Join Steven Shattuck, Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Terry Axelrod, Founder & CEO of Benevon for a discussion addressing the fundraising challenges and opportunities nonprofits face in the wake of natural disasters like the recent hurricanes and wildfires.

Full Transcript:

Steven:All right, Terry, is it okay if I go ahead and kick it off officially?

Terry: You bet. Hi.

Steven: All right. Cool. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you are on the East Coast. And good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s special town hall webinar, “Fundraising Challenges and Opportunities in the Wake of Natural Disasters.” And my name is Steven Shattuck and I am the chief engagement officer over here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items. I just want to let you all know that we are recording this presentation. We don’t really have any slides today so sorry for that holdover from our usual intro slide. But we will let you know all of the questions that have been asked and we’ll try to get you some resources as a result of this webinar, in addition to the actual recording. So be on the lookout for that later today. I’ll email that recording to you. If you have to leave early or perhaps you want to listen again, you’ll be able to do that. Have no fear.

And this is going to be a totally interactive session. No real prepared statements from Terry or I. We’re going to do 100% Q&A. We’ve already collected a lot of great questions that you’ve all sent in since we announced this webinar, but we would love to hear your live comments via chat. So do not be shy about sending in those comments, that chat box right there on the webinar screen.

And if you hear your question, we’d love to get some direct feedback from you. We can’t type you in via audio, unfortunately, but we’d love to hear from you because this is totally for you. You all that have logged in are dealing with this, I assume, so we’re here for you. We want to answer just as many questions as we can. So don’t be shy. You can use Twitter for the same thing. I’ll be monitoring the Twitter stream as well.

And just some housekeeping items, last thing, these webinars are usually only as good as your own internet connection. So if you have any trouble, specifically with the audio, if you’re listening through the computer and it’s not sounding too good, try dialing in by phone if you can do that and if you don’t mind doing that. There is a phone number you can dial into in the email from ReadyTalk that went out about an hour or so ago. So don’t give up on us before trying the phone if you can.

And just a special welcome to those of you who are joining us for the first time. We usually do webinars every Thursday, but this one is a special one. We’re doing this special town hall. But we love doing these educational discussions every week. But in addition to that, if you’re not familiar with Bloomerang or if we’re new to you, we are a provider of donor management software. So you can check us out online. You can visit our website. You can even download a quick video demo of the software if you want to learn more. So check us out afterward if you’re curious.

For now, I’m going to introduce today’s guest. She’s going to be my partner in crime today on this town hall. She is Terry Axelrod. Hey, Terry, how’s it going?

Terry: Just great. Hi there and nice having you on the West Coast, Steven.

Steven:I know, finally.

Terry:We have a remarkably gorgeous day in Seattle. We think it’s our last day of summer. It’s supposed to be in the 80s today, perfectly blue sky and gorgeous, which is not the norm. So we’re delighted to have it. Yeah. I’m glad you’re out here on the sunny West Coast with us.

Steven:Yeah. It’s fun to be in the same time zone as you, finally, for once. I was in Seattle for one hour yesterday on my layover to San Diego. But this is great to have you, Terry. Terry, this was kind of your idea. You have done these town hall ideas before. You just recently did one that was a great success. Terry was awesome enough to offer up her time to the Bloomerang community, which I’m really thankful for. And we’re going to have a great discussion. There are lots of questions that have already come in.

But I just want to let you all know about Terry in case she is new to you. She is the CEO and Founder over at Benevon, which is a close partner of Bloomerang’s. She’s got over 30 years’ experience in the nonprofit field. Obviously, she founded Benevon, but she’s working as a fundraiser. She’s worked as a development director, raised a ton of money and with Benevon over the past 20 years, she has raised billions of dollars for over 500,000 nonprofits. And she has a special heart for disaster fundraising in particular. So, Terry, I guess we can just dive right in if that’s okay. I think I’ve seen a few questions.

Terry: I actually have a couple things I could say first, Steven, if I may. I just thought of a few remarks that might be good just to set this context a little bit. So Benevon . . . Steven, thank you for having me, really. And thanks and hi, everyone. A big thank you for the great questions that were submitted. Steven was really open when I said, “Why don’t we do it as a Q&A session and not have all the slides and do a standard presentation? It’ll be much more interactive and relevant.”

So I said back to the days of going all the way back to 9/11 and back to Sandy Hook, if you remember that disaster, that terrible thing that happened in our country’s history, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and then now after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and now Maria, Benevon, each time, we have hosted sometimes multiple conference calls for people that were affected and people that were not affected directly by the disasters.

And we have found that we really learned a lot about what people need, whether you’re in the disaster-affected area or not, how to position yourselves, how to position yourselves for your year-end fundraising. And so when we went to name this webinar, we decided to call it, “Fundraising Challenges and Opportunities in the Wake of Natural Disasters,” because, again, living out here on the West Coast, one thing that a lot of you may not hear about are the terrible forest fires we’ve had here. Many weeks of our summer in Seattle, I was practically wearing a mask, it was so smoky. Literally ash on the cars all the time. And that never even made the news.

I know there are other natural . . . I mean, Montana, there were 16 inches of snow a couple of weeks ago that was the only thing that quelled the . . . I think there were over 50 forest fires in the state of Montana all at once. And they’d said they’d given up on fighting them. There was just no way, short of, “Let’s pray for snow.” And who expects that in September? So my point is these things happen. These are the natural disasters of our world, for better or worse. And we’re really here to try to help contextualize them for your organizations and for your donors.

