Category

COVID-19

Getting Back to Business Post COVID-19 Quarantine

By | COVID-19

Getting Back to Business Post COVID-19 Quarantine
By Michele Bennyhoff, Bennyhoff Products and Services

Most of us never could have imagined the scope of the worldwide response to COVID-19. Adding to the list of precedented action is the at-hand task of returning teams, staff and entire companies back to work after the shelter-in-place shutdown.

Taking a moment to reflect on the impact of that statement and what has occurred: schools and places of business deemed non-essential shut down, restaurants shuttered or operated take out only, warehouse stores officially ran out of products and then rationed re-stocks, grocery stores limited patrons and the checkout-line floors were marked to distance people six feet from each other, hospitals implemented no visitation policies, places of worship closed and did not provide Holiday sermons or community events, even Disneyland closed. All of these surreal experiences are similar to fantasies in the world of books, video games, movies, and TV. Collectively we had to have trust in our leaders and practice the new public health policies in place. We had to adapt quickly to a break in routine, not knowing what would come next or what to do in this unprecedented time.

  • Employees shifted to working from home.
  • Layoffs and furloughs reached an all-time high.
  • Working parents have transitioned to telework while caring for their children.
  • Doctors conducted medical appointments through video chat and families had to allow the medical community to care for their loved ones without their presence.

The news cycle centered on the COVID-19 global pandemic and experts guided us to get tested if we experienced respiratory symptoms. Here in California, as spring bloomed and the virus spread, people were uncertain if they had symptoms from allergies or the virus. Yet testing was not readily available. While testing is now growing, the demand to process the tests and provide treatment is lagging behind the curve of infection.

Unemployment increased by 80% in one week – 30 million people lost their jobs in two months – and the death rate from COVID-19 is more than 30,000 people and increasing every day. All of this and more have resulted in a collective increase in shared anxieties regarding the future of the economy and the health of our people and communities.

During this time, we have rapidly learned about the role of public health in our medical system, governments, and communities. We learned that our individual choices have a significant impact on the collective community. National public health experts have guided us in understanding technical concepts such as ‘flattening the curve’ of infection rates as to not overburden our health care system. Another important concept is collective trauma.

Collective Trauma can result from many social issues like poverty, homelessness, disinvestment, or abandonment, or from environmental disasters like hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, etc. Paradise, a town in Northern California that was decimated by wildfire, is experiencing COVID-19 as secondary collective trauma. The Camp Fire, their first collective trauma, affected 52,000 evacuees and incinerated more than 18,000 structures.

Are there multiple traumas impacting your community?

In the workplace, what can we anticipate as results of these experienced traumas?

  • In the short-term, meetings may result in less creativity, comprehension, and collaboration due to heightening anxiety, a common residual symptom from social distancing.
  • People may ask for reasonable accommodations, like keeping a door or window open during meetings to improve air circulation and abate germs.
  • People may experience confusion regarding previous social practices versus new ones. Hand-shakes and shared physical space come to mind.
  • There is also potential for hypersensitivity to shared objects like pens, paper, chairs, doorknobs, etc.

This has led me to think about the up-stream approaches needed and the roles of human resources, boards and executive leaders. It will be necessary to have resources available to provide employees when mental health concerns arise. Discussions to process the public health practices that have been instituted as a result of this global pandemic, documenting the community’s history and the collective experience that has occurred, and resources for economic supports beyond employment agreements can aid in the transition back to work.

Are companies looking inward to develop a plan of action to bring back their staff, or are they looking for support from public health experts and consultants to grow their internal capacity to address the collective trauma, and provide the resources, training and cross-sector collaborations needed to support the recovery of healthy community and ultimately increase the bottom-line?

As leaders begin to think about going back to work, it will be vital to recognize and plan for creating a new normal as it will not be “business as usual”.

As an expert in Community Public Health, I recommend companies implement the following strategic and sustainable plans for action:

  1. Create an organizational culture that recognizes collective trauma.
  2. Train Human Resources on mental health first aid and the impacts of mental health on the workforce.
  3. Provide staff with clear policies, procedures, and resources to support them in returning to work.
  4. Train all staff to understand, listen, and ask for reasonable accommodations.
  5. Re-evaluate responsibilities, workloads, deliverables, timelines and collaborative processes.
  6. Provide training and resources on empathetic economics and financial planning.

