Asking for donations because COVID put the kibosh on all your events? Not sure how to explain that to your supporters? I have a plan!  First, I want to tell you, COVID cancelled events or the need to hire more people are great reasons to need funding… AND I also, in the same breath, need to explain that my gut tells me some donors may not respond to that need as well as they would respond to the reason WHY. And since it was my gut making conversation with me and not experience itself, I even got a few opinions from fundraising experts to make sure I was heading the right track! So let's take a few minutes (16 to be exact) to talk about how to explain to your donors that your biggest challenges are you're short staffed or short on funding because COVID is one mean spirited little beastie.

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Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

Asking for Donations Because COVID Cancelled Your Event

Asking for donations because COVID put the kibosh on all your events? Not sure how to explain that to your supporters? I have a plan! 

First, I want to tell you, COVID cancelled events or the need to hire more people are great reasons to need funding…

AND I also, in the same breath, need to explain that my gut tells me some donors may not respond to that need as well as they would respond to the reason WHY. And since it was my gut making conversation with me and not experience itself, I even got a few opinions from fundraising experts to make sure I was heading the right track!

So let's take a few minutes (16 to be exact) to talk about how to explain to your donors that your biggest challenges are you're short staffed or short on funding because COVID is one mean spirited little beastie.

I've heard so many of you say you’re asking for donations because you need to raise money for staff, or for administrative purposes, or because COVID put the kibosh on all your events. 

And first, I want to tell you, all of those are great reasons to need funding…

AND I also, in the same breath, need to explain that my gut tells me some donors may not respond to that need as well as they would respond to the reason WHY you're doing those things. 

So let's take a few minutes to talk about how to explain to your donors that your biggest challenges are you're short staffed or short on funding because COVID put the kibosh on all your events.

And since it was my gut making conversation with me and not experience itself, I even got a few opinions from fundraising experts to make sure I was heading the right track! I will give advice from John Baker, Kathleen Murphy Toms, Jaime Freidrichs, and Sean Spence. 

So I’ve been noticing a pattern...

Throughout the events that we've been hosting this fall, as well as my consulting sessions, I have been noticing some patterns. 

As we've been talking about the 3-Part Recipe to Craft Your Year-End Fundraising Ask which consists of three things: 

  1. Define the problem you're trying to solve
  2. Show your donors that they are indeed the solution to the problem
  3. Position your nonprofit as the right middleman to make that solution come to fruition

So we start with the problem. 

And as my nonprofits have been defining this problem for me, that's where I'm seeing these patterns come to surface. 

They're telling me they need to raise money because their events were canceled. They need to raise money because they need another person or they need to cover admin costs. 

First I would like to validate you, because those are absolutely very real reasons and very valid reasons why you need to be raising money right now. 

And also, I want to caution you a little bit because, well, that might not be exactly the way that you want to phrase your year-end giving ask.

How do you handle those problems? How do you express that to your donors? 

This is a great question. 

I want you to take a step back from the challenge that you're trying to solve. And I need you to ask yourself, why are you trying to solve that problem? 

And I don't mean just justify it to yourself. But how does it serve the greater good, for example, if you couldn't do your fundraising and so you were short on funding this year?

What did it stop you from doing? How did it stop you from benefiting your community? 

That's the thing that we want to talk about when we ask for donations – the things that we couldn't do because we didn't have the funding. So focus on that. 

Here are some examples.

For example, one of our participants said that they could only do three of their five programs. 

So who did that impact? What were those two programs that you couldn't do? And who would normally benefit from those programs? How did that impact your community? 

That's the thing that you want to talk about, not just “well because of COVID, things didn't go well”. Let's get specific here. Let's talk about it and let's show them that this impacted their community and impacted people. 

Another example was one group had to switch and instead of serving 100 families they could only serve 50, because they had to move from just after-school care to full-day care. 

They were short 50 families – that's a lot! How did that impact those people? How does that impact those kids that they couldn't serve? What does that look like? 

That's the problem that you're trying to solve. That's why you need more donations. So that way, you can serve those whole 100 families that you usually serve instead of just 50. 

When you haven't had enough funding or when COVID has impacted you negatively, I want you to think back and ask: Why is this important? Who did this impact? 

That's the thing we want to talk about. 

When you need a new admin person

The second one is administrative things. So you want to have a new admin person? Or maybe you just need to keep the people you have. 

With that, once again, we're going to go back to the why. 

I understand as a business owner, that when you have quality people and keep quality people, you do better work. You can serve more people. I understand that, but not everyone is going to interpret it that way. 

Instead I want you to think about:

  • What are the outcomes of having this additional person on staff?
  • What does that allow you to do? 
  • How can you better serve your constituents by having this additional support? 