And so when we named this, “Fundraising Challenges and Opportunities in the Wake of Natural Disasters,” in fact, we even, just to tell the truth, did a blog post or an e-news feature on our website and we called it something like, “Fundraising in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey.” And we had one of the lowest open rates that we’ve ever had on our e-news, which was really surprising to us. And we realized that it’s because most people don’t really think they . . . they didn’t even open it. They figure, “Well, I’m not affected by that. I’m not going to read that one.”

So we decided we probably should have called it something like, “Not Affected by the Hurricane? Think Again.” So that was my long preamble to thank all of you who were smart enough to realize . . . and many of you who submitted questions that are not areas directly affected by the hurricane, smart enough to realize that you are affected by this. We all are affected by this if we’re in the development field this time of year. So fire away, Steven. I just wanted to give a little bit of background on that. Yeah.

Steven:Yeah. And I’m glad you mentioned the wildfires. I was actually in Montana the last couple of days for their nonprofit association annual conference and then that dominated the discussion. They finally did get that snow and rain, which was not typical in terms of the season they were in. But I mean, they were living in it too. And it seems like it didn’t get the attention, perhaps, that the hurricanes did. But I’m also glad that there are a lot of people on the call that weren’t necessarily in the direct impact zone of any of those events but still recognize that it can impact their organization.

So why don’t we go to the first question that came in? The reason I chose it is that I thought it was pretty apropos to what we’re talking about, Terry. How can we deal with this when the disasters are not in our service areas? So maybe you’re an organization in the Great Plains or in New England and you’re seeing all these happen. How can we effectively encourage donors to give to the current disasters that we support, which is great and we want them to do that, but maybe our own organizations that are not dealing with disasters or maybe organizations that dealt with prior disasters?

Because maybe there’s a lot of competition for dollars these days. We’re recording this in late September, early October if you’re listening to it. We’re getting close to year-end giving. What would you say to those people, Terry, that maybe aren’t being affected directly but still have to deal with it?

Terry:Well, first, I would just underscore what you said initially, Steven, that if the person who submitted this question, I don’t know what their name was, I don’t know if they’re on the call today, if they would chat with me a little bit as they get into this. I’ll give kind of a general answer and then if they want to get more specific about their particular type of organization or mission and how to make that more relevant.

So I’m with Benevon and I think from the Benevon model, which is about deep engagement of individual donors. And one thing about our groups that we’ve worked with over the years that we’ve said is how helpful it is that they’ve already developed and established relationships with donors before there’s a disaster. Because then, they have at least a relationship that they can talk to their donors. They’re not just arm’s length and sending them an email at the end of the year, saying, “Would you give us money?” These are people that actually know them.

So the first generic response will be, number one, definitely communicate with your donors. Keep communicating. If the disaster did not happen in your service area, how you can make your mission relevant is to look to your specific mission type. For example, there’s a group we work with that’s an afterschool program for girls. And these are girls . . . I’ve talked to people in Florida who have a program like this and then other people in other parts of the country that were actually part of the same national network of the group in Florida. And the people in the national network said, “We want to send money to our Florida affiliate and be sure that that money is earmarked for disaster.”

And then the people in Florida said to me, “We don’t have that many girls whose houses were razed in this, but it’s impacting their ability to study, their ability to concentrate in school and we still have our general operating needs here in Florida. Even in Florida, not everybody was affected and we’ve still got our own needs. How do we keep ourselves relevant?”

So back to my point of being really connected to your donors, if you have set up in any way with them some kind of a pattern of explaining your needs and conveying your needs year-by-year, “We need this for our girls. We need this for the dogs,” whatever our mission type is, then you can make that case for how that relates.

Now, for example, if you are an afterschool girls program in Connecticut and you’re trying to make your case relevant right now, the number one thing I would say is, “Our needs are as great as ever right here locally. And many of you may have heard about the stories of kids being traumatized and going to school in Florida. That’s what we encounter every day here in Connecticut. It’s the same kind of thing that we’re doing here.”

So you can’t not talk about it. I mean, after 9/11, one of the very first groups we were working with had their ask event, which is part of the Benevon model, they were putting on an ask event three days later, on September 14th or 13th or something. And I remember them calling us and saying . . . they were an arts group in California and they said, “Well, obviously, you’re going to tell us to cancel it, aren’t you?”

And we said no. And it ended up being really a great event because they said people needed the healing power of the arts. And it was a music group and they used it. They didn’t turn away from 9/11. Who could you turn away from that? “This is why people need us, even year-round here in California. And it’s that kind of healing, that kind of soothing that we do with our work.”

So I’m kind of extrapolating from a few different disasters, but it’s really important to not spell out on your mission, do not try to say, “Oh, yeah, we’re providing disaster services in Connecticut,” if we’re not. But to tie in the kinds of needs that your population has. Has this person spoken up yet in the chats?

Steven:No, not yet.

Terry: Do we know any more? No? Okay. Well, maybe that’s enough because I think maybe some of the questions get more specific. So really, my main point is to tie your mission. Look to how you can have your message relate to the disaster somehow.

Steven:What about, Terry, the frequency of these events? The second part of this question, I think, speaks to maybe a concern about donor fatigue. It’s like we just asked you for some money for Harvey and we just asked you for money for Maria and now we’re asking you for money for something else. This is probably unprecedented.

I can’t really remember, at least in my fundraising career, a situation over the past few months that we’ve had, but is donor fatigue a real thing? Do you think there should be a limit on the amount of communications? How do you stay relevant when it’s just a constant barrage of, “It’s the next thing we need help on,” and the next thing and the next thing keeps coming up?

