Read a transcript of a podcast produced by The Fund Raising School, narrated by Bill Stanczykiewicz, assistant dean for external relations and director of The Fund Raising School, and Nathan Hand, chief advancement officer at The Oaks Academy, as they discuss the current state of digital fundraising.
Bill Stancyzkiewicz (BS): I’m joined today by Nathan Hand. Nathan is an accomplished fundraiser for a leading educational organization in Central Indiana. We’re here today to talk about digital fundraising.
Nathan, how do fundraisers adapt online now?
Nathan Hand (NH): I think it’s highly important for folks to remember to continue to practice relationship-based fundraising. So before all this, you may have sent notes, you may have engaged folks, given a tour, gotten coffee. Just like you’re trying to hopefully engage with your own family and friends over distance, you should be using these technologies to engage in relationship-based fundraising with your donors. I’d suggest if you haven’t already, reach out to your top 20, 30, 50 or even 100 kind of major supporters and setting a time for a Zoom call.
We did that in the first few weeks. Had about 50 conversations with folks. And it wasn’t to ask for support specifically, it was more just to touch base. We are in relationships with them. We care about who they are, how they’re doing, and we want to ask those questions. And they were very responsive and wanted to know the same about us, how our organization is doing, what we’re working on, what we’re thinking about. Those conversations just went really well and kind of set the stage that we’re going to continue doing the work and they’re going to continue engaging with us.
And again, we didn’t come out of that with raising money for something specific, but that was a stewardship opportunity to stay in touch with folks that really care about our cause.
BS: How would you describe the reaction when you first reach out to donors? Were they hesitant to meet with you online, were they glad to hear from you? How would you describe that overall?
NH: I was nervous that they may not be interested, or may not have the time, or may be preoccupied. And thankfully, I was proven horribly wrong. They were almost all very interested and excited to hear from us, very willing to work through the technology and really had kind of good and insightful questions about how the organization was doing, how our families were doing, both within the organization and personally.
Again, when we’re in relationship with folks, they want to know this. And it also allowed for some conversations from folks that are normally a little harder to get a hold of. They’re home too and they’ve got time and they are seeking human interaction. So it worked out really well.
BS: You know, that is a great point. It can be so difficult to establish a face-to-face meeting with our donors back in the day as we were meeting in person. It sounds like perhaps donors maybe have a little bit more flexibility to meet with us. Has that been your experience?
BS: Nathan you’ve been associated with The Fund Raising School for such a long time. To go back to 1974, Dr. Rosso, our founder, has always taught that meeting in person is the best way to cultivate the relationship with the prospective donor, make the philanthropic request, and currently steward the relationship with the donor after gifts have been made. It sounds like even though we’re moving primarily to digital, it’s not to say we don’t have a donor who might allow us to meet within six feet of them in a lunch. But as we’re moving more and more into these online formats, that it’s not so much that we’re redefining fundraising and fundraising techniques, but that we’re redefining the meaning of the term in-person because now this means in-person.
NH: Yeah, I think it kind of emphasizes to me not to be stressed about your words, but to still watch for kind of nonverbal cues.
I would encourage folks to tell people that you would rather be doing this in person, right? It shows them that you do respect that process and their time. But at the same time, this is our new reality. And everyone, I think will understand that.
BS: That’s a great point. We talk about the emotional intelligence that fundraisers need to watch, to read between the lines of what’s being said. We’re not just listening for content, but observing the donor as well. It seems like those skills need to be sharpened in this online format. I’m here watching you now and I can watch for some verbal cues and some body language, but it’s not exactly the same. Have you noticed that as you’re fundraising with your donors?
NH: You can tell pretty quickly if folks are really dialed into you. Or if there are noises or distractions in the background. It gives you clues into how personal to get, and maybe if they’re really ready to receive a request or not. And I would say, depending on where your organization is in these times and the needs, many of the same principles still apply. Meaning if you have not been in touch with that person for a while, a Zoom call out of the blue, making a large request is probably not the right move. It’s probably better to touch base and re-engage and kind of see how they’re doing and ask about their other philanthropic portfolio and how they’re thinking about their other organizations.
I find that I think a lot of our fundraising community finds it interesting how people navigate their philanthropy when environments change. And so that’s a great conversation to have. Not only is it enlightening and interesting, but it helps you understand kind of where your organization sits on their radar. If it’s truly about making donors feel comfortable, then you can have that kind of open, candid, personal conversation. You can do that over these mediums.
BS: And we’ve been talking about this face-to-face, that we’re not redefining fundraising and fundraising techniques, we’re actually redefining what in-person means. But then also Nathan, what about the other platforms? Have you adapted at all in those formats? Are you hearing anything out in the field on how fundraisers are now using those vehicles in this new reality?
NH: You’ve got to be really good at email marketing. You’ve got to be really good at social media marketing now because there’s even more posts. So really dialing into that. I’ve seen a lot of organizations already ramp up their kind of horsepower and hire some additional help because they know that’s going to be how their message comes out. Specifically for raising money online, there are many different softwares that you can use. It’s important to choose the correct ones.
BS: Our case study has always been important. It demonstrates why your nonprofit is unique, and incorporate data and stories about the impact that you’re having. In this digital world, our case statement becomes our friend in a whole new way, doesn’t it?
NH: Absolutely. And I think it needs also a quick review, because it’s all about relevance today. And so the question is, look at your case statement and naturally, does your work rise to an important and urgent level in these times? Or if you’re not directly affected or things haven’t changed a lot, you may want to kind of revise some of your case statement to make sure people understand why you are either still important or more important than ever. Because as people are flooded with information and flooded with community needs, you’ve got to make sure that your case statement is still strong and lasting but relevant today so that people still include it in their thinking and their conversation now, as opposed to punting their interest in your efforts for a year or more until things get back to normal.