The crisis in Israel has presented unthinkable challenges for Jewish nonprofits and organizations, who are rallying to manage aid efforts to Israel, support their communities internationally and locally, and launch special fundraising initiatives all while trying to navigate how to move forward other operational fundraising initiatives. Many of our own team members and client partners have lost a friend, family member, or colleague to the horrific attack.
Our hearts are with all those who are mourning their loved ones and worrying for the safety of those on the frontlines and living among the war.
We’ve heard from many current and former Jewish clients who are looking for advice about how to proceed with their fundraising during this uncertain time. We have also heard from secular nonprofits that are unsure about how to reach out to their Jewish donors in light of what’s happening.
Although we’ve never seen such unprecedented violence in Israel, the Evolve team has been through our share of disasters and worked to navigate staffing, programming, and fundraising challenges throughout them. In my years of philanthropy, I’ve witnessed the impact of devastating events like September 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession of 2008, and the Covid-19 pandemic, and I’d like to share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way about fundraising and nonprofit leadership during a crisis.
- Hit the pause button and take a deep breath. I don’t mean this to sound condescending, but panic and quality decision-making do not go hand in hand. Take a moment to slow down and converse with your colleagues and your board. Do your best to portray confidence and calm during this storm. After all, no one wants to donate to a nonprofit that appears to be in chaos.
- Times of crisis will impact your fundraising. Unless you are fundraising for aid to those impacted by the violence in Israel, you may see a decline in donations from donors who are grieving and focused on what they can do to help those in Israel. I learned this lesson while working at JDRF, which leads research to cure Type 1 Diabetes, during September 11. At the time of the September 11 attacks, our headquarters were at 120 Wall Street. Following the attacks, our entire phone and email systems were shut down across the country, resulting in 80 chapter offices without technology during our busiest fundraising time of the year. Our Walk to Cure Diabetes program was hit hardest and several of the biggest (i.e. most lucrative) east coast walk events were canceled.
What we learned was that our corporate sponsors, major donors and families who had loved ones with the disease still donated. We saw a drop-off in the donors that sponsored other walkers or that did not have a connection to type one diabetes. That informed our strategy for the remainder of the fiscal year. We had to stay focused on retaining gifts from our closest donors and ensuring they had an excellent donor experience (yes, time to brush off those stewardship plans on the corner of your desk).
- Advice for what organizations should do if they have a fundraising event scheduled in the next couple of weeks?? The biggest takeaway from the pandemic is that people need people. So, bringing people together should continue to be a priority for nonprofits during this time.
- If you’re in the middle of a capital campaign, re-evaluate your campaign plan and timeline and adjust as needed. Especially if the majority of your donors are Jewish, you must approach your work with sensitivity to what is happening and realize that some donors may be impacted more than others. Your fundraising email may be overshadowed by the urgent news abroad, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t send it.
I encourage you to not make assumptions about what your donors want to give and how they are feeling. I encourage you to connect with your biggest donors on the phone to check in and be transparent about what’s going on with your organization and capital campaign in the light of the crisis. If you can connect with your community in an authentic way during times of crisis, it only helps to build relationships you might not otherwise form.
If you’re looking for more personalized support on fundraising during a time of crisis, Evolve and Jewish nonprofit leaders are leading a free webinar on Thursday, October 19 at 12 CST to discuss fundraising during the Israel-Hamas War. There will be an open Q&A to address your individual concerns. Whether you have a specific question or are just looking to be in community during this challenging time, all are welcome.