Terry:Thank you for pointing that out because I really didn’t address that. I’m sorry. To be relevant, let’s say the first disaster happens. So we had Harvey. And you find some donors that are going to give to Harvey. So this is now an organization that is raising money for disaster. They would identify the base of donors that are willing to give to that and then keep in real communication with them. We have a whole strategy. I’m looking at some printouts we have about how frequently to email your donor right after if you’re in the disaster area or raising money afterward. You would want to know who your base of donors is.

And we tell people even sending out nightly emails to a core group of donors with stories, you’re going to have to have a lot of stories in the email about examples and examples. And then, give feedback on a regular basis so that when the next disaster happens, they know that their money made a difference the first round and that you continue to need their support. We’ve even had groups, and I know there’s one question coming up about . . . I think it was a church group that sends their ministry down into Texas and Florida for disaster recovery.

And they were saying, “How do we keep that relevant for the church community up here,” wherever they are. A lot of times, they’ll even have those volunteers come back and put on an evening kind of thing for their church. Or I’ve seen it done in non-faith-related nonprofits. But they’ll put on an evening where the volunteers come back and talk about what it was like down there. Maybe they bring photos. And if you were to do that on a pretty regular basis, you could then go back to the donors and say, “Oops. Now there’s a second disaster. We’re coming back to you.”

And a lot of people find that they worry that if the donors give just to disasters, what about our regular year-end giving? Will that not impede that or encroach on that? And what we’ve found is that it doesn’t. We’ve actually found if you can make the case that, number one, we have these very issues right here in our community . . . we may not have a disaster, we may not be right in Florida or right in Texas, at least in that example, but we have the exact same issues going on here now more than ever.

We’ve also found that because with Benevon groups, they’ve got donors that make these five-year pledges who are in our giving society that, especially after 2008 . . . I didn’t say that. We did a bunch of these calls after 2008, after the financial crash. And a lot of people said, “People aren’t going to pay up their pledges. They made a five-year pledge and they’re just not in a position to pay their third payment on the pledge this year. What do we do?” And that could happen this year, too, with people saying, “I’d rather give my money to hurricanes or Puerto Rico or whatever.” Which you can’t blame them for that.

So what we’ve found was some of the other donors were willing to give more, that the organizations went back to all their five-year pledge donors and said, “We’re finding this year, in 2008, some of our donors are not able to meet their pledges so we’re asking some of you to dig deeper.” And they overcompensated. They brought in more money than they would have otherwise because they had those faithful donors with whom they had been keeping in good contact and communicating.

So I would just say to all of you, not to belabor this, but start by looking at who is your real family of donors? Who do you know of your donors versus a name on a list? If you know those people, then you’re going to have enough relationship that you can tell them the truth about what’s going on, including, “We’re having a bad year-end because everybody’s giving to the hurricane and what about us?” And some of them will dig deeper for you because they’ll understand that.

Steven:Yeah. And I want to hammer home a couple of things you said that I think I heard. One is you have to . . . it seems like these disasters sort of accentuate or sort of bring to the surface the issue that we are not very good at collecting that loyal group of donors. And it’s almost too late in a lot of cases. But that pool of real core supporters that have been supporting you for a long time, those are your people who can help here.

And I love what you said about the impact stories and sharing updates of what the donations are being used for. Because I think that is the biggest thing that combats this idea of donor fatigue. Donors get fatigued when you’re just asking for money and not reporting back. But if you can report back and say, “It’s making a real difference. We still need help. Another donation can do this, this and this,” that’s what’s going to make you successful. Is that basically what you would say?

Terry: Absolutely. And I have got, in this stack of stuff in front of me, a bunch of letters sent out by EDs during various disasters to their donors. One woman, this must have been in Katrina . . . it was either Katrina or Sandy, but her organization was not a shelter. They were some other kind of nonprofit and they were instantly, overnight, turned into a shelter. And she would send an email every night to her core group of donors, like at 10, 11, 12:00 at night when she’d get home, exhausted.

And she started telling stories about various families that were coming in. And she didn’t ever ask for anything, but stuff started coming in, shoes and blankets. And by the next day, people were emailing her, going, “How’s the baby now? Is that family doing all right? What happened to the dog?” So it was kind of like a live soap opera every night with her. And that’s the level that these close-end donors want and need.

I remember, Steven, there was another comment. I don’t know if it was one of the questions that you pulled to use today in our call, but somebody commented that they are in Florida. I think they were in Florida. And they said that they sent out an email to their donors in anticipation of Hurricane Harvey, saying what they already had done and what they had to get ready and what it cost them just to gear up because they were a disaster relief organization. So they were already anticipating and setting the donors up for, “This cost us something already. You’re going to keep hearing from us.” So I’m assuming they kept contact.

Steven:Yeah, that’s great. Well, it seems like we got the short answer to this question on the screen is just to tell those impact stories. I mean, people want to know. I’m a donor to several organizations not that are doing disaster relief right now, but I would want to know what the donation is being used for and what the impact is. So I think if you do those things, you can combat donor fatigue. Which I’m not even really sure is a real thing. I mean, I think we make a lot of assumptions that donors are fatigued and that they’re not going to give at year-end because they’re giving now. It’s not really based on really any concrete data. There are just these weird assumptions that kind of get us locked into being paralyzed.

Terry:I would say if I could do a study, it would be on that I think donor fatigue correlates to the distance that you have with your donor. So if you know your donor really well, I don’t think they get fatigued. I think it’s just that if it’s a transactional relationship and an email seven times a year with an ask and an envelope, they get fatigued. So again, really treat your donors they way you want to treat a good friend. That’s the core group of donors you want to have ready for next time. That’s, frankly, why I wanted to do this call, Steven, because every time we do this, people come away going, “I should have been more prepared.” So use the time between now and whenever next time is to build those relationships.

