Keep your head held high and your eye on the prize — especially now (repost)

September 26, 2017

I, like so many of you, can’t help but notice how politics have impacted not only our lives, but nonprofit organizations all over the country. Some nonprofits, especially those with causes rooted in social justice, have responded directly to what’s been going on, galvanizing their supporters and viewing the ongoing unrest as a catalyst for change. Because within such tumultuous, challenging times lies a wealth of opportunity, as long as you keep your perspective in check. Without question, the time to act is now. I’ve encountered hope through those who already have. And this article, written by Rona Fernandez and on the verge of being published in Kim Klein and Stephanie Roth’s fantastic enewsletter, speaks directly to how nonprofits can uncover the opportunity in today’s world, not necessarily despite the ongoing hostility, uncertainty, and fear, but because of it. So without further ado…

Eyes on the Prize: Current Fundraising Opportunities & Challenges

By Rona Fernandez

There is no doubt that social justice nonprofits face immense challenges under the current administration. From increased attacks on the rights of immigrants and LGBTQ people to the looming threat of nuclear war, from the president’s tacit support of white supremacists and neo-Nazis to his continuing denial of climate change as a factor in the recent devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the social and political environment that nonprofits face right now is daunting.

It’s important during these times of crisis to take a step back, if even briefly, and gain some perspective on the big picture. Here we present some of the Klein & Roth team members’ reflections on the challenges and opportunities in fundraising right now. We hope that they spur you to pause and reflect on your own, or to discuss with your colleagues and comrades what keeping your eyes on the prize means during these uncertain times.

 Opportunities and Challenges Often Linked

In nonprofit fundraising, as in life, the areas of opportunity and challenge are often connected. The things that sometimes seem the hardest or scariest to do or even think about are often the very things we most need to work on in order to manifest our vision for the world. This is a theme that came up frequently at Klein & Roth as we reflected on the fundraising landscape under this Trump administration.

“The opportunity and the challenge are the same,” says veteran movement fundraiser Kim Klein, principle of Klein & Roth Consulting. “The opportunity is that we can build a movement because people want to create social change. The hundreds of thousands of people turning out for the Women’s March, and to defend DACA, and the amount of advocacy going on at the state and federal levels is amazing. The challenge is that to build and sustain this movement requires working with a lot of people, stewarding a lot of donations, and being very disciplined and systematic in your fundraising program.  There is so much work going on at every level and by all kinds of organizations. This is a movement moment and I believe we can seize it.”

Stephanie Roth, Principal of Klein & Roth, adds that groups working in communities most affected by the Trump presidency face a double-edged sword. “For organizations that are in the sightlines of the Right—immigrant rights groups, reproductive justice organizations, for example—fundraising is actually easier right now. It’s such a contradiction,” says Stephanie, “that the problems that social justice groups are working on are not new, but the increased visibility of these causes in political times like these often means more success with fundraising.”

Klein & Roth Senior Consultant Stan Yogi adds, “The greatest opportunity in this particular political moment that we are living through and suffering through, is that it has raised the consciousness of a lot of people and spurred a lot of people to take action, including by [donating].”  “This should encourage folks in fundraising that their efforts are paying off.”

So how can you take advantage of this influx of new activists? Read on for ways to harness the power of this movement moment to the advantage of your organization.

What You Should Do Right Now

On a practical level, think about what you should be doing every day to keep your fundraising program vital, connected and relevant to the broader movement(s) that your organization is a part of. It starts with going back to the basics: developing and maintaining strong relationships with your donors.

“I’m thinking about how there have been many times that we’ve felt that times are going to be super challenging for nonprofits, such as the 2008 financial crash,” says Nancy Otto, Klein & Roth Senior Consultant. “We were sure donations would dry up, but, instead, loyal donors stepped up and new donors appeared. All the more reason you need to build and maintain strong personal relationships with your donors. . . That’s who’s going to stay with you in the long haul.”

Kim also emphasizes the need for keeping in touch with donors. “It’s particularly important to be in touch with first-time donors and small donors,” she says, “letting them know we appreciate their help and need them to stay the course with us. Long-time donors and major donors also need attention. For them, it’s good to issue invitations to participate in movement-building activity that goes beyond simply giving money.”

Nancy stresses the need to have a tight case, especially if your issue area is not on the obvious list of targets under the Trump administration. While we’ve seen national groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood receive an unprecedented amount of supportfrom new and current donors alike, smaller, lesser-known groups need to make it known that their work is equally important.

“Come with a very local angle, if that applies,” says Nancy. “‘We are doing this locally, please support that first’…It’s about making the strongest case possible.”

Beyond having a strong case and communicating with current donors, you also need to try to get in front of the people who are coming to the movement now but are not yet giving to your organization. That may mean taking a hard look at how your fundraising may be less than strategic.

“Larger groups [like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and so on] have had more resources to be visible,” Stephanie says. “Smaller organizations need to be clear about who their natural audience is and get their messages out to them. They need to communicate and be better known among their constituents, which will help them be more effective. Groups are often strategic about their programs and organizing and campaign work. They need to be equally strategic about their fundraising, rather than approaching it as a separate, isolated activity.”

Social Media Is Not a Panacea

It’s tempting to use social media as a primary channel for communicating with donors. It’s cheap, fast, and lots of people are on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, making it a way to contact many people quickly and easily. But the Klein & Roth team cautions against seeing social media as a fix-all in terms of building stronger relationships with current and potential donors.

“There’s a sense that it should just be easy to raise money through social media,” Nancy says. “But for most groups, it’s not that way. You still have to build and invest in those relationships. There’s no shortcut. You might have something like the ice bucket challenge that gets you a lot of donors in the short term, but how many people are retained [beyond that first gift]?”

Keep in mind that while social media gives your supporters quick access to information about your work, it is also giving them access to many other groups and issues and types of information—so much so that it can be overwhelming at times.

“There are so many attacks on so many different fronts now—environmental, racial justice, reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights—that it’s overwhelming,” says Stan. “Some newer donors might feel like ‘Oh my God, where do I begin? Who do I give to?’”

So you have to think beyond social media and use all the tools at your disposal to stay in touch with donors and deepen their relationship to your organization. Here are some other avenues:

  • Phoning donors to ask for money or to thank them for their gifts;
  • Inviting donors to attend campaign rallies and actions, via emails and newsletters, snail mail or text;
  • Asking donors to host fundraising events for you or to join your fundraising team;
  • Recruiting donors to volunteer at your organization, which is a great way for them to feel more connected to your work while giving you an often-overlooked source of people-power.

You can also check out at our archive of newsletters on the Klein & Roth web site for more ideas, as well as the article archive at the Grassroots Fundraising Journal. With all these ways to engage donors in both your fundraising and program work, there is no need to rely solely or primarily on social media to stay connected to your supporters.

Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize

Ultimately, our movements must outlast these latest attacks on our communities and our values. As difficult as it can be to do during times of crisis, we must keep the big picture in mind. What is our vision for the world? How are our communities going to be heard? How will we make our movement work irresistible? The need for social justice work doesn’t begin or end with any one administration, although it intensifies in more difficult times.

Stan shares some words of wisdom from his many years as an activist and fundraiser:

“Even if Trump wasn’t president we’d have to take an eyes-on-the-prize view,” he says. “It’s all just made much worse with his presidency and with a Republican Congress. . . . So you need to care of yourself so you can be part of this movement for decades . . . You have to find a way to have the stamina to fight on.”

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