Rebounding from a Natural Disaster

Dear Kim:

Our small community has suffered through a major natural disaster. I work for an arts organization and we are very fortunate because we do not own the two properties that we use: our performance space will be repaired and paid for by the owner’s insurance, our office was a donated space in a building that is being demolished. The bulk of our losses were admission fees, and we have already raised $55,000 of the $60,000 we need for that.

The problem is that our next fiscal year has already begun and I don’t know what I can do to I energize our fall campaign.

Many of our regular givers gave multiple times this past year, and I fear they will decrease their giving this fall or not give at all. Also, many organizations in our area are suffering from this disaster. Some have greater needs such as total building loss and some are meeting lots of human needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

I’m trying to find a donor who will provide a challenge gift – maybe to first-time donors to the fall campaign, but beyond that I’m out of ideas! I have a board that is fully expected to assist in fundraising, but several members are very shy about it and often do not step up to the plate with real direct fundraising efforts. What would you do?

~It Never Rains But What It Pours

Dear Pouring Rain:

As you can imagine, I got a few letters like yours this time, and right up front I will say I do not have any brilliant never-thought-of-before solutions to your problem.

Here are my suggestions:

1) Look at what worked last year. How did you manage to raise almost all the money you needed when (apparently) you had a much reduced performance schedule? Your donors must love your organization to have given that much in a short time. Keep doing what worked, and the donors will keep responding.
2) Getting a challenge going is a good idea, but I doubt you will attract that many first time donors unless you are able to convert some of your ticket buyers to donors. However, your current donors will keep giving if they can. If you keep them posted on your progress in repairing your performance space, and finding a new office space, they will respond. Go to your biggest donors and your most long time donors individually and ask them to help you think through a fundraising plan. Can they give more? If not (and you will be very understanding if they say they cannot), can they think of other people who might give? Do they think a joint fundraising effort would work? (see #4) . They may have some great ideas and they will be pleased that you reached out to them.
3) In your last paragraph you named a problem that has probably haunted you for some time: poor board performance in fundraising. At this point, I would only work with people who will really help you. Hopefully a couple of board members will step up, and then you should look at your frequent donors, volunteers, former staff and board, regulars at your performances—anyone who really likes your organization a lot. For a team of 5-7 people with them and use them as your development committee. Ideally some of them will have friends and family outside the area who might give just this once to help tide you over, and they have their own local contacts to help raise money.
4) Work with some other organizations on a joint fundraising effort. For example, maybe your artists do a performance in a free space such as a community center or church, or even on a street, and invite the whole community. The performance would be a benefit for service agencies as well as other arts groups. Such an event won’t raise that much money but it will show that your organization sees itself as part of the broader community and is willing to jump in and help. These kind of joint efforts often attract bigger money from people who are impressed with the solidarity of the community.

Obviously after a major disaster, it takes time to get back on track with your work, but the good side of a disaster is that people pull together in some amazing ways. Everyone else is in a similar position, so seek help when you need it, and provide assistance when you can. You will get through this, and everything will be all right eventually.

~Kim Klein