Steven:I love it. All right. Here’s another good one. So this is kind of similar to what we were talking about here. But this questioner was asking, “What’s the best way to talk about local needs without dismissing people who are suffering nationally?” So I think this fundraiser is maybe concerned that, “Hey, we have needs not tied to all the disasters happening and we think that you should also focus on them.” And maybe they’re feeling a little bit of guilt on that. Terry, do you think that guilt is misplaced? Do you think that guilt is valid? And if so, what should we do about it?

Terry: Not to sound crass, but I think it’s kind of misplaced. I think that the donors are great people. They’ll make up their own minds. And I think that a lot of times, they’ll dig twice into their pockets, once locally and once for something nationally. I think a lot of us do that when we watch what’s going on know. I call it right pocket, left pocket giving. People dig in a little more. I do think, though, it’s important to tie the everyday needs to what they’re seeing on TV.

Again, if you’re working with children, if you’re running a domestic violence shelter . . . and a lot of donors don’t necessarily make the connection between what they’re seeing on TV and the local needs of a music organization. That’s why I used that example. You’re going to have to make that connection for them and talk about, “Now as much as ever, right here in our community, we have the same concerns.”

Steven:I love it. Yes, so maybe not separating the two. Maybe that’s a mistake they’re making is trying to separate the two issues. I love that. Very cool.

Terry:And I wish I had somebody to interact with on this just because I’d love some more juicy examples and I could be a little more specific. But, hopefully, you can see . . . many of you know way better than I would the connection, the correlation. Like the mental health, the strain. It’s not just people losing their homes, losing life but also just the emotional turmoil and the upset of the instability. I mean, there are pieces of what people are seeing on TV that are really, frankly, great moments to educate people about your issue even though it may not be happening in your town.

Steven:I love it. This next one, very similar questions that I kind of combined into one question. So, Terry, kind of taking the same task as the previous question, what if you’re 1,000 miles away and you’re completely not affected by it, but you still want to connect those needs? Is it still possible to connect your needs to the needs of an organization that is being affected by the natural disasters 1,000 miles away when there may be similar themes of maybe the mental strain or hunger or things like that? Is it the same strategy? Do you try to combine and maybe get that double-sided-pocket giving, I think was your term? I really liked that. Does the distance matter?

Terry: I don’t think distance needs to matter at all. We find this when we work with a number of groups that are not in the United States. We’re working with a bunch of different groups in Africa right now. And American donors might see what’s going on in Africa and think, “Well, boy, that’s so compelling. I need to give over there. And then, therefore, I’m going to give less in America.” Not so.

If the local charity can say to the donor those same issues, the same issues of trauma and abuse and neglect that so pull at your heartstrings in Africa are happening right here down the street, for example, and give specific stories, in a way, it’s sort of telling you what the donor’s hot button is, what the donor is really passionate about. And those are the donors that will dig into both pockets.

So, again, you’ve got to really be smart about connecting it. People may not think of domestic violence, for example, when they watch something about a hurricane. They might think, “Well, what does that have to do with domestic violence in my town?” So you’ve got to explain to them displacement, children, trauma, nightmares, fear, no security, no doors to be locked. I mean, the kinds of things you’re seeing on television are happening every day right here in our communities.

If anything, it’s an opportunity to play it up. And I don’t mean it in a manipulative way. And I certainly don’t mean it to distract from the people giving to the natural disasters. But it’s kind of a way for you to know if people are really concerned about what they’re seeing on television. Maybe this is a moment to connect them to what you’re doing and have them be more concerned about that.

Steven:Or be prepared.

Terry:Some question’s coming up about year-end giving, but I would certainly say in your year-end messaging, whether you overtly reference the hurricanes or just subtly make those connections for people, it’s important to do that right now.

Steven:And it seems like you could also make the case for, “Hey, we need to prepare so that this does not happen in our community or maybe that we are not affected as much as some of these other communities.” I think that could be a good way to tie it in as well.

Terry: Well, an example of that . . . okay. Go ahead.

Steven:I was going to say there was a question from Stephanie . . .

Terry:Go ahead.

Steven:There’s a comment here from Stephanie talking exactly about what we’re saying. She’s from a conservation organization and she has weather data from the 1800s that they use to sort of drum up support or concern over climate change. And there’s obviously a strong link from climate change to these storms so they’re able to make that connection really well. I really like that, Stephanie.

Terry: The example I was going to give, Steven, is we worked with the Red Cross for many years and Red Cross volunteers are trained to go wherever the disaster is. So even if you’re in Chicago, if a disaster’s in Texas, a lot of volunteers go down there. And I remember one of the chapters we were working with sent many groups of volunteers down to work on the disaster. And when they’d come back up, they were worried that these volunteers would just be telling everybody, “Send your money to Texas,” or wherever.

And they weren’t. It was taking away from what this local chapter did so they used it as an opportunity. They had a little evening session where all those volunteers came back and they talked about it. And they said what you just said, which is, “It scared the heck out of us that we are not prepared. If anything like that were to happen in our community, we are not equipped for that right here. Now more than ever, we understand why our local Red Cross needs our help.”

Steven:Great. I love that. Love it. Here’s a great one. Year-end giving. I mean, this topic dominated a lot of the questions that we got for this webinar. It was on the tip of everyone’s tongue in Montana, where I was for the last couple of days. What should we do? It’s late September, early October. People are probably already getting their year-end campaigns maybe queued up or maybe even some are out the door in some cases here. What changes here, Terry, if anything? Does anything have to change? Do we combine these efforts and make the disaster relief part of the year-end giving? Should we separate them? And I know this is a huge question, but what do you think about the year-end giving thing?

