Special Events in the Time of COVID-19
Special events, especially galas, have always played a critical role in an organization’s philanthropy plan. Whether you love them or hate them, they raise needed funds and foster feelings of good will amongst party-goers.
The most successful events are those that are truly mission-focused — especially during this past year, when events went virtual by necessity.
Like most nonprofits, my client had an immediate moment of panic with the sudden shift to shelter-in-place last March. We were forced to abruptly cancel an event for 1,000 and, as the seriousness and seemingly endless nature of the pandemic became clear, we began to rethink all of our in-person fundraising events. We were, of course, quite nervous: how do we hold an event virtually? Will people want to attend, not just one, but several virtual events? Will they be generous?
The answer was a resounding yes. Why? I believe it’s because we were truly mission-focused in our virtual events, maybe even more so than during “normal” times. Every decision the special events team made — from planning to execution — was focused on the impact the organization would have on people in need. Of course, offering a good bit of entertainment was important, too. But the mission-focus was absolutely critical.
For my client, that meant each event had a specific, important “cause” donors would support. For example, our typical three-night Christmas concert became a one-hour, pre-taped Christmas variety show. Donors could purchase sponsorship packages that included everything from delivery of a tin of popcorn to an in-home dinner for 10. Donors were also given the opportunity to make a free-will donation to support the annual Giving Tree that provides Christmas gifts, needed supplies, and meals to people in need throughout Chicago. The free-will response was overwhelming! The organization raised more through simply by asking for free-will donations than they ever had through the raffles, auctions, paddle raises of years’ past.
Likewise, its St. Patrick’s Day event — typically a tented party with food, live entertainment, raffles, etc. — offered a pre-taped cooking demonstration along with musical and comedic entertainment. Once again, donors were invited to make a free-will donation, this time to support local restaurants and provide meals to homeless shelters throughout the city. The response was tremendous. Through contributions, my client and a handful of local restaurants hit hard by the pandemic provided more than 2,000 meals to homeless shelters that day. As we debriefed on the event the next day, we agreed that perhaps this could — indeed should — be our new St. Patrick’s Day tradition.
We look forward to the time when we can safely gather again for events. And we’ve surely learned a lot about hosting them and about what truly motivates our donors. One thing is certain: we will be sure we offer concrete, specific ways donors can have an immediate impact on the people we serve. We will be truly mission-focused.
By Molly Galo, Senior Consultant, HPS Chicago
New Donors – Yay! Now, how do we keep them?
Every fundraiser I know worries about donor retention. How do we keep our current donors happy, engaged and involved? We know that it is a lot easier to retain our donors than it is to find new folks to support our organizations. And while it is important to dedicate a significant amount of our time building and fostering relationships with our donors and friends that continue to give to us, it is also critical to add new donors into the fold. To find these new donors, we often work with our Boards, committees, volunteers and our staff to try and cultivate new relationships with people who we think will be inspired by our missions.
So, what do we do when we have the good fortune of securing new donors? What is our plan to keep them? I recently read an article that shared some staggering numbers about new donors. Once we have them – it’s hard to keep them after the first year. When a donor gives her first gift online, on average, a second gift only happens 22 percent of the time (and 29 percent if a gift is made off-line).
Here are just a few things you can do to try and keep these first-time donors from falling away from your organization:
Kindness – It just might be contagious!
Greetings! I am writing this blog on a wintry Chicago day. It’s snowy and gray and feels like the kind of day where you just want to keep your pajamas on, read a good book or binge some Netflix while eating chocolate. And yet…my mood doesn’t really match the overcast feel of the day. In fact, I’m filled with gratitude for people that I don’t even know. At a time when we are faced with a lot of negative news and divisiveness, I’ve seen some light and goodness from a host of generous and kind strangers.
It began at Target this morning when I had to pick up a few incidentals (I’m trying to go at off times when the store is less busy – I might accidently have gone during senior hours as I felt like the youngest person there, which at the age of 54, is unusual!). I was behind an older woman in line who was struggling to find her gift cards in her large purse of which most of its contents were soon scattered on the ground. The young man at the checkout – Jason – was so kind and patient with her. He took the time to help her collect her things and calmed her frazzled nerves. He told her to take a few deep breaths and not to worry about anything. I stood in line and enjoyed watching this sweet exchange. The older woman was so thankful and left with a huge smile on her face. When Jason began scanning my items, he said, “Ma’am, I am so sorry that I took a little longer with the customer ahead of you. She was really struggling and well, she’s my grandma’s age. I just kept thinking about my grandma and how I would want someone to help her if she was in this same situation.”