A great example of this is one of our participants said that right now they have a waiting list. They can only serve 15 families, but they have 17 families on the waiting list. And if they could expand their facility, then they could easily serve 30 families. So they have to raise over $100,000 – a good chunk of change, right? That would let them expand their facilities to serve these extra families. 

They need to focus on those outcomes. 

It's not, “we're raising money, so that way we can build a building”. It's, “we're raising money so we can serve twice as many people, because then twice as many people can have this benefit of using our service”. 

How does having an extra admin person impact your community? Go back to that.

When I use the word “community” (because I find myself doing that a lot these days), I don't just mean where you live. I mean what you serve. 

It could be a community of people, a community of animals, the community of the world...it's kind of a loose term there. 

Now, I am giving you this advice as a marketer, as a salesperson, as a person who spent the last 20 years of her life getting people to buy things and get excited about stuff.

What do the experts say?

When the first person asked me this question about hiring a new admin person, I was like, “Wait a second, Monica. You're not a fundraiser.”

And then I was like, “Oh, well, I mean, I'm kind of a fundraiser, right? I mean, you sell things, you ask for money. You've asked for money from people for a long time”.

But I also felt like I really needed to ask some other people because that's what it's all about when you don't know the answer. When you're maybe not quite sure about something. You reach out to those people who you know are superduper smart and you ask them.

So that is what I did with this question! I asked my favorite fundraising experts:

  • John Baker
  • Kathleen Murphy Toms
  • Jaime Freidrichs
  • And Sean Spence

What would they do? How do they ask for donations when they need to add a new staff member or raise money for administrative costs?

They are so sweet and actually responded to my email. 

So I want to share with you what they had to say. 

John Baker

John Baker is the Executive Director for the Community Foundation of Central Missouri. He said that you should mention the problem that you're trying to solve, and then state how the new or returning staff member helps contribute to solving the problem.

Kathleen Murphy Toms

My friend Kathleen Murphy Toms is the Director of Digital Strategy for Giving Tuesday. She says to focus on the mission, because the staff position is part of the solution to the problem.

Jaime Freidrichs

Now my friend Jaime Freidrichs is a fundraising coach and founder of NewFundraisingPros.com, which is a free online community for fundraisers to learn and collaborate together. 

She says her short answer is she wouldn't raise money for salaries, she raises money for what the person will do. 

So for example, if money is needed to do something in a mass marketing appeal - which is really what a lot of year-end fundraising is - then for an individual donor (like a business owner), you might be able to talk more detailed about the budget, with all that money being raised for hiring someone.

But honestly, it's all capacity-building at the end. “We can serve more people in more situations” is all you need to say. 

If you can make it really specific, then that's even better:

“We serve 100 families right now. And with your help, we can serve 125 families that we already know need us next.” 

And you don't even have to mention the new position.

I know it's so hard because we want to be so incredibly transparent, because we're all honest people. But what Jaime's saying is really true. We can say what we're going to do with the money, we don't have to specifically say what we're going to do with the money. 

Does that make sense? 

In her example she says, with the money she's going to serve 125 families that they already know need them.

You know that is going to require you to hire another staff member, but you probably don't even need to mention hiring another staff member. 

Sean Spence

Last but certainly not least, my friend Sean Spence is CEO and founder of Better Nonprofits and the Armchair Telethon. 

He says focus on the impact of the money rather than the mechanics. So instead of focusing on hiring someone, focus on the number of people you would help and the amount of service that you would provide, and talk about why this is important and valuable.

It all comes full circle.

For those of you guys who listened to our podcast about the 3-Part Recipe to Craft Your Year-End Fundraising Ask, I bet that you're hearing some serious similarities between that recipe, and what these experts have to say. So for me, it just all came full circle. And I really appreciated all these people giving us their advice. So that way, we could learn from it and use it when we talk about what we need money for at the end of 2020. 

To recap, when we're defining the problem that we're trying to solve for our donors, when we're making our asks, we want to focus on the why. How is it impacting the community? Why are we doing it? Don’t focus on those administrative tasks or focus on the fact that the events didn't happen. Because we know that, but how did that change things? How did it make it so you couldn't do your mission? 

That's the same thing that we heard both from my gut and from our experts when we talk about raising money for a new staff person, or for administrative costs. We're not focusing on filling a position, we're focusing on bettering our community. We're focused on the end result. 

Going back to Jaime’s thing, she said she would say we serve 100 families right now. And with your help, we can serve 125 families that we already know need us next. Not even mentioning the new position, just always focusing on the why in your ask for donations. 

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