing of certain activities but stay focused on how you can keep things moving forward.

2. Meet your donors where they are. 
Some of your donors may be hesitant to set up face-to-face visits, or it is possible that your organization has restricted your travel. This does not mean that you have to stop donor contact – offer to talk by video or phone. With technology, there are many easy ways to stay in front of your donors without traveling. In addition, it may be helpful to send out additional news updates and/or increase your social media presence to share updates and stories. Focus on other opportunities to creatively engage donors. Stay engaged with your donors and be responsive to their philanthropic needs, including timing of gifts and pledges. Many of you will recall lessons learned during the Great Recession about the importance of keeping the organization “top of mind” for donors. The organizations that found a way to do this and maintain relationships were stronger in the long run, and we believe the same will be true during this time.

3. Redesign in-person events.
A number of events are being canceled or postponed, and the list of changes may increase. Be thoughtful in how you share the news of cancellations. At this stage most people may be expecting the news; you might use it as an opportunity to personally reach out to your constituents. Once again, take this as an opportunity to be creative and find ways to still engage constituents through a virtual event or a video update from your leadership team, or a client, student, or volunteer. Perhaps you can host a Facebook live session for your President or CEO to give an update and then answer some questions. We believe that donors and prospects will likely give you a little latitude to try new things during this time. Be creative and think outside the box.

4. Keep your staff connected and engaged.
As more and more of you are working remotely, it is important to keep your team connected, to continue fulfilling your mission, and to be safe. Schedule regular staff updates via phone or video conference, etc. It might sound great to work from home, but if your team is not used to it, there is an adjustment period and maintaining the social connection is important. During what can be a stressful time, it is important to stay positive and find ways to share positive updates with your team. Work with IT to ensure you have the capabilities in place to stay in touch with your staff and that your infrastructure can support robust telecommuting.

For more insights, please review this excellent blog from the scholars and experts at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy on the history of philanthropy and pandemics and the impact of the stock market and economy on fundraising.

JGA understands that this is an unsettling time. Please know that we are here to assist and support you. If we can help you or your team think through contingency plans or devise new and creative approaches to engage donors, please reach out. And, we promise to stay in close touch.