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Fundraising in the COVID-19 Climate - Q&A with Nonprofits

Posted by Lou Prisco

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Because we know how challenging this time may be, we wanted to provide some guidance and clarity during this challenging time. Our Director of Product Development, Jason Champion, Director of Sales, Kevin Spykerman, and Director of Marketing, Lou Prisco, sat down with Bobby D. Elhert, Benefit Auctioneer and Fundraising Professional from Inspire Hearts Fundraising, to answer live questions sent in during our live webinar Q + A.

Click here if you'd like to watch the entire Q&A video.

Q: With the current global crisis and many restrictions across the country on gatherings over a certain size, many nonprofit organizations have to cancel or postpone their annual fundraising gala or event. When should we make the call to postpone our event?

Kevin: Every organization is going to be a little different. Make sure to discuss with your team and your board but make sure to also plug into your professional support, like your auctioneer, to assess your immediate fundraising needs. If you need funding now, consider hosting an online auction or virtual gala now to bring in the much needed funds. There are polls out there saying August and September are popular months to postpone your event to, but it’s important to remember that venue space is going to be an issue for the Fall, so if you need immediate funding and are worried about venue space, consider an online event now instead.

Bobby: I agree, sooner rather than later. As we get into November and December there is going to be donor fatigue and more competition for physical events. The sooner you can make a decision and go with it, the better!

Q: You mentioned online auctions and virtual galas in place of physical events. Do you think virtual fundraising will be the wave of the future?

Bobby: Two weeks ago we had a major change. What was is not going to be anymore. How do we evolve? Every single person is in their home right now. And everybody wants to be a part of the change and be a part of something bigger than themselves. It’s scary, but I’m really excited to see how we grow and evolve.

Jason: And what scares you, typically brings the biggest gains. Fundraisers are some of the most resilient people and we know how to work with others, so we will be ahead of the game and come out on top.

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Q: As we transition to virtual events, and as local businesses and supporters may be hurting financially, is it insensitive to ask for virtual sponsorships and/or sell tickets to a virtual event?

Bobby: It is absolutely appropriate to ask. Everyone wants to be a part of the bigger picture. If you are moving a spring event online or to the fall, chances are you already have event sponsors set up. Now is the time to continue to build the relationships with your sponsors and reimagine how you can use their sponsorship. What used to be a recognition on a step and repeat or on a program that is typically forgotten when the night is over, can now be a clickable advertisement that donors can actually engage with during and beyond the event. This is a chance to cast again the wider net.

Kevin: I agree with Bobby. It is absolutely okay to ask but make sure to get back to your mission statement and keep that at the center. Get back to why you do what you do. Remind your sponsors that this is the mission and this is the impact and that we would love for you to be a part of that. If people understand, and stay focused on the root of your cause, they will stand behind you. They don’t give if they don’t care.

Lou: When I worked for a nonprofit in DC, and when we would go through hard times, our founder would write a heartfelt note and send it out to all of our supporters via email and even snail mail. Remember that you are doing what you are doing because it is important, and be comfortable with relaying that to people. We do this everyday at nonprofits, but don’t give up on this in times of crisis. And don’t be afraid to be fully transparent. The need is there, don’t be afraid to express that need.

Read Next: Best Practices: Postponing your Fundraising Event

Q: Is it insensitive to reach out to past donors right now?

Jason: It is not insensitive. Now is the time to pick up the phone, get back to the basics, and connect with your people. Now is the time to, as nonprofits, open the door, call your donors, and be super transparent with what you need.

Bobby: Every individual has their own affinity for the nonprofits they support. It’s not what they give, but it’s more about everyone giving something. For instance if we can get 100,000 people to give $5, that’s an easy way to get to $500,000. Double down on people and engage with as many people as possible.

Kevin: Historically, after major economic crises in our country, individual household giving increases. This is because people want to be a part of something bigger and help out in any way they can. Corporate giving might decrease while companies are hurting financially, so now is the time to broaden your scope rather than relying on one or two major corporate sponsors.

