By Molly Fast
It’s no secret that fundraising in light of COVID-19 is significantly challenging. We’ve all seen the devastation this pandemic has caused to the event fundraising space. During the early months – March and April – no one really knew how long we were going to be in this place. We were only starting to think about pivoting. Many organizations were in a bit of wait-and see-mode before making concrete decisions on the future of their fundraising events.
When it became clear that things weren’t going back to normal anytime soon and that pivoting and communicating were the only ways forward, the fundraising landscape changed, too. The uncertainty around asking for donations during this “special time” lifted a little. Not entirely, mind you, but enough that we were encouraged that people had room in their heads and hearts for both the immediate needs of COVID-19 and the various causes that we work to support.
Through our work on the Susan G. Komen 3-Day series, we’ve been heartened to see fundraising continue, even after announcing the events were postponed to 2021. While now participants have a much longer timeframe to meet their fundraising minimum requirement, they are using the time they have now to fundraise. Bonus: many of them have told us they also plan on fundraising in 2021 as well.
While there are certainly some creative ways in which people have been fundraising (more on that in a minute!), I want to reiterate the fundamental elements of fundraising to explain how people are raising money during this unprecedented year:
- Ask: The ability to raise money always comes back to the most fundamental element of fundraising – you must be willing to ask people to donate. We totally understand that the state of the world makes it hard to do that. But we’re never going to be able to do the work we need to do if we don’t encourage our event participants to ask. During a Zoom call with a top fundraiser of a week-long fundraising challenge, when asked what her secrete was, the winner said “I don’t know. I just kept posting and asking and people kept donating.” I stopped her and said “Wait. Did you say you kept asking and people kept donating?” We laughed at the simplicity of it.
- Don’t make assumptions for your donors: How someone chooses to spend their money is none of your business. I mean that in the nicest way possible. To raise money for that cause you’re so passionate about means you have to ask everyone you know without assuming what someone can or can’t afford. I know times are really tough right now and I’m not saying you should be insensitive to someone’s specific situation (especially if they lost a job or received a pay cut), but if they’ve always supported your cause, chances are they are going to want to support you again. Include a personal note acknowledging someone’s situation if you know donating may be a hardship. You can cop to the fact that you don’t want to make assumptions, and you more than understand if it just can’t happen this year. But give them the opportunity to say “yes” if they can.
- Be willing to get uncomfortable: Fundraising always requires us to step out of our comfort zone. This is magnified if we’re anxious about asking for money during a global pandemic (and really, who isn’t anxious these days?). But the events we love to put on and the participants who do them need to fundraise for these events and non-profits to make it through this time. The needs of our constituents and our mission have not gone away. As usual, we are doing life-saving work and fundraising dollars make it possible. We’ve heard countless stories of non-profits being significantly impacted by having to cancel or virtualize or postpone events. It’s impacted the fundraising dollars they bring in and the services they can provide. So our willingness to get uncomfortable is more important than ever. We must do our part to ensure the people whose lives depend on the money we raise are not left on the sidelines when they need us most.
With the fundraising basics behind us, I wanted to share a few of the creative ways we’ve seen participants successfully fundraise for the Komen 3-Day:
- T-Shirt Quilt – how many of us are stuck at home working our way through endless organizing projects? (Raises hand.) Are you going through your clothes and getting rid of those things that no longer bring you joy? How about turning those t-shirts you just can’t part with into a beautiful quilt? That’s exactly what one participant decided to do by posting on Facebook. It’s a win-win because the participant gets a donation to her fundraising efforts and the donor gets a beautiful quilt made out of their t-shirts in return!
- Go Big or Go Home – one participant chose to walk 240 miles around the Twin Cities in 24 days raising money for Susan G. Komen and a local Black Lives Matter organization. Because he set such a huge goal and was putting in some serious miles, donors were invested in following his journey and made donations matching the commitment he was making. For 24 days he posted frequently on Facebook providing emotional, impressive, and thorough updates about what he was seeing and doing. He kept the story very front and center and ended up raising nearly $9,000 during that time.
- Storytime anyone? During a time when home-bound children (and their parents) are looking for all sorts of entertainment, having someone sit down on Facebook Live and hold your child captive while reading a few stories is like the best thing that could happen to you (well…in these COVID-adjusted times!). One participant decided to do just that in exchange for donations and even branched out by reading some adult-themed (not safe for children!) content. In exchange for this highly unique entertainment, this participant got additional funds dropped into her 3-Day fundraising account. This was yet another reminder that we are only limited by our creativity (and the law!) when it comes to fundraising.
- Mask Up – Who doesn’t need a mask these days? Who doesn’t want a mask that’s going to help save lives? Several participants have used their sewing skills by making masks and having the proceeds go directly to their fundraising efforts. The great thing is that even if you have your mask price set very reasonably, often people will kick in extra money when they know it’s going towards your fundraising goal.
We hope these fundraising basics and ideas help you and your event constituents remember that it’s possible – and important – to fundraise even during the most uncertain and uncomfortable of times. The power of making lasting change at this most critical time rests in our ability to support our fundraisers whether there is an event for them to participate in or not.