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Your Donations Are Down. So Why is Now the Right Time to Hire a Seasoned Fundraiser?

Posted: 8/30/2020

Click here to read on Charity Village (a Canadian company)

by Pamila Fonseka

At the writing of this article, Canada is still dealing with the challenges presented by the COVID 19. The pandemic has hit Canadian charities particularly hard. Like other organizations, charities have had to cut services, implement new health and safety guidelines, and limit fundraising activities due to the infectious nature of the virus.

In May 2020, Canada's charitable sector advocate, Imagine Canada, released a report stating 73% of charities surveyed said donations decreased 30.6% since the onset of COVID 19. According to the report, these declines are significantly greater than in the 2008/09 recession. Thousands of events across the country, on which nonprofits rely, have been cancelled or postponed. After event-based fundraising, in-person solicitations have also dried up.

However, according to same report, 35% of charities are seeing an increase in demand in services. And in our communities, we have read of the increase in domestic violence and phone-in helplines.

From the recession of 2008, we learned that donors do not go away altogether from our organizations. However, their contributions may shift or decrease. If you are the executive director of a small- to medium-sized fundraising organization, you and your board are probably wondering if this is the right time to hire a fund development specialist. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, investing in a fundraising specialist is the right move. Here is why.

  1. They have been here before. A seasoned professional, having already lived through economic up and down cycles, will review fund development plans more calmly and strategically. For example, perhaps now is not the right time to cut back on expensive mailouts, but instead to revaluate how to do it. Or do you spend money to increase your charity's online presence instead?
  2. They will work from within. A seasoned professional knows that an organization's best advocates are those most closely associated with it. That includes board members, clients, families, and staff. The key here is to develop a culture of philanthropy from within.
  3. They will tap into uncharted waters. As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Perhaps the tried and true fundraising event is no longer feasible in its current form, in the new COVID reality, but maybe it can be revamped into an online version. Or it may be the time to do something completely different. The seasoned fundraiser can help you make those decisions.
  4. They won't forget to communicate. Whatever form it takes, whether by phone or personal emails, a seasoned fundraiser knows the importance of never taking your eye off your donor base no matter the size of the donation. Remember, it's not about the ask but about the relationship.

Now that you are ready to invest in a fundraising professional, who is the right person? Of course, someone with a proven track record is key. Beyond the experience on their resume, you will want to hire someone who:

  • Shares the vision of the organization and its strategic directions. How well do they know the sector you operate in? Are they committed to the cause? The individual you hire needs to care about the mission of the organization and the people the charity serves. The work of fund development is long and often the rewards are not immediate. The person has to be committed to the cause to see things through. One way to gauge this commitment is by looking at the individuals work history. Have they demonstrated a work history in your sector?
  • Practices strong ethics. Remember, it's important to hire someone who puts the reputation of the organization ahead of bringing in donations. How do you know? A good place to start is testing the candidate's knowledge of the Association of Fundraising Professionals' Code of Ethical Standards. Key questions to ask: What is your idea of an ethical organization? Have you suffered in your career for doing what is right?
  • Builds genuine relationships. The position is less about sales and marketing or persuading a person to donate to the cause. You are looking for an individual who is able to understand a donor's values, then align those values with the values and needs of the organization. This takes building strong, values-based, and trusting relationships. To accomplish this, a good fundraiser asks questions as they seek to deepen their understanding of the donor. This is needed to align with the organization's values and needs. This quality is especially important if the organization chooses to include face-to-face fundraising as part of the strategy. At the interview, ask the candidate what they do to determine a donor's interests. The correct answer should be "I ask questions."

Hiring for a fund development position is especially important because philanthropy is the manifestation of a donor's values through the mission of the organization. Therefore, the individual you hire needs to be fully committed to the impact of what your organization does in the community.

Pamila believes not-for-profit organizations are central to a compassionate society and this commitment is demonstrated in her professional and volunteer commitments. She has more than 10 years of experience in the social service sector and a solid understanding of government funders and donor motivations. She is a trusted leader with a track record of coaching and mentoring teams.

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