Written by Hannah Temple
There is no doubt that the lives of people around the world have been dramatically altered by COVID-19. We have all heard the phrase “unprecedented times” far too often in the last year, but in many ways, a socially distanced life has become the new normal. Every Canadian has fallen victim to this virus in one way or another, and most have had to make extensive sacrifices. On the brighter side, even in these trying times, Canadians have demonstrated that they are willing to help others. While there has been a push to support small, local businesses, perhaps an equal but more unacknowledged victim of this pandemic is non-profit organizations and clubs. According to a recent article by the Toronto Star, two-thirds of Canadian NPOs have seen revenues decrease by almost one third, while one in five organizations have halted operations entirely.
During early March of last year, I applied to the role of Vice President of Sponsorship for the Women in Management Network (WMN), a non-profit, student-led club. Although I didn’t have a lot of experience in fundraising, I was passionate about WMN’s mission and values, and was confident I could overcome the learning curve. When I was offered the position, I was excited to get to work. However, just a few days later, a state of emergency was declared in Ontario, ordering the shutdown of non-essential businesses. As millions of Candians were laid off and the stock market crashed, mass hysteria ensued. As weeks passed and the virus continued to spread, it became clear that fundraising would become a bigger challenge than I had anticipated.
Despite being tasked with fundraising during a global pandemic and economic downturn, I was able to deliver one of the most successful fundraising years that my club had ever seen. Not only did I meet my goals, I surpassed them. While the kindness and generosity of others certainly played a large role in my success, I have compiled a list of strategies that I found useful during my fundraising journey. I hope they will be able to help others who are faced with similar challenges.
1. Know Your Organization’s Value
The crisis happening around the world does not negate the worth or value of your organization. It can feel more uncomfortable to ask for donations amid challenging economic times, but remember that the purpose of your organization is to help people and make your community a better place. Sponsors are not just financers, they are partners, and it’s more than likely they share similar values. You shouldn’t feel guilty asking for donations; more importantly, you should never apologize for it.
2. Get Organized
During an economic downturn, unpredictability is unavoidable. It is essential to stay organized and have backup plans prepared in case you need to adapt to changing circumstances. Research companies and people before reaching out to them to determine their interests, objectives, and donation history. A higher rejection rate from potential sponsors means you will need to spend time building new connections. Keep track of your communications, make a schedule, and budget your time efficiently. There are some great apps that can aid in streamlining workflows; I suggest checking out Trello and Calendly.
3. Don’t Get Discouraged
This one may be easier said than done, but maintaining a positive outlook is essential. You will receive many ‘no’s”, and it will likely take longer for people to get back to you than usual. These moments can be frustrating, but practicing compassion and empathy is helpful. When communicating with potential sponsors, allow your passion and positivity to shine. This will make a world of difference. Remember, no time networking is wasted; even if someone is unable to donate, your organization will be on their radar in the future.
4. Leverage Technology
Linkedin is quickly becoming one of the most efficient ways to connect with professionals. Instead of sending the same generic message to everyone, spend time trying to include a personal connection in every message you write. Do your organizations have common values? Have you attended the same events in the past? Did you enjoy an article they wrote? You are much more likely to receive engagement when there is thought behind your message. Furthermore, when coordinating meetings with potential sponsors, I found that video conferencing was more favourable than calling by phone. It is easier to build a relationship when you are able to use and observe body language.
5. Don’t Catch Potential Sponsors Off Guard
Cold-calling people to deliver your pitch is a sure-fire way to waste resources. Ensure the recipient of your call is prepared to hear your proposition. Send an email or Linkedin message to outline the purpose of the call in advance. Set up a mutually convenient time to connect. This will allow the potential sponsor time to research your organization, prepare questions, and receive authorization to donate funds. By making your main objective clear prior to conversing, the conversation will be able to flow more easily and efficiently.
During the challenges of the last year, I have found myself reflecting on a quote by the author Roy T. Bennett: “When things do not go your way, remember that every challenge — every adversity — contains within it the seeds of opportunity and growth”. Fundraising amid an economic downturn and global pandemic was certainly not easy, but I have gained invaluable skills that I know will help me tackle future obstacles. If you have been tasked with fundraising during this difficult time, don’t be afraid to be challenged. You’ve got this!