Don’t be afraid to ask major donors for support – they want to help


Worried about asking donors for support?  Does the current climate make you hesitant to reach out to supporters for financial support, even though you know your organization needs it? Are you worried that your organization has fallen behind other nonprofits on your donors’ priority list?

If these are questions you are having a difficult time answering, consider heeding the advice shared recently in a Steier Group forum. Experts from across the country joined in a video conference to discuss issues facing the fundraising industry. Foundation representatives, business owners and philanthropists agree you cannot allow worldly concerns to stop you from asking for support.

“This is the time to say, this is what we’re doing to maintain our organization long-term,” said Sean Miller, a Kansas City business owner and philanthropist. “Here are some of our needs and we appreciate your past support. I sent an email to one of our donors and said, ‘Here’s what Jimmy’s doing in Haiti right now’ and they sent me a big check.”

At the Heider Family Foundation, Erin Swanson Russell serves as the vice president of community giving. She’s keeping a close watch on the nonprofits they support — like the Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands — and expects to hear from the organization.

“I think communication is critical,” Swanson Russell said. “If we are not hearing from you, that is a huge red flag. You want to be pleasantly persistent just to let people know what you are doing. It’s okay to call. I’m completely open to a conversation. Letting us know what’s going on with your organization and how you are helping the people you serve or how you’re living your mission is the best thing you can do right now.”

Matt Darling is the executive vice president of the Omaha Community Foundation (OCF). He helps distribute individual funding to more than 3,000 nonprofits. Over the last 37 years, OCF has awarded $1.8 billion in grant support. In 2019, that total was $165 million. He says the last seven weeks damaged donor portfolios by 15-20 percent and notes some donors are unsure when to start “pushing money out.” But regardless of when that time arrives, nonprofits need to continue to ask for donations.

“This is a moment, a tough moment, but we will get through it,” Darling said. “Don’t be afraid to ask, just be cognizant of your needs and that you’re asking for a need that measures up at this time. And be aware of the individual of whom you’re asking. They believe in you and you in and them.”

Long-time philanthropist, Paul Bolus of Birmingham, Alabama, believes in a variety of nonprofits — Vanderbilt University, the Birmingham Children’s Theater and his local Catholic church are just a few of them. He expects to hear from them and understands that’s what a nonprofit must do to survive.

“You need to ask. Do not be afraid, do not stop,” Bolas said. “You need to do it in the right way, knowing that all can’t give at this time, but those who can will and give in larger numbers if they can. I think it’s a time where people who can are re-doubling their efforts to support the charities in the way they can because they’re near and dear to their heart and if you don’t see them through this, they may not survive.”

The pandemic will end. America will get back to business. So, ask now so you position your organization to continue to fulfill its mission as we work our way through this worldly challenge.

During this stressful time, the Steier Group is here to help. Our COVID-19 Toolkit can serve as a resource guide for fundraising and supporting your donors during this crisis. If you have questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me. We are happy to be a resource as you consider the best way to fundraise through the current situation.

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