Terry:I think it’s complicated and I’m glad you said it is a huge question because I agree. I think, first of all, don’t overestimate the attention that your local donors may be paying to the hurricanes, for example. Maybe some of them aren’t paying that much attention, for better or worse, and they’re right with you. So it can almost look a little manipulative if you send out a letter saying something about the hurricanes and they’re thinking, “I wasn’t even thinking about that.” So I think you need to test the waters. I think you need to actually talk to some donors.

Our thing is always, at Benevon, to talk to your donors. Call your donors. Ask them, “To what extent are you thinking about disaster giving? It is even affecting the way you’re giving?” We teach something we call the CEO Golden Hour. We teach free feel-good cultivation events. Many pieces that allow people to connect with donors in an informal open dialog. And I think if you were to use any method to call up some of your key donors, talking to your board members, asking them, “How big a factor is this in your decision? How big a factor is this going to be in your decision for year-end giving?” Because that way, you’ll know how to spin the letter, so to speak.

And maybe you don’t want to overdo it. In other cases, I think you could use, like I said, the example of domestic violence. You could say, “Obviously, we’ve all seen in the news, “the stories of displaced people, the stories of the trauma. This what our community . . . our hearts go out to the folks in whatever state or part of the country, but we still have . . . more than ever, this drives home the needs right here.”

And then tell a story of a local story with, obviously, protecting the names or however you do it. But something that makes those same points and why we need your help here. And you can even end it with the national disasters that we’ve all experienced lately are a good reminder of the need to be prepared for the next time and the need to support our local community. There’s a way to wrap that.

But I wouldn’t just automatically do that. I think you really need to look. We did a call like this with just Benevon groups. We did this right after the first hurricane, Harvey, the first big hurricane. And it was just groups that we work with every day here at Benevon. And I was able to talk with people directly. And all of our coaches were on the call also so they’re really smart. And they chimed right in with me on a lot of things. It wasn’t just me.

And several groups, frankly, asked the same question, but the answer we had for each group was different. And you could see when you pressed in a little more and asked the group the question of what is it like in your community or whatever, how many children do you serve or, really, what is your policy work about, the more we knew about them, the more we could customize the answer. So I hesitate to give sort of a one-size-fits-all answer. I think you need to trust your gut about some of this. But you also need to road test it out there or focus group it or whatever in your community.

Steven:What about this idea, Terry, that we are cannibalizing opportunities for year-end giving? We’ve already addressed this a couple of times on the call, this idea of donor fatigue that if we ask in October, we can’t ask for that December gift that we normally already would. Is that just completely bogus? It seems like I hear this sort of argument against Giving Tuesday. “We don’t want to do Giving Tuesday because it’s in November and it may cannibalize that December year-end gift.”

And there doesn’t seem to be any data that really suggests that’s true or that’s happening. What do you think about that? Should we worry about cannibalizing these gifts or should we have faith that people . . . and I’m not trying to lead you into this answer, but should we have faith that people will dig deeper if we make a compelling case for support? I mean, that’s what it’s all about, right?

Terry: I think it depends, again, on the mission type of the organization. If you’re in a disaster and you’re raising money for a disaster and you’ve got a perfectly legitimate reason to be asking for money in September and October, then go forward again at the end of the year and God bless you. Get even more at the end of the year. That’s great. If you’re making sort of an artificial case for it right now, then, no, I don’t think that’s appropriate. I think you want to be straight with your donors.

I think year-end giving is going to be fine this year. I think if anything, and we’ve seen this in the past disasters, that giving overall goes up. It doesn’t go down in the face of disaster. People are just more conscious of the importance of their gift. Maybe it’s because the nonprofits are finally getting more conscious of the importance of talking to their donors. I’d love to think that was the case.

Steven:Yeah, that’s good. I love it. All right. Let’s keep going. We’ve got some good ones here. Corporate giving, Terry. Lots of for-profits have stepped up. We’ve seen companies fundraising and making a big stink of it in terms of PR. Have you seen anything in terms of corporate giving being affected by disaster? From what I’ve seen, at least watching TV and being online, the for-profits are really stepping up and helping out. Is there a way to maybe get involved in that or maybe leverage that? What do you think about corporate giving?

Terry:I don’t know much about this. It’s not my kind of wheelhouse. I think that in some communities, I think corporations have the right pocket, left pocket giving thing also. They have a little bit that they hold back for big stuff like this, big disasters. And certainly, if they’re . . . if I were an arts organization in Florida that counted on money from big corporations, I would be concerned because they’re going to probably at least use that a an excuse or a reason for not giving to my arts group this year because they’re saying, “We’re putting a higher percentage of our money toward disaster,” in which case, you’d have to make the case for why the arts are important now in the face of disaster.

Which, frankly, if I were an arts organization in Florida, I would start building my case for that in general. Or in Texas. Because that’s going to happen again. How do you make yourself relevant? But if I were in Michigan or if I were in Tennessee and not really thinking that too many of my corporations were super-focused on that, I think I would probably use the same strategy I would use for an individual donor, which is to link my mission to what’s going on and why now, more than ever, locally, we need their support. Especially if it’s a corporation that’s locally based where they have a certain sense of obligation to their own hometown community.

Steven:Yep. Makes sense. Oh, here was that comment that I think you were alluding to, Terry. This is a user comment for what they’ve been doing. This is an organization that had . . . before Irma was hitting, so I guess it was between Harvey and Irma, they had sent out an update about what they had spent and what they were doing, just giving those people updates. And, Terry, you alluded to a client of yours, I think it was, that just sent those updates and did not ask for money specifically.

