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Is fundraising insensitive during a time of crisis?

Justin Wheeler, CEO of Funraise, recently held an online Q&A to discuss the impact of the coronavirus on fundraising. As Wheeler read through the suggested questions, the first one he chose to answer also happened to be the one that received the most likes from the audience: “Do you think it’s insensitive to still make asks during a time of crisis?”

The instant I heard that question, a lump formed in my throat.

I can be an emotional person, but this is a difficult question for all of us in nonprofit fundraising right now. People are hurting and scared, and here we come asking for money.

Yet I know the correct answer: No.

It’s not insensitive to fundraise during a time of crisis.

That’s because my mind goes back to everyone I’ve met in my decades of fundraising experience with international NGOs. I think of the faces of the people I’ve literally cried with – heart attack and stroke survivors, desperately poor mothers and families, children with disabilities.

We don’t fundraise for the organization. We ask for them.

We ask for Rosa, a child I met in one of the poorest areas of Guatemala during a DRTV shoot. She was born with a club foot and had never left the confines of her home, never went to school. Rosa was bullied and teased by other children and the community. She felt all alone and lived in the darkness, as many children with disabilities do in third-world countries.

I think of her face – both the sadness and the smile – knowing someone came to help her.

We ask for Dominquez, an 8-year-old boy in Mozambique whose father had recently died. His father had often told him about the moon, so Dominquez would go out to the fields to stare up at it on the nights he couldn't sleep. That gave him special comfort.

Dominquez needed a good education and a chance to laugh and play with other children. The nonprofit organization I went with gave him that chance – to be the person of his dreams and to make his dad proud.

Yes, it’s hard to ask right now. But we have to keep asking, because we’re asking on their behalf.

We need to keep people like Rosa and Dominquez in our hearts as we keep our missions at the top of our minds.

This isn’t the first time we’ve faced this question.

We asked ourselves after 9/11. We asked ourselves after the Great Recession. We’ve asked ourselves after tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires.

The COVID-19 pandemic is different, but the questions are the same: “Should we stop mailing?” “Do we wait until the situation gets better?” “Will donors get upset?”

We don’t know what the future holds, but we know what the past has told us.

Those organizations who stop, who wait until the situation gets better, who don’t want to upset donors – they end up worse off.

No fundraising means no revenue. No revenue means no help for those who desperately need it.

It’s true that some donors may not be ready to hear your message right now. A lot of them are hurting and need to take care of themselves. That’s OK.

But many of your loyal donors will heed the call. They understand your mission and your vision, and they know that you need their help.

You’ll need to adapt in the short term. You’ll need to divert funds from face-to-face fundraisers and events toward other marketing areas like TV and digital advertising.

You’ll need to adjust your expectations as revenue will almost certainly decline temporarily. During these times, we take what we can get because it will be nearly impossible to make up for lost revenue later.

But when things seem difficult, just remember those faces.

We ask for them.

Duke Smith

As Senior Vice President, Client Strategy, at RKD Group, Duke Smith brings philanthropic counsel to the charitable community throughout Canada, the United States and internationally. In his 25-year career, Duke has provided direct-marketing fundraising expertise for North America’s largest and most respected nonprofit organizations, including American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Canadian Red Cross, ChildFund International, Heart & Stroke, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Plan International Canada, Save the Children USA and Canada, World Vision Canada, UNHCR, UNICEF Canada, United Service Organizations (USO), and many others.

Duke has traveled to more than 40 developing countries to meet, film and photograph children and their families whose lives have been impacted by the organizations he has worked tirelessly to serve.

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