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Michele Bennyhoff, MPH

Michele Bennyhoff owns Bennyhoff Products and Services. She is hired by organizations that want to be a force for good, but their efforts are often derailed by day-to-day operations. The solution is a strategic, sustainable plan of action to grow the bottom-line while positively impacting the health of the community.

Michele has a Master of Public Health in Community Health Sciences from Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and a minor in Culture, Text, and Language. Currently she is vice president of membership for NAWBO Sacramento Valley and the community partnership board director for CHILL Sacramento.

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The Nonprofit Consultants Network (NCN) is a collaboration of consultants who serve nonprofit organizations in the Sacramento region by convening, engaging, and inspiring them in professional development and growth. The information and opinions shared in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of NCN or its other members. You can access a directory of local consultants who are ready to support organizations during the COVID-19 crisis here.

What does coming back look like? Employee safety in the aftermath of COVID-19

By | COVID-19

Steven Dilbert is our resident membership manager, but did you know about his background is in safety and risk management? Steven holds a master’s degree in Occupational Safety and is a Certified Safety Professional with over 10 years of experience in creating corporate safety policies, developing safety leadership, and protecting employees (think OSHA). In the coming weeks, Steven will be working on a blueprint for what a COVID-19 workplace safety policy looks like. This will include sections on social distancing and office layout, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), administrative controls (I.E. staggering employee days in the office to avoid crowding), and other topics.

In the meantime, do you have something you are concerned about for when your team goes back to work? Send your questions and concerns to [email protected]

Plan, Postpone, or Cancel: Fundraising Events & COVID-19

By | COVID-19

Plan, Postpone, or Cancel: Fundraising Events & COVID-19

By Holly Wong, Holly Wong Consulting

In the midst of revenue shortages and quickly changing program demands, many nonprofits also face a challenging question: What about our fundraising event? Making event decisions is even more difficult due to the extreme uncertainty we face. We don’t know when events of any size will be deemed safe again – next month? Next year?

As organizations and leaders, we must accept the uncertainty in front of us and move forward anyways. Our job right now is to take the available information and make the best decision we can for our organizations. So let’s gather our teams (staff, board, committee) and figure it out.

Step 1: Information Gathering

Invite your committee/board/staff to discuss these questions and gather information, without attempting to make a decision yet.

  • How many weeks until our event? What do we know about that timeline from health & government officials? Are we currently able to accomplish the tasks that need to be done in order to be successful?
  • Who is our audience and how are they affected? Are attendees older and less likely to attend events right when restrictions are lifted? Are sponsors heavily impacted by the healthcare or economic crisis? Are in-kind donors struggling right now?
    • Note: the best way to gauge your audience needs is talking to them! Asking supporters for advice about an event is a great way to stay connected.
  • What costs have already been incurred, and what is non-refundable? What bills or costs are coming soon?
  • How much revenue have we raised so far, from what sources? What might be lost if we cancel/postpone?
  • What are the top 2-3 goals of this event? Can we clearly articulate our reason to ask for support right now? How would it impact the organization to cancel/postpone?
  • What might Plan B look like? IF the event is postponed or cancelled, what are ways to still meet our goals? What challenges would we face – space in the calendar, staff capacity, board engagement?

 Step 2: Decision Time

  • Continue Planning/Wait and See
    • If you decide to continue planning the event, be clear about your timeline – is there a specific date when you need to decide by? Are you delaying anything, like donation deadlines or ticket sales?
    • Communicate! Keep sponsors and vendors in the loop, and website/marketing channels updated. With remote staffing, you may need to be more intentional about keeping your staff (and board) informed, too.
    • Make a Plan B. There is a chance that large scale events won’t be allowed for a year or longer, and all events for the foreseeable future need backup plans.
  • Postpone
    • If you decide to postpone, communicate well! Talk to sponsors and vendors ASAP, along with ticket-buyers, donors, and general audience. Be sure to inform staff, board, committees, and update your website. Do this regardless of whether a new date is set yet.
    • Make a Plan B. There is a chance that large scale events won’t be allowed for a year or longer, and all events for the foreseeable future need backup plans.
  • Cancel
    • Communicate quickly with existing stakeholders – sponsors, vendors, ticket-buyers, staff, board, etc. Give sponsors/ticket-buyers an option for a refund, but give them an opportunity to continue supporting your organization if they choose to.