Do you think that is a best practice to not ask and in the act of not asking, you actually generate more donations because all you were doing was updating and telling those stories? And maybe donors were sort of responding psychologically to the fact that you weren’t asking and that actually generated donations? Is that a real phenomenon that you’ve observed beyond just that one client of yours and maybe this one onscreen?

Terry: In the example I was using, that woman already had a core group of donors. They were multi-year donors that were really her family. And they really knew her and loved her and cared about her. So she was just sharing like she’d write a letter to a family member every night about what was going on, kind of like a journal entry. And people did whatever they would do. I wouldn’t necessarily generalize that to assuming that people can connect the dots. If you need something outright, if you need a refrigerator or you need some emergency equipment, I would ask for it right away in those nightly emails.

But in terms of planning in advance, I think that was great what he or she put in here about sending that out in advance. I think my bigger concern, and, Steven, you and I talked about this when we scheduled this call, which was about a month ago because I said we’re going into hurricane season, we don’t even know what’s going to happen. I think all we knew then was about Harvey. I don’t even think we knew about Irma then.

Now, with Maria, I think we’re on the cusp of a big wave of support that’s going to go toward Maria. I think as the stories start coming out and people see the disaster and the impact there, we’re going to have more and more people focused on that. And that could be a bigger “competition” for some of our local year-end asks than either of the other two. What do you think of that?

Steven:Yeah. I mean, Maria is a really interesting because you’ve got the Puerto Rico element to it that they’re for sure Americans, but there’s this sort of odd feeling of maybe removal from that culture or those people. So it’s going to be interesting, for sure. But I do like your advice.

Terry:I think there’ll be a lot of people that will go down to Maria. I think we just haven’t even begun to see. It’s terrible what happened there. Not that it wasn’t in any other places, but it’s just . . . the economy there, it’s going to have a lot of impact. I think just to this question right here, explaining it all in advance, I think keeping your donors ahead of the game, keeping them educated, even giving them . . . I just find donors really like learning kind of cool facts or statistics they might not otherwise know.

So I don’t know. You might say, “How long can people live on bottled water?” If you’re the group that was in the conservation world, you said Stephanie from a conservation organization commented, probably has a lot of knowledge about things like this that you could start disseminating to your donors that would smarten them up and have them remember how cool you are.

So just get in their world. Don’t back away right now. Get in their world. Frankly, it’s not that often that people are . . . I mean, we all work in this field. We’re thinking it day and night. But most business folks don’t sit around thinking about charitable organizations all day long. This is, in a very sad way, an opportunity for us to remind them how important our work is. Do it.

Steven:Absolutely. And they need reminders. Take it from me, I have more experience as a for-profit marketer. That’s kind of my background. We needed nonprofits to come to us and tell us that there was a need. As a for-profit, we’re not necessarily thinking that way, but we absolutely understand the public relations benefit of associating our brand with a cause or with a nonprofit. So don’t be afraid to reach out to those businesses that you think there is some sort of connection or compatibility with what you’re talking about, for sure. Terry, there is a question here from Allison . . .

Terry: That’s really good, Steven. Good point. I’m sorry, go ahead. I just wanted to thank you for what you just said. That was really good. Yeah, okay. Go ahead.

Steven:Businesses love the PR, let me tell you. Don’t be afraid. We just got a great comment here from Allison.

Terry:Okay, next question. Okay.

Steven:Yeah, here is a good one, Terry. And it’s not onscreen. It’s in the chat. Allison, “We’re right out of our largest fundraising event.” They were doing a pier-to-pier walk for AIDS. They were doing a fundraising AIDS walk in Tennessee. And Allison is saying that people did not show up to the event or give to the event because of the hurricanes. So they actually did experience a sot of a diversion in funds, apparently. What do you think about that? That’s kind of interesting to me. I’ve got a couple of ideas right off the bat in my head. But, Terry, what’s sort of your initial reaction to Allison’s situation?

Terry: Use it. My reaction would be to use it, Allison. First of all, I’m sorry to hear that because I’m sure you worked your tails off getting that event to be great. And it must have been right on the heels of the hurricane when it happened. But whenever it was, I would use it. And I don’t mean in a manipulative way, but I would communicate with your donors and just say, “Thank you all, for those of you who came to the AIDS walk. As great of an event as it was, it was not as productive for us and it made us nervous because we’re trying to provide our amazing services here in Tennessee in the wake of a lot of people being focused on other things.”

So I would use that in your year-end appeal. Maybe you even get a matching gift somehow. Maybe there’s somebody, Allison, that would give a matching gift and use that as a challenge for your year-end giving to help you make up the difference. That often will work and I think it’s just . . . be honest with people about what happened. What would you say, Steven?

Steven:Would you say it’s an opportunity? Well, I’m wondering if there’s an opportunity to use another piece of your advice, which is to connect the missions or to connect the situations. I assume that there are people with AIDS who were affected by these storms or wildfires or wherever we’re talking about. Maybe they were displaced, maybe they don’t have access to medical treatment or their prescriptions or whatever it is. It seems like maybe there is a way to connect those missions. Do you think that would be prudent in this case for Allison?

Terry:Yes, excellent. If it’s not manipulative. Think about how would you feel if you got that letter? Would you think, “Oh, they’re just trying to get me to cry here?” Or is this a legitimate concern? I think that’s fine. Great idea.