Lou: Absolutely! Pick up the phone and call them. A lot of people are working from home and a lot of people are struggling with isolation, so pick up the phone and check in on each other. I would start the conversation with just asking “how are you doing?” Now is the time to build relationships with your donors.


Pro Tip: Remember that restaurant that donated to your event last year? Now is the time to order takeout from them to help them stay in business! Ask your supporters to support these local businesses as well. This helps keep them in your circle for next year’s event as well!


Q: Bobby D, I want to throw this question over to you: What is the auctioneer’s role in a virtual fundraiser?

Bobby: The auctioneer’s role is two major things: The professional auctioneer is there to keep the experience appropriate, and also fun and engaging! Appropriate because you don’t want to have your auctioneer have a “Steve Harvey” moment and have that tied to your organization virtually forever. Fun and engaging because your audience is literally one click away from tuning the event out. Tap into your auctioneer’s experience and best practices to make these virtual events as amazing as they can be.

Q: As we are shifting to online auctions and virtual galas, or even planning on hosting our event later in the year, should we consider adding travel to our auction this year? Will people purchase travel in auctions this year, considering the current travel situation?

Kevin: Outside of fundraising, people in general are going to want to travel as soon as this lifts and we can get back out there. People are going to want to support the travel industry that is taking a big hit right now and people are itching to get out of their houses.

Tying that into people purchasing travel now at fundraising events, if people know that they can purchase the travel now and take the trip later within a certain time frame, they will be supporting you and your cause, the travel industry, and they have a vacation in the back of their pocket for when this is all over.

At Winspire, we are allowing anyone who purchases a trip to book their travel through the end of 2021. Donors will have the peace of mind that they can purchase the trip now and travel when they feel safe, comfortable, and excited about their trip!

Q: Bobby, have you seen travel selling at any of these virtual events?

Bobby: Absolutely! The craving for travel is still there and will always be there. I know as soon as this is over, I’m going to need a pretty amazing vacation. Like Kevin said, people are going to want to travel again, so why not travel with a cause?


Pro tip: If you have a “give” drop down tab on your website, why not include a “travel with a cause” tab and include some consignment trips that people can “buy now” at a price to raise money for your cause and provide your donors with a trip for the future.


Q: We work for a Performing Arts Theater and we have had to cancel all of our events and performances through May. We are losing revenue from our ticket sales and we had to cancel our annual spring fundraiser. How do we need to change our messaging to our supporters in this time of crisis?

Bobby: I love the live event and always have, but there are still so many great ways to safely bring your community together, especially virtually. Many performing arts centers are still having people perform and live streaming the performance with a button that says “like this performance? Click here to donate!”

Jason: Now is the time to get creative and think outside the box! Here is a fun and creative idea for fundraising: If you work for a performing arts center, I’m sure you have a great parking lot. Let’s do a drive up performance where people pay 5 dollars for a spot and listen to a socially distant concert. People are looking for entertainment and a reason to safely get out of their houses. Like Bobby said, there are so many great ways to safely bring your community together in a fun way.

Q: Before we go, does anyone want to share their final thoughts or last pieces of advice on fundraising during this time?

Lou: This is a great time to pull in monthly donors online! This provides great steady income for the nonprofit. Also make sure to utilize facebook live to connect with your donors. Now is the time to build relationships with people that support you. We could all use a phone call right now.

Kevin: Your vision and your goal should not change. How you get there can be flexible. Virtual galas a month ago were not really a thing, but we need to adapt and be creative during times of crisis. We will all get to our vision and our goals but it is just going to look a little different than it has in the past.

Bobby: Virtual events create a chance for people to engage with something bigger and be a part of a solution, so please don’t be afraid to ask. Yes, we need to be sensitive but we need to give people a chance to be a part of something bigger!

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Fundraising Auction, Fundraising Events, Fundraising Strategies
Lou Prisco
Lou Prisco
Lou has 7+ years experience working at a small nonprofit before joining the Winspire team. As the Fundraising Manager, Lou is responsible for educating Nonprofits on best-practices when it comes to raising funds.

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