Jason’s good will was a great start to my day. I arrived back home and began plugging away on my computer. I’ve been working with a not for profit to help build a development program from the ground up. I had several phone calls scheduled with folks that I had never met – that were introduced to me by other colleagues that thought they may have some perspective about this organization’s mission. I spoke to both Nicole and Cora…leaders of two different organizations that gave me loads of time and great ideas. Both of them, busy with their own work, and yet, carved out time to help me…a perfect stranger. In fact, when I thanked Nicole as we ended our call, she said, “This is important…it’s about all of us working together so that we can impact the community that we all serve.”
One nice person after the other, looking out for and helping someone else for the greater good. Asking for nothing in return. I felt inspired by everyone’s kindness and willingness to go the extra mile. I am going to make sure I follow their lead…who knows, it might just be contagious!
P.S. When I approached the store manager to tell her about Jason, she first looked at me wearily and braced herself for a complaint. After I told her my story, she lit up and said, “You literally made my day.” But the best was actually Jason’s beaming face that I saw as I was leaving the store. The manager had shared the story over the employee radios and as I walked out of the store, I heard over and over “Way to go, Jason!”
Written by Senior Consultant Susanna Decker
Groundhog Day occurs this week.
This is one of those obscure holidays that passes without notice, like Casmir Pulaski Day, April Fool’s Day, or National Sorry Day (yes, National Sorry Day is “a thing,” but only observed in Australia, according to my Hallmark calendar.)
Groundhog Day is placed in the appropriate month: February. One grey day blends with the last.
I begin to feel that I am living the same day over and over again. Winter has a strong grasp in -- like a toddler hanging onto my ankle. But it’s also when I am in the throes of spring event planning. That means my creativity and motivation needs to be at its highest.
Personally, I believe that if I’m not interested in the event I’m planning, nobody else will be either. So I try to mix things up from year to year. This time I’m organizing a musical number with the participants that benefit from my client’s organization. They will be lip synching, dancing and clapping along to a number by Justin Timberlake.
We have broken down the song into different verses so the participants have just four lines to focus on. We will bring in instruments and props to make filming more fun. They will be social distanced for safety and the various shots will be edited together.
I’m excited about this and can’t wait to see how it comes together. This will motivate me to call our donors and encourage them to tune in. It also propels me through the other mundane parts of event planning like invitation design and sponsor solicitation.
I encourage you to try to find something that will challenge you with your spring event planning. So you don’t feel like it’s Groundhog Day!
Today is a Great Day to Say Thank You
A friend texted me recently for some advice. She knew she should make some phone calls to thank the end-of-year donors to her organization. But she kept putting it off. “I don’t like making cold calls,” she said. “It feels so awkward. Any advice?”
Honestly, I can empathize. It’s hard to pick up the phone and call someone whom you don’t know. It can feel like an intrusion. But is a donor thank you call, even to a donor you’ve never met, really a cold call? I don’t think so.
Remember, I told my friend, of all the nonprofits out there, these donors gave to your organization. They have some affinity for it – perhaps the mission speaks to them. Or maybe a friend of theirs asked them to give. Whatever the reason, the donors made conscious decisions to support it. Wouldn’t you like to know why? Thanking them for their gifts is a perfect opportunity to learn their motivation. And to help you appropriately steward them.
Plus, donor thank you calls can be fun. Who doesn’t like to be thanked? As a donor, I always appreciate receiving a call – it makes me feel like my gift was important and had an impact. And, as a professional fundraiser who spends most of my time asking something of people, I’m always happy to have a respite from asking. Takes the pressure off and leads to some really nice – even fun – conversations that can strengthen your organization’s relationship with donors.