Steven:I mean, a wildfire could happen in Tennessee just as easily and suddenly, that little community is facing a real struggle. So maybe the strategy could be more a preparation for the possibility that they could be affected in a similar way. I think there are a couple of things you could work on there, Allison. But let us know. I’m curious how that works out for you. So send us an email in a couple of weeks.

Terry: One more thing, just to that. I was just thinking there’s a group . . . kind of like everybody, I have my kind of short list of places I give money to every year and, like all of you, I’ve started getting the little letters and I’ve got my pile accumulated in my office. And I usually do it come year-end is when I write my checks. And I got one letter and I kind of put it aside. And I thought, “I’m not sure about that group for this year,” because of the other . . . I was kind of doing this about the year-end giving.

And I got a second email from this woman already. This is a program that’s actually not based in the US that I give to. And it’s run by a woman and she sent the first letter out a couple of weeks ago. And then today, another one came in this morning. It was a very heartfelt letter from her. And I’m one of a group of donors that I’m sure she knows well. She knows us over the years. And so she wrote a very heartfelt letter about why they really need help more this year than before. And I’m going to give to them. I’m probably going to give more than I would have given before because I got that second letter. And it wasn’t just, “Dear Terry,” it was a group letter. But it was clear that she really did need it more than ever this year.

So, again, if you’ve got that depth of relationship with your donors, and I’m not saying you should send a blanket letter in your holiday mailing that sounds more like you’re begging, but maybe there’s a subset of your donors that are worth going back to, like that example I gave about donors who gave extra money after 2008 when they heard that some of the other multi-year pledge donors couldn’t meet their pledge for that year. They said, “Well, we’ll cover for them.”

So, again, don’t underestimate the amount of money people are willing to give you if they really know and love your mission. The biggest takeaway from all of this is to call your donors. Talk to your donors. Have them come out and talk about your real mission. Don’t just give them wine and cheese and free tickets to something. Actually get them in the world of your mission, the good, bad and ugly.

Steven:Right. Staff turnover, Terry. A couple of people specifically were dealing with this, which is there’s never a good time for staff turnover, obviously. But this seems like maybe an especially bad time. So what can they do when maybe they have limited staff power, maybe they’re in an internal slump, they’re feeling bad culturally internally. I think, Terry, you’ve had a lot of experience with maybe organizations that are going through these kinds of transitions. What would you say to this person specifically that’s got maybe turnover at the ED level or the director of development level?

Terry:I saw this question earlier and I wasn’t sure where the staff turnover was. But I’m assuming it’s high enough level that they’re worried that their people can’t go out and do the normal solicitation and just a lot of distractions and reasons for them not to gain momentum. They don’t really have a full head of steam on their fundraising effort.

And now with the disasters not being directly related to them, what more can they do? I would say, honestly, maybe almost like a reboot. Like some kind of a re-frame. If they’ve got the new leadership now, maybe do something with their donors. We call it a CEO golden hour or a free feel-good event. We always recommend using new leadership as an occasion for the new leader to meet the donors. Certainly, when there’s a transition, we have a bunch of transition strategy.

If we know the transition’s going to happen, then we would anticipate this and make sure that the outgoing leader turns over each donor relationship properly to the new leader. And usually, there’s a three-way meeting and then a two-way meeting and then a one-way. We kind of have a whole process so that the donor doesn’t feel left out and, “Who is this new person?”

But if that has not happened, it’s not too late. It’s possible to have the new leader . . . you might even use the holidays as an occasion for having a gathering to come meet our new leader. Or look at the list of donors and prioritize by size or length or longevity of giving and decide which ones should have a one-on-one meeting or a two-on-one meeting, usually with a board member and the donor, or a development professional and a donor. Or just one-on-one.

But if you don’t get personal, you’re going to lose the donors. Disaster or not, you’re going to lose the donors. So more than ever, you’ve got to make a bit of a fuss over, “We’ve got this new leadership now.” And again, I don’t know what their mission is, but assuming the mission is not disaster-related. Does it say that in here? “Our cause is not directly affected by these disasters.” Yeah. So I wish I knew the kind of mission. I would give a little more specific example. But I think that’s enough for that one.

Steven:Terry, what about the board? What’s the role of the board in all this? Turnover aside, for disaster fundraising, is there a specific task or things you would recommend people recommend to their boards or leverage their board in some way?

Terry: Yes. I think that being straight with the donors begins with being straight with the board. And you’ve got to really have these conversations in the boardroom and, hopefully, you’ve already been having them, called, “We’re worried about year-end giving,” or, “Here’s what we’re doing in the face of these other year-end concerns and potential competition, if you will. How do you all feel about that? And we’re going to double-down on certain donors. We’re going to need some help from some of you actually meeting with some of the donors, maybe even hosting some small donor events that will allow us to tell our story for donors.”

I think we’re not believers at Benevon of having board members ask other people for money because we feel it sort of keeps the strong-arming mentality going, which is not sustainable. And it’s just a big turn-off and I find it kind of offensive to many peoples’ missions if they’re going out and “just hitting up their friends,” who don’t really get how powerful your work is. So we don’t really want any board members suddenly to use this as a way to say, “Oh, I’ve got some friends who can really help us out here,” unless those are people who already have been introduced.

So I would certainly use this. We call those “points of entry.” And we do them as privately hosted events. So I would certainly use this as a time to ask the board members if they have a group of people that they think should know more about your work right now. But you want to keep the board right in the loop of what you’re doing with all this. They’ll have different opinions and they’ll be a great sounding board for you.

Steven:So, Terry, I’ve heard you say a couple of times that you should, in some cases, address maybe concerns or address the shortfall. Is that an accurate takeaway that I’m gleaning from you?

