By Jean Shafiroff
April through June is traditionally a busy time for philanthropic giving. But this year, facing a global pandemic and an economic downturn, many charitable organizations are struggling to raise money at the very times needs are at their greatest.
Charities have been forced to rethink everything: from how they conduct their operations to the ways they connect with donors and those they serve. So far, the results have been positive and many of these changes will remain in place once the pandemic ends.
Detailed below are five ways that charities are now conducting business differently and how they are encouraging engagement from a wide base of donors to ensure their continued success.
New Ways of Meeting
In-person charity board meetings stopped as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As a result, these meetings evolved into audio or Zoom conference calls. But as the world begins to reopen, you might expect in-person board meetings to gradually reappear.
However, many board members have found that they actually prefer phone calls, Facetime, Skype, and Zoom meetings, as these types of meetings are very time efficient. After all, time is a valuable commodity.
On the operations side, virtual communication has kept the staff members of charitable organizations connected. Despite being homebound, these indispensable workers are able to do their jobs with modifications.
Communicating with donors and the people a charity serves continues. Donors are joining zoom meetings and taking personal calls, while, for example, a charity engaged in counseling is organizing virtual appointments wherever possible.
Move the Gala Online
Luncheons and galas create a lot of visibility and raise much-needed funds for charities. But all large, in-person spring and summer events in 2020 have been canceled. Looking forward to the fall, it’s uncertain whether they will return. Without them, the need to fundraise still exists.
To adapt, many organizations have wisely chosen to hold virtual Zoom galas and virtual telethons. The Zoom event can feature a somewhat traditional program, including presentations from a charity’s Executive Director, a professional emcee, a few client’s serviced by a charity, volunteers, major donors, and celebrities. Some virtual events even include a live auction performance, cooking classes, and cocktail-making demonstrations. A virtual telethon can connect to TV and radio stations.
If you are planning to hold a virtual gala or fundraiser, make sure that the invitations go out early, by email and/or traditional mail. Depending on the ticket or table tier purchased, some charities are sending out baskets of food and accoutrements to attendees as both a thank-you and a way to create more of a shared experience.
When developing your program, try to keep it tight. A shorter program full of fun content is always the most engaging. For example, cut a speech to allow for a celebrity performance or a DJ that might lead viewers to do a little dancing at home.
To date, one of the most successful virtual events was held by Robin Hood, New York’s largest poverty-fighting charity. Robin Hood’s virtual gala raised $115 million and featured iHeartMedia actress Tina Fey as host. The event joined together with New York television and radio stations to air a citywide “virtual telethon.”
Use of Social Media to Reach to Donors
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, donor engagement used to take many forms: luncheons, dinners, phone calls, cocktail parties, site tours, and meetings with recipients. While in-person meetings and events are no longer possible, charities are finding inventive ways to engage donors; one such way is social media.
Social media has always been used to reach donors, but during this time it is even more important. People have more time on their hands and are spending more time on social media. Hence, charities are conducting more and more fundraising drives via Facebook, Instagram, and even Twitter.
This is the time to increase content production to ensure your board and donors are kept apprised of new developments and fundraising drives. Your social media channels should be populated with new content as often as possible. Heartwarming stories showcasing how donors’ funds have helped are always of interest.
Educational, Performance and Outreach Programs
While some charities’ educational and outreach programs have been put on hold because of social distancing and stay at home regulations, many have now moved their scheduled educational programs online. In this way, they are able to continue servicing their clients.
Many charities have now moved in-person concerts and performances online. Some of these performances are free to view or “attend,” but the organization may ask their donors and those watching to make a contribution.
Engage with the Media
The media can play a key role in promoting the work of a charity during this time of crisis.
Television interviews are particularly important, and most are now conducted on Skye or Zoom, making them easier than ever – although in-person interviews are beginning to reoccur.
Media, whether it is broadcast, print or online coverage, will help get your message out. Your organization’s President or Executive Director may want to invite a select group of reporters to attend a conference call for a “Fireside Chat” that updates them on your current work. If they do not want to invite them to attend, they can send a recording or email to a key media group.
About the author:
Jean Shafiroff is one of New York’s leading philanthropists and the author of “Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give.” Frequently referred to as the First Lady of New York Philanthropy, she serves on the boards of the New York City Mission Society, Southampton Hospital Association, French Heritage Society, Couture Council (Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology), Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation Honorary Board and Global Strays. She is a National Spokesperson and Ambassador for the American Humane Society’s Feeding American Program and an Honorary Trustee of the Jewish Board, where she has served for 28 years. She is a New York Women’s Foundation board alumnus and remains very involved in the work of the foundation. An expert on giving, Shafiroff believes that it’s a business’ duty to give back both locally and globally.