If you’re nervous, I told my friend, script out your call. Once you make a couple of calls, you won’t need it anymore. But it may make the first ones less awkward for you. I also reminded her to read the cues the donor gives. You’ll know if the donor is in a hurry and wants to get off the phone, I told her. In those cases, the calls will be short and sweet, and that’s okay. The donors will still know they’re appreciated.
Other donors – especially now, when so many people are feeling isolated and crave human interaction – may be chatty. Seize these opportunities to learn more about them. Why did they give? What are their interests? Would they like to become more engaged with your organization? These calls are your opportunities to glean important information that will inform your future donor cultivation strategies.
My friend heeded my advice and made her calls. Once she made a couple of them, she was hooked. She had such a nice conversation with one donor, they even ended up sharing personal recipes after the call.
So, my advice to you: don’t delay making your donor thank you calls. In fact, set aside time each week to do exactly that. You’ll have some fun, and your organization will reap rewards of good stewardship.
by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant, HPS Chicago
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re in the philanthropy business.
The Holidays are a wonderful reminder of the power of this word we all say frequently but like so many other words, probably take for granted.
“Philo” comes from a Greek verb meaning to love. “Anthropy” means mankind or humanity.
Philanthropy = Love of Mankind
At the risk of stating the obvious, 2020 hasn’t been the best (I know, I know, understatement of the year).
Everything we know was tested, our annual fund strategies, major gift efforts, event planning and execution not to mention our own personal resolve, patience and belief in our own abilities during such unprecedented times.
When we reflect on 2020 and dust ourselves off from its countless up and downs, disappointments and frustrations, know you’ve championed the most noble of causes, advancing the love of mankind. Which, at its core, is what was needed most these past 11 months.
Let it serve as a reminder that our care and concern for each other will always persevere and regardless of what mission or non-profit sector you represent, be proud that your work made others better.
Cheers to 2021 as we welcome another year of philanthropy, another year of loving and advancing mankind!
by: Michael Bruni, Managing Director, HPS Chicago
Unless you’ve been living in a remote corner of the country without cell service since February, you’re probably struggling with maintaining sanity given the state of our world. My feelings over the past 6 months have been a mixture of anxiety, confusion and stress. When was that Zoom meeting scheduled for? Did I forget a mask again? How many hours have I been staring out of this window for?
I get it. We’re all struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy while living through a time period that feels more like a Black Mirror simulation than reality. Especially now, as work and school seem to be ramping up, with no vaccine in sight, thinking about our circumstances can be a bit disheartening.
Recently, I was supposed to meet friends out for a drink at one of our favorite outdoor patios. After a long work week, I couldn’t wait to catch up with friends. I was the 7th and final person to arrive, and as I walked up to my the table I could practically taste the frozen gin & tonic that I’d been salivating over since Tuesday.
There were only six seats, so I asked the waitress if she would be able to pull another chair over. I was quickly informed that, due to COVID regulations, no table could have more than 6 people. My friends and I were a bit confused, but figured we could split up. No big deal! Except that the next available table would be a 45 minute wait. As my friends began to pack their things up, insisting we try somewhere else, I assured them it wasn’t the end of the world and that I could just grab a coffee around the corner and meet up with them afterwards. Under the obvious condition that they bring me a frozen G & T in a to-go cup.
I grabbed my coffee and sat down in a little park that overlooked the lake. Initially I was disappointed, maybe even a bit mad, even though I understood that these rules are put into place to protect me and the rest of society. As I drank my coffee in the park, I could feel a wave of calmness washing over me. Everything was so still, so quiet, so ordinary.
I realized that I had been letting the anxiety and stress of COVID dictate all of my thoughts. I hadn’t taken a moment to sit and check in with myself in a long time. There was always something to distract me; a new article by Fauci, coordinating socially-distanced meet-ups with friends, reading through my emails.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough “alone time”, in fact I’ve had more of that than probably ever before. Instead, it was the realization that I hadn’t been utilizing this time effectively. I had filled this time with worries. Trying to get ahead of schedule. Ahead of my own nerves. Ahead of the pandemic.
But, at the end of the day, we can’t get ahead of all of these things. We need to reach a point of acceptance where we are able to process the world around us, while still being able to sit with our non-anxious selves. Watching the horizon line fade into shades of amber, listening to the current lap against the rocky shore and sipping my sub-par coffee gave me the feeling of stillness that I had unknowingly been craving for months.