Terry:Yes. To the donors, do you mean? Or to the board?

Steven:Yes, to the donors.

Terry: Yes. I don’ think there’s anything to hide, again, if these are donors . . . frankly, I’m just not a big believer in the year-end mailing at all. I just think if you know your donors, who cares whether it’s December or March? Granted, there’s the tax year and there’s the tax write-off. Those are the people that I write my check to. The ones I’m going to give to every year, that’s the time I do it. But it doesn’t really mean that I . . . I already know them. I already know those groups. So, yes, addressing those concerns head-on.

I think the more you can get to know the donors . . . make a list of your donors or look at your list and challenge yourself to get to know a certain percentage of them. We say to our groups, “What percentage of the donors does someone know well enough to have a conversation with them if you bump into them at the grocery store? Would you even recognize them?” Like that. So if you can say, “Well, 10%, and, gee, those are our board members,” you’ve got some work to do.

If you say 40% . . . we have some groups that say 80, 90 . . . faith-based groups that they know all the people, they meet them at their congregation every weekend or whatever. They say, “We know all of them.” Great. Then, yeah, you’d better be straight with them about the concerns head-on. You can be as straight as possible. The goal should be that you can say anything to your donors, that they understand.

We work with a group that worked with boys that were sexual abusers in a very rural boys home kind of a place. And all of their federal funding dried up. And because they had been using our model and we had taught them how to very sensitively talk to their donors about what the money was really used for and brag about their recidivism rates and all, those donors came through with a large sum of money to help their doors stay open when the feds cut all their funding. So it really is amazing what donors will do if they understand. Even the stuff that’s tricky to talk about, do not shy away from it.

Steven:And you would look at . . . when trying to identify that core group of people, would you ignore gift amount or size of previous gift? Because it seems like there’s this desire to say, “Oh, who are our top donors by gift amount? Let’s spend time on them,” versus some other criteria, like the strength of the relationship.

Terry:Well, hopefully, there’s a correlation between the size of the gift and the strength of the relationship. And if there’s not, then I would say to prioritize your donors by size of gift and just check off, on a scale of one to 10, how related are you to them. If they’re big donors and you can already say, “We’re a nine or a 10,” then go drop down to the next level. But you’ve got to start with the bigger ones because lucky you if they’re still giving to you at all if you’ve done not much to keep the relationship going. And shame on you if you wonder why they stop giving.

Steven:That makes a lot of sense. Well, Terry, I cannot believe that . . . actually, I can believe that an hour has already flown by. I feel like I could talk about this stuff with you, and we have talked about this stuff alone for hours. We’re just geeks about it. But we’re about out of time and I know we didn’t get to all of the questions. And there have been so many other really good questions that have been coming in live over the hour or so. So maybe we should do this again. But, Terry, would you be . . .

Terry: I’m willing to do it again because I think Maria will the rebound effect. I think so. And tell people to come to Benevon. They can look at . . . we have a lot of good resources on our website. I see you’ve got the model up there. Thank you. And we’ve got a slide, I think, with some of our resources. I just wrote a brand new book. Well, actually, it’s a revised version of the last book, but every single page has changed so it’s like, to me, a new book. Videos and our fabulous relationship with Bloomerang.

Let me just say your software, you guys have a private label version of our Benevon software. We’re so grateful for our relationship with Bloomerang. If you folks are looking for something that really is easy to use, as easy as your iPhone, I mean, I’d just say . . . now, Steven, I don’t know if I’ve told you this. When people say to me, “What’s your definition of a good donor management software,” I answer that with a question. I say, “Have you used yours in the past 24 hours?” Because if you don’t use it, who knows? You can say whatever you think about what’s good. But if you don’t use it the way you use your iPhone every five minutes, it’s not good enough.

But anyway, you guys have a great product. And then we have all these other sessions, live ones, other webinars and things. And our terrific workshops where we train you in our model and then customize it and coach you. So I think they’re going to get some questions after the webinar today, after this call today, Steven? A little pop-up survey. So if you want any more information about Benevon, say so there and we’ll be in touch.

Steven:Yeah. If you want to ask Terry questions, she’s great about emails. I think she checks her Twitter every once in a while, perhaps. But do reach out to them. Benevon’s great. Their resources are great. They’re kind of like us. We love the free resources too so they’re kind of similar in velocity there. So do fill out that survey when we end here today in the next 30 seconds or so. I really appreciate all of the people that have been engaging with us, that have sent in questions. I’m really sorry if we didn’t get to your question, but, obviously, there’s so much we can talk about here.

Hopefully, this was valuable to you. Hopefully, you took away a couple takeaways throughout the hour or so. But we’ll do it again. Maybe we can do it again in the next couple of months. But I really appreciate you all taking time out of your day. Obviously, you are busy, you’re dealing with this stuff, you’ve got year-end giving. So I personally appreciate you giving us an hour of your time.

But we do these webinars every Thursday. We’ve got some great ones coming up. We’ve got one every Thursday through the rest of the year. We’re going to be talking about bequests next week. We’re going to be talking about compliance in two weeks, which is important. Maybe not the sexiest topic, but definitely very important. And then we’re going to do some year-end appeal stuff in three weeks.

So check out those webinars. Check out Benevon. Send us an email. Fill out the survey. Ask us more questions and we’ll try to get to some more questions offline. So we’ll call it a day there. Look for an email from me with the recording. I’ll get that out today, hopefully. If not, it’ll be tomorrow for sure. And, hopefully, we will talk to you again next week or sometime soon. So have a great rest of your Thursday. Have a safe weekend and we will talk to you again soon.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.