Forum Webinar: Communicating and Fundraising for Preservation in a Time of Uncertainty

By Forum Online posted 04-21-2020 16:07


Editor’s Note: This webinar was part of a series presented by Preservation Leadership Forum in response to the coronavirus crisis. To learn more about future webinars, visit our Forum Webinar page and sign up for updates. For more resources and materials for non-profits and historic sites visit our coronavirus resource page

On Tuesday April 14, Preservation Leadership Forum hosted a webinar “Communicating and Fundraising for Preservation in a Time of Uncertainty.” The speakers were Robert Bull, president and CEO of The Compass Group and Geoff Handy, chief marketing officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Unlocking Montpelier was one of the examples of fundraising strategies being used right now to encourage donations and support. Watch the recording to learn more. | Credit: James Madison's Montpelier

This webinar sought to address some of the recent challenges presented by the coronavirus crisis. Both Bull and Handy presented best practices and strong ideas that could help advance missions and create successful adaptation within the current climate. Each shared their expertise, advice, and responded to questions on effectively communicating and engaging with donors and stakeholders at this moment. They also addressed specific topics such as timing of membership campaigns, fundraising events and programs, and demonstrating the value of why preservation of historic places matters now more than ever. 

While they did some respond to many questions in the webinar, there were a few additional responses we wanted to share. 

How can we message the mission of historic preservation as "relevant" during a health crisis? 

In your messaging, focus on the value proposition your nonprofit or historic site provides, and try to place it in the context of what we are collectively facing. Here are some copy examples from the National Trust for Historic Preservation that attempt to convey our relevance during this period, which may help guide you in developing similar messaging for your organization: 

  • Our mission is to enrich lives by saving our past, and now more than ever, we look to our history for courage, comfort, and inspiration. 
  • Together, we connect Americans through our cultural heritage, and now more than ever, we look to our past for courage, solace, and inspiration.  
  • We’ve worked to save historic sites for the last 70 years, and, with your support, we’ll continue our vital work to preserve them for centuries into the future.  
  • Many of the sites we protect and steward predated the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Historic preservation is measured in decades and even centuries. Because of your support, no matter what challenges we collectively face, we’ll ensure that places that matter endure for all Americans.  

What are some examples of sensitive language surrounding the crisis that can be used with a fundraising ask? Or should a fundraising ask be a separate communication from outreach on the crisis? 

In appealing for support, remember that your organization or site provides value to Americans, and be confident in asking for it. Some donors have moved, or will move, their charitable giving entirely to charities on the front lines of the crisis, such as those in the health and social needs fields. But many will understand that we live in a multi-layered world and that, even though there are urgent needs that require intense charitable support right now, there are other nonprofits doing valuable work that they want to ensure are still there after this crisis passes. And we need to recognize that some donors are facing significant personal economic challenges that require them to pause giving entirely. I think any ask for support should strive to balance urgency, relevance, and emotional content with authenticity and sensitivity. As preservationists, we need to acknowledge what people are enduring right now. And we also need to remind people that preservation isn’t about places; instead; it’s about the impact of those places on people. We save places, and preserve places, and operate historic places, because of their impact on human beings. It’s a balance and writing these kinds of words will take more time than usual, as a result. 

Here are a couple examples from the National Trust for Historic Preservation that may help get you thinking: 

  • This crisis, as challenging and as disruptive as it is, will eventually pass. When it does, and as it unfolds, the National Trust will persevere not only in protecting the places we hold dear but also the people who care for these places. That is our mission. It has not changed. And we need your continued support to do so. 
  • Even in times of crisis, historic sites provide comfort and solace to people. During these difficult times, please consider making a special, tax-deductible emergency gift to ensure we can re-open our sites when we are able to do so. 
  • [Or for a softer ask:] As we face this crisis together, I’m reminded that history can guide us. History shows us that even in the midst of great suffering and hardship, human beings are strong and resilient. [Organization name] works to save that history, to help ensure that our past can help inform out future. During this difficult time, I ask that you include [organization name] among the charities you choose to support. Please donate here. I’m grateful to count you as a friend of this organization, and wish you and your loved ones all the best during this challenging period.

Please provide some guidance on fundraising match campaigns, for example, how do you communicate a donation that should be considered a fundraising match vs. this donor would have given a contribution either way? 

For a true match campaign, it’s important for the major donor/funder/foundation to commit to matching only donations made as a part of that campaign, up to a certain limit, and for the check to come after your campaign has reached the match goal. The best way to achieve this is to ensure your campaign match goal is something you can definitely reach, or you will leave money on the table. The goal of the match campaign is to motivate donors, and fundraising ethics require that you run the campaign in a way that ensures donor gifts are matched, dollar for dollar, by the donor up to the limit that donor has pledged. If you’re unable to do this, you can alternatively set up a “challenge grant” campaign, where a donor is “challenging” other donors to double their gift. In this way, you can have the money in the door already and ask the donor if you can leverage their gift in this way. Note that match campaigns will raise more money than challenge grant campaigns, since it’s clearer to donors.

Please comment on virtual benefits that replace that traditional gathering.  How do we make these special? Are people willing to spend that much money right now on tickets? And how do we approach sponsorships, when there's so much uncertainty in revenue for most businesses right now? 

Hosting a new/first-time event during this world health crisis would be risky; however, some nonprofits are using long-standing events, where a community is in the habit of gathering and giving annually to support an organization, still can be a viable (virtual) fundraising effort.  Having a virtual event does not mean trying to invite hundreds of constituents onto a Zoom call to conduct a live auction!  It means using the spirit of the event as an electronic appeal via any and all communications tools, i.e. social media, etc.  Appeal to your sponsors in the same manor, demonstrating the degree to which you are still able to market and make highly visible the name of the company/small business.  And lastly, we are hearing about how some nonprofits that eliminate the fixed costs of events (rental location, catering, music, etc.) and proceed with a “no-go gala,” are realizing a respectable profit. 

What are your thoughts about sending direct mail right now? We have a lot of "mature" donors and we are afraid of stressing them out with mail. 

This is a tough one. Mail is a lifeblood for many charities, and I’d recommend you keep mailing your donors, even though you should expect a lower response. I would keep mailing, even if you just break even on a mailing (and remember that direct mail also drives a certain percentage of many charities’ online giving, so be sure to account for that). For many donors, mail is the only way they will hear from you, and even if they don’t respond, you are keeping your organization in their minds. If you are doing acquisition mailings (where you use direct mail to recruit new donors), I would consider pausing those until the intensity of this crisis has passed, and then resuming them quickly in the future; you don’t want to stop acquisition for very long. In terms of messaging, you do want to update your copy to reflect what’s happening in the world. With the relatively long lead-time of mail, you’ll have to write your copy in a way that is general enough to account for the fact that things are changing rapidly. But it can be done.

#Historic Sites