 Step 3: Build a back-up plan (or several)

If you continue to plan your event for its original timing or a postponed date, come up with a solid Plan B. Focus on your top goals – what makes the event successful? What makes it special for attendees? Options:

  • Scale down. How can you adapt if events are limited to 50 or 100?
  • Drive-by. Can you offer an experience for guests to enjoy from their cars for a suggested donation?
  • There are many examples of virtual events right now:
    • Online Auction. You can still include a program with storytelling about the organization! Other organizations are hosting auctions you can watch, and local auctioneers like Freddie Silveria are doing a great job adapting and leading clients through the logistics.
    • Peer-to-peer fundraising pages. Encourage supporters (starting with your board) to build their own pages raising funds.
    • Online challenge fundraiser. Maybe each board member submits a mission-related video or photo, and supporters vote on their favorite with a small donation.
    • There are many products available to help you with these. Here are a few I’ve worked with or seen recently: Greater Giving, CauseVox, classy.org, Facebook, Network for Good, Osmos Vote
  • Non-event. Send out invitations, asking guests to make a donation and participate from home, like a tea party where you send out a tea bag to enjoy at home.
  • Direct Mail. Especially when staff and resources are stretched thin, consider a direct approach of sending an honest, heartfelt letter. This is a great place to recognize sponsors of a cancelled event, and could include a link to special online content like a video tour or story.

No matter what decision you make, communication and connectedness are key right now:

  • Communicate clearly and regularly with donors, sponsors, the general public. More than ever, share clearly about your mission.
  • Increase social media engagement, with stories and calls to action.
  • Call your donors and supporters to check on them – genuinely. Now is the time to show whether your fundraising is built on relationships or transactions.
  • Ask for what you need. HR volunteers? Toilet paper? People want to feel connected in ways that are within their current capacity.
  • Here’s a blog post I love about what the best Boards are doing right now.
  • Honor donors. Can you do a social media series highlighting small business who have donated in the past? Shout out former sponsors in the healthcare space?

I truly hope this helps. And if your organization is in financial danger due to missing one year of a fundraising event, I encourage you to put “revenue sources” on your next strategic planning agenda. Events are not the best way to raise funds and this is a good year to rebalance your fundraising focus.

 

Holly Wong’s passion is to enable & equip nonprofits to host successful events without burning out staff and board members. She has 12+ years’ experience in events, communications, and fundraising, and has managed events for 10-1,000 attendees including galas, golf tournaments, celebrity luncheons, industry conferences, board retreats, culinary competitions, team cycling events, and more. She is a member of the Nonprofit Consultants Network and the Impact Foundry, a volunteer with Yolo County CASA, and a board member at the Junior League of Sacramento. For more information, visit her website at www.hollywongconsulting.com.

The Nonprofit Consultants Network (NCN) is a collaboration of consultants who serve nonprofit organizations in the Sacramento region by convening, engaging, and inspiring them in professional development and growth. The information and opinions shared in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of NCN or its other members. You can access a directory of local consultants who are ready to support organizations during the COVID-19 crisis here.

Imagining the Future

By | COVID-19, Uncategorized

Imagining the Future

By Ann Lucas, Nonprofit Strategies

“All models are wrong, but some are useful” is a famous quote attributed to the statistician George E. P. Box. While he was referring to statistical models of predictive behavior, it has morphed into a well-accepted adage in artificial intelligence (AI) models. Now, with our COVID-19 infected status-quo, nonprofits might find the idea of creating “wrong but useful” models or scenarios to be helpful for exploring what the future may bring.

We all engage in some level of scenario planning. The reality is that every decision we make is a choice based on possible outcomes and predictions about what the future holds. It’s how we calculate those predications that matter. Are they based on the past? What we know? Our gut or intuition? Our experience? Or, are we thinking more broadly?

