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Philanthropy in a Pandemic - Reflections from ILD Alumni

03 May 2021 12:25 PM | Anonymous

Philanthropy in a Pandemic - Reflections from ILD Alumni

What has been the most significant change to the way you raise funds since the COVID-19 pandemic begun?

  • We found ourselves pausing initially on fundraising while focusing at first (March-May) on government programs like the PPP loan and some performing arts-specific support. Then, we began to shift as our donors got more comfortable with their own lives and what the new reality was starting to look like. At that point we began having conversations that were fully authentic and based on our new reality which was that 1) we had a lot of folks wanting to move, dance and create who could no longer afford classes and 2) we needed more technical equipment to be able to stream and produce content online. In July we launched the first of three matching campaigns, each actually exceeding our initial goals, which taught us that many folks still had money and wanted to support. All those donor meetings were held over zoom, and that will probably be something we offer going forward since now we understand we can build a connection and make an ask over those platforms. - Hillary Harding, Development Director, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance
  • The fundamentals have stayed the same - focus on our mission, lean on and continue to foster relationships with donors, sharing honestly. The way in which we work has changed, though - video calls/chats, no events, no volunteer assistance or involvement. In some ways those things make the work easier, but in some ways it makes it less personal, so I find we have to work that much harder to make sure we're connecting with supporters. - Shannon Boltz, Chief Development Officer, SafeHouse Denver

What has been your biggest development-related learning or “ah-ha” moment during the pandemic?

  • Whenever something major happens, either as a society or just to an individual person, it’s an amazing reminder that we’re all human. I primarily work with corporate donors, grantmaking foundations, and private family foundations - so mostly, I haven’t been in people’s houses. Until now, when it happened virtually and all at once! I met people’s kids (and even more often they met mine), watched them move houses, and navigate the crazy uncertainty that COVID created. If anything, it strengthened the relationships that we already had and made us even more focused about the importance of the mission we’re all here to advance. Anonymous ILD Alum
  • It sounds silly, but it is that people WANT TO GIVE to support the folks we serve. Even when their own lives are chaotic, when they are facing financial uncertainty, or when they aren't able to get something in return (like an event) - people still want to support our mission. It is something I think I've lost sight of during the last few years, and it is nice to be reminded of that. - Shannon Boltz, Chief Development Officer, SafeHouse Denver
  • We have been in the middle of all of this and most important, we have stayed donor focused sending notes, gifts, tons of phone calls and voice mails making sure donors know we care about them and continuing to be a presence in their world. It has created incredible fundraising results. We know money won't solve everything, but it can help with a lot. And for me, after almost eight years at the College Fund, three long-nurtured relationships came to fruition with multiple seven-figure gifts. Another silver lining is I haven't had to get on a plane in over 12 months and the time at home has been a welcome rest from the hustle and bustle of airports. – Kimberly Urish, Sr. Major Gifts Officer, American Indian College Fund
  • Again, just as we saw in response to the financial crisis in 2008-2009, individuals have stepped up in big ways to support our work. We have been able to share in real time through social media, newsletters, phone calls and appeals with our community how our work is responding to pressing community needs. The pandemic has provided us space to just check in with our donors on a human level to ask how they are in all of this uncertainty. We have strengthened our relationships and the foundation of that was through increased communication with our supporters. Jeslin Shahrezaei, Director, Development & Communications, Mile High Youth Corps

Have you made any COVID-19 shifts in your work that you intend to carry forward even after we return to a more “normal” state? What new habits or practices do you think are here to stay?

  • I think the shift to more flexible work schedules/locations has been positive. There is very little "need" to actually be onsite for my team, so having that option will definitely carry forward. And I hope that video chats become fewer, but still an option, as they can be very helpful. - Shannon Boltz, Chief Development Officer, SafeHouse Denver
  • I do think some of the virtual meetings are here to stay, which isn’t all bad. I also hope this gives us opportunities to check in more frequently with donors who we may only see once a year in person! Anonymous ILD Alum

Have there been any career-related “silver linings” related to the coronavirus? If so, please describe one.


  • The pandemic reminded me that I can do hard things. As a member of a small directors team and also a small development team I had to move fast and be creative last year. We accomplished a lot of great work, things that we didn't know how to do (running virtual large scale events!) and managed to come out on the other side. COVID-19 reminded me that I am able to meet new challenges in this work and provided me the space and grace to be inspired by the resiliency of our staff and the young people we serve in what was definitely the most challenging year in our history. Jeslin Shahrezaei, Director, Development & Communications, Mile High Youth Corps
  • Not related to the coronavirus, the other big movement of 2020 was around equity. The protests that rang out across the country in response to the murder of George Floyd (and others) created more momentum around these social justice issues than we'd seen in a long time. For us, as a Black dance/social justice organization, we heard from many donors who only supported us on the fringes that that was an "ah-ha" moment for them. A wakeup call that they could be and should be doing more. As a result, we saw the number of new or lapsed donors increase dramatically in 2020. - Hillary Harding, Development Director, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance
  • The American Indian College Fund had a very interesting year and a half. At the start of the pandemic, many said this pandemic would "decimate" Indian Country and send progress in these communities back generations. But soon, I remembered why I got into fundraising, as I had a front row seat to the most amazing generosity. Foundations and individuals reached out in record numbers to give to our emergency relief fund. We were well positioned as a national organization with hundreds of partners across Indian country and we have raised and disbursed $7.6M. As COVID continued, the word got out about how this pandemic disproportionately devastated Native communities, with Native people dying at twice the rate of white Americans.

    At the same time, last summer, people started talking about race like I have never seen before. We were in the middle of all of these pressure points. A donor commented that the Navajo Nation had the need for an international aid organization because the US government wasn't doing enough to help during crisis, and the donor gave us $10k to alleviate his anger. I had donors tell me that their donation was not a gift but a "reparations payment." Donors acknowledged their privilege and the wealth that came from it and gave back. Donors also couldn't spend money as they had in the past and were rapidly remembering how they cannot take it with them. Money that would have been spent on expensive vacations, dinners, concerts/theatre, etc., was given to charity. And many who didn't need stimulus payments donated them. As a result, in FY 2019/2020, we raised $47M on a $32M budget. This FY 2020/2021 looks like it will be the same. Kimberly Urish, Sr. Major Gifts Officer, American Indian College Fund


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