Nonprofit Success & Better Outcomes in the Face of Disruption

Today, more than ever, nonprofits are finding themselves at the midst of a global, national, or regional event that disrupts regular operations – often in extreme and impactful ways. S&W has worked with many organizations in 2021 that have been launched into crisis situations that have garnered unprecedented support from the public.

Haiti Air Ambulance (HAA), for example, was on the frontlines in the aftermath of the August 14, 2021 earthquake that devastated the Tiburon Peninsula. With support from S&W, HAA initiated an emergency fundraising campaign for critical funds for the organization’s evacuation of residents, resulting in an influx of new donors.

No One Left Behind (NOLB) faced a similar need for a new level of funding as the organization coordinated efforts to evacuate those in Afghanistan who put their lives on the line for US troops. The recent outpouring of public support for NOLB – from small gifts through crowdfunding efforts, to gifts of five, six, and seven figures – created a unique challenge for the organization and S&W as its fundraising partner.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, local foodbanks like Philabundance (PHLB) experienced a surge in donations that brought this long-time S&W partner back to the firm for support. The PHLB development team, working with S&W, created strategies and new processes for welcoming, stewarding, re-soliciting, and upgrading these new annual, mid-level, and major gift donors. S&W was also engaged this past year by Lincoln Financial, who donated $1 million to food banks across 11 cities, to support these under-resourced organizations in responding to their influx of new donors.

Hurricane Ida had no less of an impact on organizations affected by its floodwaters, including Fairmount Water Works (FWW). On the day before FWW’s newest exhibit, POOL: A Social History of Segregation, was to open, the Hurricane submerged the 4,700 square-foot, multi-disciplinary museum exhibition. S&W is currently working with FWW on an emergency relief fundraising effort to retore the exhibit, to include bolstering its gift processing systems and procedures to handle the anticipated donations.

Crises have impacted the nonprofit sector throughout history, and these affected organizations have handled the effects on their fundraising programs with varying degrees of preparedness. With the number of major crises in 2021 alone, there is no better time to evaluate your current gift processing protocol.

Accurate and efficient gift processing during a crisis means:

  • Good data in,
  • Which supports good donor engagement and stewardship,
  • Which increases the likelihood of turning one-time gifts into long-term donors.

S&W developed the following set of considerations – essentially a checklist – that will position your organization to handle significant upticks in gift-giving in times of crisis:

  1. Have a crisis plan for development operations. How to know you are in a crisis moment – who determines this and how? How will staff be deployed? What other resources can be called in to help?
  2. Keep your database healthy and nimble – duplicate free, an adequate set of required fields, and standardized values.
  3. Collect both name and email address in your online donation platform. Sync email addresses between platforms/systems (i.e., MailChimp and Raiser’s Edge) to ensure records are complete. Collect home address whenever possible to enable qualification of the donor for increased giving over time.
  4. Have gift processing and acknowledgement procedures already in use and coding practices in place.
  5. Don’t delay applying additional resources, as needed (deploying current staff, hiring temp staff, outsourcing acknowledgement generation, bringing in volunteers for acknowledgements, etc.)
  6. Prioritize the opening, sorting, and triaging of mail and the review of online gifts (so that gifts of significance don’t sit buried in a pile of mail for weeks).
  7. Organize and prioritize data entry work. Batch gifts by type and use default data values when possible (dates, codes). Know what to set aside (for now), such as matching gifts and soft credits.
  8. Prioritize gift acknowledgements by donor relationship and amount.
  9. Have frequent and regular internal updates with Finance/Accounting to discuss the status of processing, allocation issues, and reconciliation, as well as with Communications to discuss impact reports, program updates, etc.
  10. Have a stewardship plan in place by gift level.
  11. Allocate resources and time on the phone for incoming and outgoing individual donor follow-up.
  12. Have a digital welcome series in place.
  13. Keep leadership informed of progress and gifts of significance.
  14. Have a plan and resources in place to qualify new donors (such as screening them through DonorSearch or iWave). Be prepared to segment, prioritize, and assign cohorts for follow-up.
  15. Maintain perspective: keep the long view in sight, even in the midst of feeling overwhelmed

Having good systems and procedures in place now will not only benefit your organization as it goes into crisis-mode, but they will also ensure your fundraising program is optimized in the best of times.