Making Your Case: Maintaining Momentum in Uncertain Times – Bulletin 6
As we see the world responding to the COVID-19 situation, we know there is a significant amount of uncertainty, and even fear, about what it all means and what we as organizations and professionals should be doing in our response. To help answer those questions, KCI has created a Bulletin Series to provide timely advice about how to navigate this situation as it evolves while continuing to maintain momentum in your fundraising programs and activities.
MAKING YOUR CASE
In our last Bulletin we explored how to approach planning, both to craft your immediate response as well as to start to plan for the future. We highlighted that an important element of such planning is to examine your case for support, thinking about if and how it needs to be honed and refined in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this Bulletin, we dig deeper into this work and share guidance about how to go about it.
To start, it’s important to recognize that the series of steps and questions are the same as for developing any case for support. The main difference, however, is the degree of urgency and nimbleness with which the current exercise must be undertaken.
And secondly, when thinking about your case in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are likely four main impact buckets to it and its fallout – medical, economic, social, cultural. Most organizations fall somewhere in this trajectory either now or at some point in the future. Some organizations will be on the ‘front lines’ and will warrant a direct response (e.g. health care, human services) while others will respond to the impact indirectly (e.g. research, education, arts and culture). Both in the short and longer terms, it will be a question of responding in a relevant (helpful, ingenious, strategic, creative, life-saving, mental-health boosting, etc.) way to the needs of the populations you serve.
Why You? Why Now?
When determining the degree to which you need to refine your immediate case, these are the two overarching questions that must be answered. Every organization’s answers will be different and will not only determine how much your case needs to pivot, but will also give you a sense of how you should communicate and engage with donors over the next while.
To guide you through the process of answering those two questions, consider the following:
1. What does the COVID-19 pandemic mean for you? For your community of stakeholders?
Unpack and examine exactly how the pandemic is impacting your community of stakeholders, thinking specifically of groups like patients, employees, clients, academics, artists, musicians, students, etc.…the list goes on depending on your particular scenario.
Think through the trajectory of impact from beginning to end, identifying the ‘threats’ or challenges they are facing. Detail those impacts in specific terms if you can (e.g. we are seeing a 50% increase in demand for financial aid, our musicians have had to take a 40% pay cut). Recognize that those needs will evolve and as a result, be prepared to adjust and update your case over time.
Unpack and examine exactly how the pandemic is impacting your community of stakeholders, thinking specifically of groups like patients, employees, clients, academics, artists, musicians, students, etc.…
2. What are you going to do about it?
It’s a long-held truism that donors fund organizations that meet needs, not organizations that have needs. So, once the challenges to your community are identified, it’s time to create your solution and response.
Identify and articulate how you can support your community through this time. Rooted in the strengths possessed by your organization, determine what you can do to make the biggest difference to those impacted. This may not mean new programs per se but could be existing programs and services that need to continue or expand.
In this part of the exercise, also reflect on the desired outcome of your organization’s response and articulate what you are trying to accomplish. As with any case, the ‘so what’ (your impact) is equally, if not more important than the ‘what’ (your planned activities). For instance, it could be protecting the health of front-line workers, feeding people, ensuring students can continue their studies, lightening the burden of physical/social isolation through music, a friendly call, etc.
For those organizations ‘on the front line’, many have created very specific COVID-19 funds and appeals. Several examples created by hospitals and social service organizations include Georgetown Hospital Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, Second Harvest’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, and Union Gospel Mission and The Salvation Army’s joint project COVID Relief Together.
The COVID-19 pandemic is only a special and unique fundraising occasion if you have an authentic case to raise money within its context.
For those that are dealing with the fallout more indirectly, many are choosing to shift the focus of the current fundraising priorities to meet the needs of their communities at this moment in time within the context of their current case. For instance, organizations that serve individuals at greater risk from COVID-19 such as Heart & Stroke are providing information to these stakeholders and raising money for research. And, many educational institutions, including McGill University are focusing a significant portion of their current case and fundraising on the very real need of raising funds for student financial aid.
Don’t have a Specific COVID-19 Case? Take Heart.
While it’s critical to undertake this exercise and examine your case to ensure you are responding as you should be, it’s also crucial not to appear opportunistic or self serving in any way at this important time. The COVID-19 pandemic is only a special and unique fundraising occasion if you have an authentic case to raise money within its context.
With that in mind, many organizations are choosing to engage with their donors in a way that maintains relationships over the long term while demonstrating their value in a variety of ways during this extraordinary time. Organizations like Right to Play, which is keeping donors informed about the pandemic’s impact on their work and their response, or Artscape, a charity in Toronto which is offering online courses to its community for free.
- Who / how best to make your case – To effectively bring your case to life, think about what stories can be told to illustrate it. Also think about who is best to articulate it. This likely will be a variety of individuals, including organizational leadership, those on the ‘front lines’, as well as those who are the beneficiaries, such as health-care workers who may need mental health support, shelter workers, students in need of financial assistance, etc.
- Case for basic operations – While a case that described how you will support your community is likely the most powerful, given the short term impacts some organizations are experiencing because of drops in fundraising revenues, there can be a case made for more basic operating support. Does your particular situation mean you will have an operating shortfall? Do you need to create an emergency fund? Cases for this type of support can be made but solicitation should be reserved for those closest to you. One other note is that many foundations, like this consortium of foundations, have revamped their grant making conventions and norms to support charities in adapting to the new realities imposed by COVID-19.
- Longer term view – While an immediate examination of your fundraising priorities and case is paramount to ensure it is appropriately defined and articulated for this moment in time, this is not a one-time exercise. In the context of what will be a ‘new normal’ over the next 12-18 months, organizations must examine their role and operating model as community needs shift and evolve. Arising from these organizational strategy discussions should be the next round of fundraising priority identification and case development.
And we end each bulletin with these overall reminders…
- Prepare and respond…but don’t panic. Do what you can do. Much will be out of our control, so important to focus thought, effort and energy on what we can influence.
- Stay focused, positive and confident. Convey stability, confidence and capability in all your activities and communications, both internally and externally.
- No singular strategy. While steered by guidelines and best practice, the best strategies will be customized to individual institutions and their constituencies.
- We’ve been here before. Apply the learnings from previous emergencies and disasters. We’ve made it through times of crisis before and we will make it through.
- Don’t shut everything down. Maintain the course while making prudent adjustments to strategy and budget. We know from previous experience that those who do will emerge more strongly.
- While not inundating stakeholders with unnecessary communication, now is not the time to go silent. Keep your constituents, both internal and external, engaged and informed.
We look forward to supporting you through these next few weeks and months, and our next bulletin will focus on what the COVID-19 pandemic means for campaign fundraising.