“If only our building would catch on fire!”
I once had a CEO lament to me about a time a local Rescue Mission raised over a million dollars through a fundraising campaign after a fire had destroyed their Mission. While this CEO wasn’t literally wishing for his Mission to burn to the ground, his underlying point was clear: Misfortune can bring huge fundraising opportunities – and nonprofits shouldn’t be afraid to capitalize on it.
As we face the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the Rescue Missions that I work with have faced unusual hardships. They’ve had to cancel major events, close their thrift stores or other enterprises, implement new safety protocols… all while seeing a major uptick in the demand for services. They’re experiencing all the difficulties that come with being on the front lines, providing their communities an essential service.
So today, I want to give all nonprofits the same advice I give to my clients:
Don’t be afraid to tell your donors about your challenges, especially when it comes to experiencing a financial shortfall.
Your supporters are already behind you. Keeping them informed about how the pandemic is affecting your services will likely spur many of them to action. They’ve shown they want to help – and the more willing you are to let them know the difficulties you’re facing, the more willing they’ll be to stand with you during these challenging times.
For instance, take the CEO I mentioned earlier who was wishing for a building fire. Because of the pandemic, his Rescue Mission had to close several thrift stores, which led to an immediate and severe financial impact.
As if that wasn’t enough, the city also requested the Mission’s help to build and maintain up to four emergency COVID shelters for the community’s homeless. With the huge income loss from their thrift stores closing, there was no way for them to manage, much less afford, this major increase in services.
His response? He used a “building on fire” mentality, immediately reaching out to donors and honestly reporting how the income shortfall they were facing was making it impossible to meet the city’s demand for emergency shelters.
After a series of emails and a special mailing, this CEO saw a tremendous wave of support from the community – and what’s more, a local church caught wind of the Mission’s plight and held a special fundraiser just for them.
The results were nothing short of amazing.
In April, individual contributions accounted for over $240,000…
a 305% INCREASE over last year!
With this increased revenue, the Mission not only met the city’s need for more COVID shelters, but were also able to open two additional shelters and manage 36 trailers so that the city’s homeless had somewhere safe to shelter-in-place.
When this Mission’s building “caught on fire,” they didn’t hide it from their donors. Instead, they used their shortfall as an opportunity to engage and involve their donors – and because of the overwhelming response, they were able to go above and beyond their city’s request for help during this difficult time.