Fundraising in the time of COVID-19 – Talk to your donors.

Part One of Two

How do you work with your donors when everyone is “staying safe, staying home?” Where will funding come from? These are just two of the questions nonprofits and higher education are grappling with. To gain insight we talked with Saad&Shaw team member Robert “Bob” Poole, the former senior vice president advancement for Meharry Medical College. He asked Linda R. Witt, Meharry’s Senior Associate Vice President for Development to join the conversation.

Linda R. Witt, Senior Associate Vice President for Development, Meharry Medical College

Poole and Witt are two of our country’s most experienced Black fundraising professionals. We offer a summary of their conversation for you to reflect on as you find your way through this time. First, here are Witt’s key points:

  • Know your priority donors and maintain engagement via phone calls, emails, social media, and special messages from your top leadership.
  • Share how the organization or institution continues to add value through its service to the community at-large. This increased awareness helps to recruit advocates for your mission.
  • Show genuine concern for your donors’ well-being.
  • Allow them to share their concerns in this unprecedented history of our nation.
  • Continue to thank them for their consistent and faithful support.

Poole: Raising funds during these challenging times requires revisiting the fundamentals of best practices for prospect research and building donor relationships. This means starting with an understanding of your organization’s most ardent and loyal supporters. Determining who these people are, based on data and knowledge gained through prior interactions, is the crucial first step. This process includes taking another and deeper look at past giving trends especially among the top 5-20% of your donors. Begin by looking for giving trends such as largest gift ever made, frequency of gifts, and gift purposes. This will enable you to segment and prioritize donors with the most generous and those with the most likely inclination to give heading the list.

Witt: You have to know your priority donors. Development officers have portfolios and we knew who we needed to reach out to. We have maintained engagement through frequent calls, emails, and social media. When appropriate we get the president involved. We started calling with wellness checks and had conversations about their concerns and the unknown. We never asked for money. It was about checking in on them.

Robert “Bob” Poole, Senior Philanthropy Advisor, Saad&Shaw

Robert “Bob” Poole, Senior Philanthropy Advisor, Saad&Shaw

Poole: You have to look at more than financial data. Considering each individual’s present personal circumstances will be revealing and instructive, offering guidance for how donors should be approached, if at all.

Witt: Right. Meharry is unique in that we are dealing with our alumni, people who are dentists and physicians. They are impacted as they are restricted from practice unless it is an emergency. Also, if they were heavily involved in the stock market it is a double whammy. We are very sensitive to our alumni. When you have developed a good relationship and are in tune with your donors, you will know when to approach them about making a gift. Oftentimes, they will contact you when they are ready. It’s all about relationships.

Next week: More from Witt and Poole on working with donors

Learn more about Meharry Medical College. Reach out to Bob Poole and Linda R. Witt.

Read Part 2 of this interview

VIDEO – Fundraising in the Time of COVID-19 — Talk to Your Donors 


Don’t forget:


Copyright 2020 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

Let us help you find your way through this unknown time.  Video and phone conferencing services always available. Call us at (901) 522-8727. www.saadandshaw.com.

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