Leaning Into Campaign in a Pandemic

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We’ve seen hurricanes, floods, elections and recessions impact our campaign work with CapDev clients over the past 35+ years. But this pandemic is uncharted territory for our world in many ways.

What does a major campaign do when a pandemic hits?

We have put our experience from past natural and economic disasters to work to influence recommendations for current campaigns, and the results are pretty good so far.

So, what does it mean to “lean in” to a campaign in the midst of a pandemic?

Presenting a client example as a case study: National D-Day Memorial Foundation in Bedford, VA.

“The more we leaned in, the more people have been willing to give.” – Brandon P. Gregory, Director of Development

The National D-Day Memorial Foundation has a mission “to preserve the lessons and legacy of D-Day.” The Foundation maintains and operates the National D-Day Memorial in direct support of that educational mission.

A Little History

On June 6, 1944 United States and allied soldiers, in one of the most pivotal battles of World War II, invaded the French coastline in order to propel German soldiers out of Western Europe and lead the way for victory against the tyrants of that era. Dedicated on June 6, 2001 by President George W. Bush, the National D-Day Memorial was constructed in honor of those who died that day, fighting in one of the most significant battles in our nation’s history.

Bedford, Virginia provided a company of soldiers (Company A) to the 29th Infantry Division. By day’s end, 19 of the company’s Bedford soldiers were dead. Proportionally this community suffered the nation’s severest D-Day losses. Recognizing Bedford as emblematic of all communities, large and small, whose citizen-soldiers served on D-Day, Congress warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.

Fast Forward to 2020

After initiating campaign planning with CapDev, the National D-Day Memorial Foundation developed a case for support, recruited a campaign cabinet, built up its internal campaign infrastructure, and started cultivating donors. The 75th D-Day observance events were held successfully on June 6, 2019.

Having no major gifts program in place outside of annual funding for its robust memorial and educational programs, the foundation had launched cultivation activity and had several successful gift requests underway when the pandemic hit.

Despite the uncertainty about the future direction of museums at this time, Brandon Gregory said, the foundation leaders knew they could not wait and see. “There is no playbook for this,” he said.

With the average age of donors at 72-years-old, most of the foundation’s supporters are retired. The staff started making regular update/stewardship calls to their donor base to thank them and to share the impact of their gifts. Donors were most appreciative of these calls.

“The biggest thing for us was that in preparing for the campaign, it prepared our major donors – we just got a lot closer to them. It prepared us to make those calls on Day 1 [of the pandemic],” said Gregory. As museums everywhere were closing, the foundation was poised to jump into action.

Those early calls were well-received and gifts started coming in as a result of their efforts. Many donors said, “There’s more if you need it; call us back.” And the foundation knew it could need those major donors to return later in the year in case of a shortfall.

The Pandemic Response

“We leaned into fundraising as soon as shutdowns were announced,” said Gregory. “Within a few days we wrote a coronavirus fundraising plan and sought board approval.”

The foundation sent personal emails to each of their top 30 donors, explaining plans for the site and for the campaign and overall fundraising. This effort prompted gifts, calls and online meetings from many supporters, including a $50,000 gift that week (that donor’s largest gift to them).

They began strategizing their lead donor’s solicitation process, maintaining weekly calls from the Memorial’s president to this donor, and took time to work out an updated budget. Many other significant gifts were made during this early response time.

They also applied for and received a PPP loan, and a CARES Act grant through Virginia Humanities (money received from NEH) as the maximum award of $10,000..

The Strategy for Recovery

With the advice of Senior Counsel, Kevin Jacques, and the CapDev leadership team, the National D-Day Memorial Foundation has strategized next steps and is enacting its intentional planning:

Donor cultivation of potential major donors continues

Leaders are considering campaign phases to maximize the impact of funds raised

Outreach to current donors continues and new donors are being cultivated

A virtual Memorial Day celebration was held

A new direct campaign is planned for this summer

Memorial Day:

The D-Day 76th Annual Commemoration was held virtually using a very well-planned and produced video that has been viewed nearly 35,000 times now.

“Donors were ecstatic about what we produced and we’ve seen lots of great notes and gifts in the aftermath,” said Gregory.

Direct Mail:

In addition to a two-page appeal to current D-Day Society members ($1,000+ donors) which raised about $25,000, another appeal targeted prospective D-Day Society members asking them to meet the giving threshold and had positive results as well.

A newsletter mailing netted $30,000 on the heels of the D-Day Society letters. And a membership appeal a month later raised another $30,000 in its first week’s response.

The result: numbers of donors and amounts of gifts are on the rise, even now. And as Gregory says, “Donor retention is top of mind.” Weekly thank-you calls are placed to all donors giving $500 or more in the prior week, and $250 or more for new donors.

Next up: in July a direct mail campaign builds on the image of the poppies seen at D-Day sites in Normandy, France. For the 75th anniversary of VJ Day coming up in September, a poppy garden is planned on the National D-Day Memorial site, and for $25/poppy, supporters can support veterans or frontline workers with poppies for the garden.

Virtual Town Hall:

In early June all D-Day Society members were invited to an exclusive Virtual Town Hall with the president, April Cheek-Messier, sharing insights about the reopening plans and how their “philanthropy has made such an impact on the Memorial’s mission.”

Looking Toward Rebuilding

“The D-Day Memorial Foundation is resilient in their mission and outreach through the COVID-19 crisis,” said Senior Counsel, Kevin Jacques.

“National D-Day Memorial Foundation’s exemplary actions are ones all of us can follow,” said CapDev President Allan Burrows. “Their swift move into deeper active communication and relationship building with their donors during these times has increased interest in the foundation’s memorial and education activities. The foundation team is now using this heightened appreciation to convert these relationships into generous support for the mission. We at CapDev are honored to partner with the National D-Day Memorial Foundation and salute their response – recovery – and rebuild strategies, a model for any nonprofit during these times.”

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