Program Recap: “Major Gifts During a Global Pandemic – The Way Forward”

On October 27, 2020, WID brought to light a question that many within the development profession are asking themselves daily. How do we continue moving forward with our major gifts program during a global pandemic? This program, sponsored by CCS Fundraising, gave attendees concrete suggestions from both fundraisers and donors alike, that although much has changed around us, the basics remain. We still need to continue making those asks, reach out to our constituents and building deeper connections with our donor base.

Moderated by Victoria Jones, President, Development Guild DDI, the three panelists were able to guide listeners through their thought process, immediate action items and next steps for the future around major gift fundraising. Panelists Ginny Fuller, Senior Director of Development, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and Raeann Whalen, Director of Development, Housing Families, Inc. were able to provide their perspectives from organizations ranging vastly in size and focus, while Dr. Kathy Kaufmann, an active philanthropist and board member for a variety of non-profits, added much sought after insight from a donor’s view.

Victoria opened the session with messaging that many have witnessed during these unprecedented times; being moved by the generosity of our communities and the remarkable ways that nonprofits have carved their paths forward. As Kathy shared with the audience, fundamentally for major gift fundraising, not much is different, and our jobs remain focused on what we’ve always done – connecting the donor with the mission of our organization. The format of how that is delivered may have changed, with Zoom calls instead of lunches, but the function is still the same. Those nonprofits that have reached out, remained in contact or simply checked in and asked how someone is doing, will remain at the top of mind for donors. As a philanthropist, Kathy felt even more engaged with all the active online content being delivered, and by being free, it allows an easy entry point for new individuals to become engaged with the organization.

As Raeann pointed out, now was the time to be creative and to really be putting ourselves out there. People are more than willing to help, and just need guidance and direction on where they can be most impactful. Continuing to educate yourself on issues that are directly influencing your nonprofit is key and having a plan of action is necessary to keep people engaged and move the needle. Through growing her Board, she has been able to lean on them for financial support, to help find new donors, and to utilize their volunteer power in specific, targeted ways that are important to her organization.

For a larger nonprofit, Ginny shared that while 2020 has influenced priorities, the heart of our work hasn’t changed, and our mission remains critical. First and foremost, keeping our friends and loyal supporters close is incredibly important – and picking up the phone, at the very least, to check in is a must. If we aren’t doing it, certainly someone else is going to! This is also a time of disruption, and
instead of fighting it, we need to embrace it as it will lead to more innovation within our field. With a donor’s location no longer being a limiting factor, there are programs and initiatives that came be shared across a broader geographic footprint and video meetings allow us to have more control over the environment and our messaging. Major gift asks still need to happen, and people are becoming more
and more accustomed to those being made over phone or video.

Now is the time for creativity, with Raeann sharing a successful virtual 5K her organization is hosting, which has already raised more than previous in-person events, and Ginny mentioning how smaller intimate conversations with specific researchers or doctors has created a more personal touch for her donors. And even though there is so much happening in everyone’s lives, Kathy said to remain loving but persistent with your follow up. While these current times have been trying for all of us, these panelists agree, our missions are too important to not continue making those asks and raising critical funds for our organization.

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