Countless books and papers have been written on scenario planning. Most of them are geared toward big corporations who invest huge amounts of time and money in complex, continuous analysis and modeling. That level of activity isn’t practical for most nonprofit organizations, especially now!  But there may be value in applying scenario planning principles to our work as we try to anticipate what the world might look like in six months, a year or three years.

The Global Business Network publication, “What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits,” outlines three guiding tenets for successful scenario planning.

  1. Take the Long View. Much of our sector is driven by service demands which, by design, responds to near-term concern and urgent needs. Scenario planning requires looking past immediate pressures and into the future where new possibilities (good and bad) exist.
  2. Engage in Outside-In Thinking. We’re so busy responding to demands and running on minimal budgets that we view the world from the narrow perspective of our organization or area of work. Outside-in thinking encourages us to examine changes coming from the broad external environment that could greatly affect our work.
  3. Invite Multiple Perspectives. Many in the nonprofit sector support diversity. Some champion it. A few actually insist upon it. In these polarizing times, when we’re giving our all for the cause, we may not always seek perspectives from those we don’t (or think we won’t) agree with. But listening to diverse voices helps us engage in Outside-In Thinking and offers new ways of seeing challenges and opportunities on a much larger scale.

Incorporating those tenants, your own scenarios can be created through the following steps:

  • Definition of scope: What is the time frame you’re looking at? Most scenarios that are developed to inform organizational strategy look 5-10 years into the future, but we’re in uncharted waters now, so adjust it to meet your needs. Determine how much time/energy/resources you want to invest, and who will be involved. This could be a great way to engage some board members, especially when it’s clear that some tough decisions lie ahead.
  • Identify driving forces: These are broad areas where shifts could affect your organization. External forces are those outside of your organization that you have little control over, Internal forces are those within your organization. Some examples might include:

External Forces

  • Political
  • Environmental
  • Economic
  • Social/Demographic
  • Technology
  • Legal/Regulatory
  • Funding (broader trends)

Internal Forces

  • Board
  • Staff
  • Volunteers
  • Clients/Customers
  • Service Partners
  • Fundraising (internal trend

 

  • Perception analysis: This phase identifies the existing mindset of your team around the driving forces and then challenges those assumptions by including diverse opinions from people with expertise outside of your area of service. Comparing internal assumptions against external perceptions helps create a holistic view on possible future paths. The perspectives can be gathered via one-on-one telephone/Video/Zoom interviews, or through online surveys.
  • Identify your critical uncertainties: Select two or three key areas from your driving forces that appear to have the most impact on your organization. For example, an important uncertainty for some organizations might be future government funding.
  • Develop a range of plausible scenarios: This is the core of the process where your organization’s key uncertainties are converted into distinct future scenarios. These can then be enhanced using other driving forces to create plausible future states as well as possible developments that could link the present to this future state. It’s important to distinguish between this type of scenario, which is based on logical ways that uncertainties could play out, verses “wild card scenarios,” which are unexpected events such as a global pandemic.
  • Discuss the implications: Here you discuss the various implications and impacts of each scenario – what action you would take if that scenario came true? What kinds of actions can you take to ensure this new world will (or won’t) happen? What kind of competencies will you need to develop to address this possible new world?
  • Monitoring: We know the only constant is change, so it’s important to define key indicators and monitor them. If drastic shifts occur, revise your scenarios to include the new information.

 

A common pitfall is overcomplicating the scenarios. Keeping them simple while ensuring that they are plausible but structurally different (not variations on a theme) will provide the insights you need. Ultimately the point is not to predict the future, but to gain a deeper understanding of the larger environment in order to inform your strategy and improve your decisions during today and tomorrow’s uncertain times.

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With a deep passion for the nonprofit sector, Ann Lucas has spent more than 25 years helping nonprofits strengthen our community with guidance on fund development, organizational planning and development and board governance. She is a member of the Nonprofit Consultants Network and the Impact Foundry. For more information, visit her website at www.annlucas.com.

The Nonprofit Consultants Network (NCN) is a collaboration of consultants who serve nonprofit organizations in the Sacramento region by convening, engaging, and inspiring them in professional development and growth. The information and opinions shared in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of NCN or its other members. You can access a directory of local consultants who are ready to support organizations during the COVID-19 crisis here.

