Feelin' Groovy

It seems like we’re all settling into some form of “normal” relative to COVID and the upheaval in our lives. School’s in session, business is taking place, families and friends are finding comfortable ways of communicating with each other, and nonprofits are looking to the future and stabilizing their organizations.

For most nonprofits, the question still remains about how best to interact with donors — and how to raise money to meet the budget in real-time.

In my mind, it’s a great time to continue, if not strengthen, your relationship with your donors. “Cultivate” and “Steward” are words that are used often, and although I love the concept of “stewarding”, that term feels impersonal and cold. Does anyone really want to be “stewarded”? It sounds a bit like being herded. No warm and fuzzy there. Better words might be “engaging”, “interacting with”, or even “listening to”.

So what should a fundraiser/nonprofit professional be doing at this point in time to keep donors interested in supporting your organization? How can a development person recruit new donors when the "standard process” has been interrupted?

Let your donors in. Engage with your volunteers. Be genuine, authentic, and honest.

And when you do, everybody wins.

How can that be, you ask? If I’m not securing the donations I need to deliver, how do I win?

Then answer lies in years of research into the benefits of volunteering and giving. Both volunteering and giving (or either one) provide myriad emotional and psychological benefits to the volunteer or donor, and, simply said, they create happiness. Happier people — especially when their happiness was facilitated by your nonprofit — are more loyal, more concerned about the health of your organization, and, therefore, more likely to donate (and donate again).

So instead of thinking of fundraising as transactional, think of it as providing happiness. With nearly 41% of Americans surveyed reporting at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition as of this past June (and the number is likely higher now), your donors and volunteers need you more than ever. For anyone who has been impacted by or is connected to your nonprofit or your cause, a non-transactional engagement by you is likely to create or enhance a long-term connection — and help these “fans” of your cause become happier.

So how do you accomplish this?

First, you have to let go of the transactional mindset. Yes, we know you need to raise that money, but for many people, you need to help them feel connected, heard, and cared for first.

Next, look at not only your prospect list but pull together names and contact information on anyone and everyone who has been connected to or strongly interested in your organization and/or your cause. (Read: Not just donors!) Then reach out to them to tell them — honestly — how your nonprofit is dealing with COVID. Let them know about the hard choices you’ve had to make in order to protect the future of your organization. Let them know about the successes you’ve had — against all odds, at times — during these difficult past months. Tell them about staff and constituents who have overcome challenges while staying committed to your cause.

Finally, ask for help! Whether it’s via an online survey or focus groups or just a special opportunity to engage with your organization’s leaders (i.e. a Zoom webcast with a healthy amount of Q&A offered), engage these people with an eye towards creating a relationship that’s more of a caring partnership than the usual donor/fundraiser paradigm.

As I wrote about in my recent post, “Like Oil and Water”, volunteers are a critical asset to your organization — extremely loyal, but often overlooked. Engage them, help them refocus their anxiety into feeling good about helping you do good, and everyone wins.

How often do you get to do your job, support your mission, and also create happiness?


I’m thrilled to share my first book, Philanthropy Revolution, with the world. I’m lifting the lid on our charitable sector with an authentic account that describes exactly how outdated the sector has become and why it’s at risk of collapse. Get your copy here.

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- Lisa

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