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What to Do with Your Non-COVID-19 Campaigns Now

Jenny Love
Published:  04/14/2020
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You had a full to-do list of campaigns already, and then came COVID-19. Now you’ve been left to wonder whether to put your pre-crisis campaigns on hold, or to double down now that funds are needed more than ever.

To get you the guidance you need to keep your campaigns running successfully in this unprecedented environment, AHP CEO Alice Ayres interviewed Donna Budak, Vice President of Foundation and Service Line Strategy at Amita Health; Doug Dillon, CEO at Jerold Panas, Linzy, and Partners; and Ashley Nall, Senior Gifts Officer at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

Alice Ayres: How should philanthropy professionals change their campaign strategy in light of today’s environment?

Doug Dillon: It depends where you are in the campaign cycle. I’m advising my current clients to wait at least two months until things settle down before going forward with the feasibility study for a new campaign.

Major donors are excited about giving to you now, so if you are in the quiet or public phase of a campaign, I encourage you to move forward. There are two words that define a successful campaign: urgency and momentum. If your campaign was important two months ago, it's just as important today, if not more so. 

But I do suggest adding a minimum of four to six months to your timeline. Historically, we know that major donors are still willing to give, and some, believe it or not, are even willing to give more than they originally thought. But we need to give them the time to do it. 

Do we need to change our campaign messaging in light of the crisis situation?

Ashley: I'll start with how we talk to donors. I really believe that transparency is key, so the first thing I'm doing is being very transparent. The majority of the people we're speaking to have the same issues: They're working from home. They're worried about child care or aging parents. I’m letting them know that I, too, am nervous. I don't want to shy away from that.

Let donors know that you have the same concerns, and then tell them what your organization is doing about it. Healthcare is at the forefront of this significant event. Our donors want to come to us. We are the ones with the information.

Donna Budak: We can't ignore COVID-19. It's all anyone wants to talk about. We have one campaign that's going it was in the quiet phase. We decided that we needed to talk about COVID-19, but we also let the campaign chairs, campaign committee and the initial major gift donors that the campaign is still important. If they want to support COVID-19 and the relief efforts now, that's great. But some of them, because of their commitment to this other campaign, are saving their bigger dollars for when that campaign comes back online. 

In general, you should communicate with donors frequently and then let them take the lead.

Do you worry that donations to COVID-19 funds will decrease major gifts to other campaigns down the road?

Ashley: I have been working with one of our donors for quite some time on a very significant planned gift for our heart center. But in reaching out to him several weeks ago, our conversation pivoted to COVID-19. That doesn't scare me. I think these conversations and the potential gift that will come out of it will make him feel a stronger relationship to the organization and potentially even make his planned gift larger. Maybe his gift will pivot from the heart center to COVID-19, but in the end, it's still a gift for our mission. 

Donna: We have major gift donors who are going to give to us anyway in the campaign. They've let us know that. But they have stepped up and made significant gifts to COVID-19 too. People want to help alleviate the pain and suffering that's happening as a result of COVID-19, but so far it's not diluting what we think will happen later on when we get back to normal campaign mode.

Doug: Philanthropy is personal. So go back to your donors, allow them to speak their heart, understand where they are, and their pocketbook will follow. 

How can we alleviate donor concerns and keep campaigns moving forward in the midst of economic uncertainty?

Doug: During tough times, major donors are very selective about which organizations they support, since they understand they can't support everyone. Your job is to be able to say why, of all the campaigns that are happening, of all the times that you could support you, today is the day. 

Based on my experience in the recession of 2008, I expect that donors will need more time in this economic climate to make the gifts they would like to make. Remind them this is not a legal contract, but a letter of intent. Even if it takes longer than what we thought it would, we're still going to work with them to give them the opportunity to do what they want to do. 

For more tips on campaigning during COVID-19, listen to the full interview.
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Meet The Author

Jenny Love
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy

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