Who Knows More Than YOU?

By | COVID-19, Uncategorized

Who Knows More Than YOU?

By Dawn Moore, Moore Development Strategies

Does anyone really know what tomorrow will bring in “normal” times? As we begin another month sheltered in place, two things are certain, the reality of uncertainty and, in our lifetime, nobody has firsthand experience in navigating a global pandemic.

You have likely read many articles, participated in countless Zoom meetings, listened to endless webinars, and now find yourself in information overload. These well intended resources bring us together and provide guidance, however, many of us are still left wondering – what now?

As a nonprofit professional in California, you are 1 in 14 people who help sustain this vital community and
economic sector. So, I ask you… what do you know?

  • You know your organization’s mission, programs and constituents.
  • You know the faces of those who benefit from your organization’s efforts.
  • You know the amazing staff and supporters who make your work possible.
  • You know what project or activity continues to circulate on your “to-do” list, if only you had time.
  • You know connectiveness and relationships build and sustain community.
  • You know we are all going through the same storm, albeit in different boats. Some are barely
    floating in leaky rafts and others are riding out the waves in motorized vessels.
  • Most of all, you know nonprofit work is challenging in the best of times.

You also know… you continue to show up!

As you revisit what you already know, trust your instincts, believe in yourself and embrace the elephant in YOUR room.

  • Have all the webinars and “what you need to know” articles been helpful? Have you put any ideas
    into action? Or are you still looking for the “secret sauce?”
  • Where does your organization’s mission fall on the COVID-19 continuum – life-sustaining or nonlife sustaining? Are you communicating with your constituents what you already know?
  • Have you considered this as an opportunity to revisit your “to-do” list of those ever-elusive
    projects or activities?
  • Are you practicing patience with yourself when one moment you are feeling productive and the
    next unproductive, scared, or uncertain? Are you spending time on the path of least resistance?
    Or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone?
  • Have you considered when this storm passes, and it will, how the nonprofit sector and specifically
    your organization will have reminded our country of its critical value in providing vital services and
    community benefits – many of which we have taken for granted?

Keep showing up… you got this!

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As a donor, volunteer and fund development professional, Dawn Moore has 25 years experience in serving clients’ organizational and fund development needs. She is a member of the Nonprofit Consultants Network.

The Nonprofit Consultants Network is a collaboration of consultants who serve nonprofit organizations in the Sacramento region by convening, engaging, and inspiring them in professional development and growth. You can access a directory of local consultants who are ready to support organizations during the COVID-19 crisis here.

Quick Tips from your Nonprofit Consultants

By | COVID-19


By Patricia Marquez of Patricia Marquez Consulting

    • Does your board fully understand the ramifications of how COVID-19 is altering service delivery of your organization?  Do they understand what is truly a priority over the next few months and can they temporarily let go of the rest? Encourage board members to engage in scenario planning to find the “lines in the sand”.
    • This is the perfect time to put strategic donor stewardship front and center. Within the next couple of weeks, communicate to your donors in a clear and positive way about how your organization is now functioning and adapting in the COVID-19 environment and how critical their past support has been to further the mission of the organization.
      1. Board members and staff call key donors and funders using specific talking points about the current state of programs and services.
      2. Thoughtful communications by email to the remaining donor and client base putting COVID-19 front and center and how the agency is dealing with the crisis.
    • Discuss the possible suspension of special events for the rest of the year. Can we all reschedule every event for the fall and expect reasonable outcomes?  Our usual sources for sponsorships and auction items are all going through tough times and might not be able to support an event.

In light of event cancellations, it would be the perfect time to embrace a major gift strategy for fundraising by following through with major donors and funders; far less resource intensive with a greater rate of return. Engage the board in developing their personal stories about why they are involved with the organization and how they can support the development process through identification, cultivation, stewardship, solicitation of donor prospects.  A board where each member understands their role, responsibilities and utilizes their respective talents will be successful!