To be our best selves, we have to know when and how to relax. The world is asking a lot of us these days. It’s easy to understand how we’re feeling physically trapped. We can’t travel, we can’t meet in large groups, we weren’t even really supposed to leave our houses for a while. Yet, I think we also need to think about how we’re feeling mentally trapped. Trapped by that need to try to get ahead of everything.
So, my expert-advice-from-a-21-year-old this week is to go to a space where you feel comfortable and to just be there. Sit and notice what’s around you, stay mindful of the positive things taking place in every direction you look. Appreciate the ordinary things that we take for granted in times like these. This might turn out to be much harder than it sounds, but I promise you the results will be worth it.
by: Ben Matejka, Summer Intern HPS Chicago
KISS — Keep it Simple Silly
I recently helped a client celebrate its 15 anniversary. This is a small, but mighty nonprofit that runs 100% on individual and corporate gifts with no program revenue or government support.
The client’s preferred way of celebrating this milestone was to hold a gala. We were hired to execute this celebration. They hold this event every five years to mark the notable passage of time, and put a spotlight on their associated achievements.
During a conversation, about one of the million details required to run the gala, my client and I chuckled as we agreed to ascribe to the KISS philosophy. You may know that KISS is an acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid.” It was a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960 that states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated. Therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design, and that unnecessary complexity should be avoided.
Despite the KISS sentiment, the planning of the elaborate event continued — with details about guest responses, seating diagrams, program, emcee, band, etc. etc. We’ve all been there, right?
The night came and went and we believe the guests had an enjoyable time. Money was raised and the mission was communicated and glorified.
But later, (as the eye twitch I developed due to many late nights at the office is finally subsiding) I began reflecting on the previous conversation about KISS. Did we really keep it simple? Was the gala the best way — the only way — to celebrate this milestone and do the mission justice?
I don’t think so.
Earlier in the year, I worked with this client on a small intimate dinner for about 50 people. The out of pocket was covered by a beloved donor and the organization raised about 80% in this intimate setting, as was raised at the gala. I wonder what would have happened if instead, we had replicated this style of a modest dinner gathering multiple times, and filled the room with different donors each time.
Hindsight is 20/20, but in the nonprofit world, as in any business, it is important to evaluate return on investment. Especially when the ROI is utilized to change lives and save lives. We must always be seeking the best way to make the same impact while preserving our financial investments, and staff resources.
When we meet as a Board later this month to discuss and evaluate the success of this event, I hope they will consider a different approach. One that will keep the focus on the mission, but will also keep it simple.
by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions
Enjoy this excerpt on sustainability from Heather Stombaugh’s book: In the Trenches: Grantsmanship. Heather is HUB Philanthropic Solutions’ Grants Consultant
Chapter 11: Why is sustainability so important?
For the most part, grant makers do not want the success of an ongoing project to depend entirely on whether or not they provide ongoing funding support. Grant makers want to invest in the impact of your project, not adopt your organization. Grant makers generally favor projects that receive support from a mix of sources and do not depend on their future support to continue providing services.
With rare exceptions, there are two situations that grant makers generally avoid committing themselves to:
1) Being the only source of support for an ongoing project or program.
2) Providing indefinite support to a project.
What should you include in your sustainability statement? You should describe present and historic sources of income for the project. This should include all the different types of revenue (not just grants) your organization uses to raise funds.
If a grant maker’s guidelines do not restrict you from providing future financial data, you might consider formatting your budget to include that information. Moreover, take into consideration what evidence might provide you with assurance if you were to make a significant financial investment and work from that perspective as you develop this section. Remember, impressing a grant maker does not happen by offering exaggerations, but by presenting them with a thoughtful, realistic plan.
What steps will you take to ensure that your grant funder invests in your project?
SAVE THE DATE
Getting Ready for a Capital Campaign – June 4, 2015 Location: HUB International Midwest Headquarters – 55 E. Jackson, Chicago.
If a capital campaign is in your future, please join us for our next workshop, aimed at ensuring your organization is ready to take this significant step. In this workshop, we will cover the following topics:
Make sure you follow this blog to receive all the latest news on training opportunities with the HUB NPPAC team!