Identifying, attracting, nurturing, and maintaining loyal donors is one of the greatest challenges that the nonprofit community has been forced to face as a result of the Covid pandemic. Until this unprecedented crisis, development professionals often relied on iconic events as a way to connect with donors. Offering gala sponsorships, including incentives such as logos on the invitation, significant signage at the event, prominent mention throughout the program, and other types of exposure and recognition gave the organization the ammunition necessary to engage with donors in a meaningful way.

With the decision to enforce a shelter-in-place approach, supported by orders for social distancing and strictly limited indoor occupancy requirements, the signature events (like galas and golf outings) were the first fund raising strategies to be eliminated.    

Over time, most nonprofits of all sizes had grown to rely heavily on generous donors who consistently supported their yearly galas and other similar events to generate the funds required to achieve the organization’s short and long term goals.   

The disadvantage of events-based support

Many sleepless nights ensued as nonprofit leaders considered how to compensate for the significant revenue that could be lost if their events were canceled or if the donors decided not to participate in rescheduled and reconfigured events at all. A deep concern over diminishing ROI was at the top of everyone’s mind as they worried about what a drastically reduced in-person event experience would look like from a donor’s perspective.

Early in March 2020 there was still optimistic hope that events originally planned for the spring or summer could be salvaged by rescheduling for the fall or mid-winter. All too quickly it became obvious that the virus was not going to be conquered in the short term and the potential for hosting any in- person events for 2020 was not a realistic possibility.

As the reality set in, nonprofits turned to the evolving new technology platforms that were rapidly coming on the scene, offering virtual events as an alternative to those held in-person. But of course, the pioneers who embraced virtual events as an option recognized that these remote access events provided only limited benefits and did not offer same panache nor present the same promotional opportunities as had fund raisers in previous years. The open bar, the elegant meal, the networking, the contagious energy in the room, and even the silent auction, could not be replaced by a Zoom version.   

The awareness of the changes to fund raising that were quickly taking place in the nonprofit community only served to exacerbate the leaders’ concerns as they struggled to find new ways to get the attention of donors. Without a key fund raising event to draw a crowd, they feared it would be difficult to convince donors to remain financially committed to the group.

An important transition took place for events planners and fund raisers

The concept regarding how to keep the donor conversation going was discussed at the 2020 annual Center for Non-Profits conference on December 2-3. Throughout the two day virtual conference much of the focus was on how to start a meaningful conversation with donors so as to shift them from seeing themselves as traditional events supporters. 

To successfully accomplish this, nonprofits have had to find new ways to convert previous events-driven donors to think of themselves as mission-based donors instead.

Define a mission-based approach

This is not as easy as it sounds! According to Wikipedia, “mission-driven organizations are formed and/or managed to accomplish goals that extend beyond profits for stakeholders, shareholders, and owners to include a societal benefit. The mission, vision and objectives are the key pillars of any organization and it is where the donor must be fully committed.”

Donors who are driven to accomplish the nonprofit’s mission understand they must expand their commitment in order to focus on the big picture, working to accomplish the goals of the group rather than on ensuring a successful event.

How do you build mission-based support?

The most important fund raising aspect for nonprofits is to cement a strong bond between individual donors and corporate supporters. Once the donor’s own philosophy is aligned with the group’s mission, then it is much easier to encourage ongoing financial support.

The basis for building this type of broad, systemic support is based on three key pillars: the emotional connection, the desire to ensure the success of the organization, and the passionate belief in the organization’s impact.

Here are some tips that can help the nonprofit gain added traction with donors and help shift them from offering narrow support to comprehensive, wide-ranging support:    

  1. Tell your story – use  compelling facts; demonstrate a professional business approach; highlight your achievements; showcase your outcomes; talk about your core values
  2. Connect your clients with your financial supporters –  enable your beneficiaries to share their personal experiences with those whose funding has made it possible
  3. Leverage the  media – good exposure builds your reputation in the community and being famous helps convince your financial supporters to trust you
  4. Keep engaged throughout the year – this is not about gaining attention for a special event  but instead it is about always being relevant and creating a yearlong dedication to a grander vision
  5. Above all, understand each donor’s values – connect the organization’s mission with the goals and passions of your corporate funders and individual donors to remain a top priority 

The 2020 Conference was full of insights and resources for complicated issues just like this. Be sure to visit the website and review the materials at njnonprofits.org