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Patricia Marquez Consulting
Special interest in fund development – board training and development
916-871-6732

COVID-19 Disproportionately Impacts Black and People of Color led Nonprofits

By | COVID-19, Uncategorized

COVID-19 Disproportionately Impacts Black and People of Color led Nonprofits
Here are 5 Steps We Can Take to Lessen the Impact

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Authored by April Jean, MSW

Pervasive racial inequities continue to have crippling consequences on vulnerable communities of color. At this moment, key decision makers in government and philanthropy are rushing to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is understandable they’re working with urgency. The problem is that without applying a racial equity lens, they’ll continue to fail those they seek to help.

Despite being under-funded and overworked, people of color led nonprofits are responding to the most complex needs of their communities. They are tackling racial and economic inequities perpetuated by an unjust system, and their work is amplified during times of crisis.

“When the majority of our community catches a cold, communities of color catch pneumonia.” – Senator Holly Mitchell

Here are five things our government and philanthropic leaders must do right now to mitigate the negative impacts to communities and nonprofits of color:

1. Put Race on the Table

We must address the long-justified mistrust that people of color have in government and philanthropy’s ability to make inclusive and equitable decisions on behalf of our most vulnerable populations. It is our collective responsibility to address issues of power and privilege in order to transform the way we fund, support and serve our most under-resourced nonprofits.

2. Understand the Unique Needs of our Anchor Organizations

Our anchor institutions are those led by people of color who serve their communities through a lens of racial equity and cultural responsiveness. They understand economic and racial trauma in their communities and they have the competency to serve their communities in ways that are innovative, uniquely responsive to their needs. Things to consider: Identify the anchor organizations within your region. Reach out to those you aim to serve through relief funds. Learn what they need. Listen to what they say. Provide them with support. Move out the way!

3. Equitable Funding Efforts are Necessary

True equity means giving people what they need and not what you think they need. We must recognize the deep racial and economic inequities that intensify in times of crisis. The philanthropic community can help by developing a funding strategy that supports nonprofits who are trusted messengers for communities of color and who can speak to the unique concerns of these communities. Ensure there is an intentional effort to remove barriers in order for these organizations to have an equitable opportunity to receive relief dollars. Questions to consider: What communities/populations are likely to be impacted? Disaggregate this data by ethnicity, and this is how you determine where resources go. How can a racial equity lens improve outcomes for said target population?

4. Workforces are Vulnerable Too

Many of these organizations and their workforces are vulnerable and we should do everything we can to protect them. Over 60 percent of our direct service nonprofit workforce are people of color and in most cases, these are black women who are classified as 10 percent of working poor. These organizations are already vulnerable to the compounding impacts of not having access to living wages, limited access to healthcare and limited options for affordable childcare during work hours. These essential organizations with vulnerable workforces are being asked to remain on the front lines and increase the volume of their work with limited-to-no support from funders. If we are truly functioning from the lens of racial equity, relief funds must include hazard pay for those who remain on the front lines putting their health and safety at risk.

5. Remove or Reduce Reporting & Use Requirements

As service needs shift, resources and support from funders needs to match. Commit to reducing the burden on the reporting process and be flexible with how your investment is used during this time of crisis. For example, forego monthly reports and allow them to shift restricted funding to general operating support. Provide nonprofits with space to pivot so they are able to operate and provide support to families most affected by COVID-19.

Applying a racial equity lens requires us to do the hard work, even during a crisis. Now is the time for our government and philanthropic leaders to create a funding framework that ensures equitable outcomes for the future. In order to flatten the curve, we must invest in the safety, health and economic wellness of our most vulnerable communities, and this includes the nonprofits who serve them.

For more information on Additional Resources:
https://racialequity.org/grantmaking-with-a-racial-justice-lens/
https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/pitz.pdf
https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/REPG_Lessons_Learned_May_09.pdf

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April Jean brings over 16 years of experience in nonprofit social services, mental health, foster care, child & adult welfare, nonprofit administration and community development to the Impact Foundry team. Prior to joining Impact Foundry, April founded Advocates for Action, a consulting effort focused on reimagining a comprehensive systems approach to improve outcomes for communities of color in the Sacramento region.

Nonprofit Consultants Network: List of Services/Expertise

By | COVID-19, Uncategorized

Does your organization need guidance, a patient facilitator, or a little expertise on topics like events, printing, marketing, crisis communication, HR, development and more? The Nonprofit Consultants Network is a local resource! Find consultants who are ready to support organizations during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Nonprofit Consultants Network (NCN) is a collaboration of consultants who serve nonprofit organizations in the Sacramento region by convening, engaging, and inspiring them in professional development and growth.

NCN Services & Expertise 042720

Fundraising in Crisis: Trusting and Distrusting Your Instincts


By | COVID-19

by Colleen Schulman, PBS KVIE Chief Philanthropy Officer

Good fundraising practices urge organizations to showcase the work they do because if you demonstrate community value, the dollars will follow. You send appeal letters with moving stories. You reach out to donors and thank them. You nurture relationships that blossom into partnerships. Your nonprofit thrives when your fundraising cycle is in motion.

Today we have a public health epidemic with COVID-19. Everything that was familiar is now disrupted. You are likely at home and thinking perhaps this is a bad time to send appeal letters. My nonprofit doesn’t address health or human service needs. How can I ask for support when donors are probably anxious and overwhelmed?

I was a few months into my development role at a nonprofit art center in Napa in October 2017. Overnight, fires began to ravage the valley and continued into November. It was truly unbelievable. Smoke and flame affected the physical property, closing our doors and forcing staff to work remotely for four months. People lost their homes, their livelihoods, friends and family. The community was hurting. Normalcy eventually returned but in a permanently altered state.

That experience defined my approach to fundraising in uncertain times and I’m drawing upon it now at PBS KVIE. Here are some of the lessons I learned then that are guiding my actions now:

Do not presume you know everyone’s situation.
Donors give to organizations they know and trust. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world. If they are supporting other organizations right now, it does not mean they don’t care about you. They are doing what feels right to them in this moment. Giving is heartfelt and it feels good to help. During the fires, I sent our annual appeal with no reservations and no specific ask amount. In the letter I acknowledged that supporters may choose to support fire relief and I thanked them for their generosity in helping our community. Giving amounts varied but most of our donors participated with what they could. In the years that followed, we saw an increase in our retention rate. People stood with us.

Avoid triggering language.
The last thing anyone wants to talk about when they lost their home in a fire, is fire. Think about the communications you’ve received recently. How do they make you feel? I’ve stopped using the words coronavirus, COVID-19, crisis, and pandemic. They create a visceral reaction. Instead, I choose inclusive language to cut through the noise. We are all affected. We are all anxious. But we are not alone. We’re in this situation together.


Call your donors.

If you’re feeling isolated and stressed, chances are your donors are too. Reach out and offer conversation. Find out how they are doing. It’s important to recognize that their priorities may be shifting with each day. The stock market is a rollercoaster. Older donors may be struggling on a diminishing income. Be benevolent.

Be authentic.
Your nonprofit may not have a front-line role in our current situation. Does your work still matter? Absolutely. Acknowledge this in your communications. How exactly did a nonprofit art center impact fire relief? We opened our doors with free programming and family art-making activities as a respite. At PBS KVIE, we’re airing programming grounded in an educational curriculum for K-12 learners on KVIE2 and KVIE World along with lesson plans and other learning assets available through pbslearningmedia.org. Be authentic, be responsive, and be innovative. When you stay true to your mission, your donors will support you.

Above all: Do not stop fundraising.
The best thing you can do for the sake of your nonprofit is to ensure the fundraising cycle remains in motion. If you take the actions above, you will maintain the momentum. You might see your contributed income decline a little bit. Don’t worry. Keep sending your appeal letters with moving stories. Keep reaching out to your donors and thank them. I think you’ll find what I know to be true: You are not alone in this.

Thank you, Colleen, for sharing this information with Impact Foundry, and welcome to KVIE!

About the Author: Colleen Schulman is the chief philanthropy officer for PBS KVIE. Like many, she fell into fundraising and developed a passion for connecting people and programs. Most recently, she was the director of development at di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art. Prior, she held positions at the Manetti Shrem Museum and UC Davis. Colleen holds a Bachelor of Arts in art history and classics from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She earned her Master of Science in Arts Administration and a Graduate Certificate in Fundraising Management from Boston University. A creative thinker dedicated to the donor-centric experience; she’s learned a lot from working in the nonprofit sector for more than 15 years. On her off hours she’s either enjoying a local brewery or taking orders from her six rescue parrots.