Now’s the time to consider a capital campaign in 2020

The idea of running a planning (feasibility) study or fundraising campaign in 2020 while society adjusts to life with COVID-19 may seem a bit crazy. But is it? Over the past several months, the Steier Group has seen a significant evolution in thinking about fundraising during this crisis.

In March and April, nonprofits were rightfully hesitant and unsure about how to proceed. Many determined it was best to weather the storm, hoping that as the situation improved, things would return to normal. We all now recognize “normal” has taken on a whole new meaning and, if we don’t adapt, it will be difficult to thrive.

Nonprofits are realizing that while the world has changed, their needs, mission, strategic vision and reliance on charitable support have not. While understanding that the rules may be different, many simply cannot sit back any longer and are planning accordingly for the second half of 2020.

With that as background, the Steier Group would like to outline six key reasons why a planning (feasibility) study in the summer of 2020 is worth considering for your church, school, diocese or community nonprofit organization.

Your needs remain real
Think back to January and February. What were your needs? How did you plan to address those needs? What is required to fulfill your mission? In all likelihood, the economic strain resulting from COVID-19 has only lengthened your list of needs or made them more urgent. Do you have debt? Did you deplete savings? Do you need an emergency reserve fund? Is the band-aid approach toward facility maintenance no longer sustainable? These are all challenges that can be effectively and inspirationally solved by listening to your supporters during a study and letting them determine the best path forward.

Your supporters will be there for you
Looking back at past national crises, such as 9/11 or the Great Recession of 2007-2008, fundraising did not dramatically change and donors were unwaveringly generous to causes dear to them. Early evidence suggests that will also be the case in 2020. Your supporters still believe in you, support your mission and share your strategic vision. The Steier Group recently hosted a web forum featuring philanthropists and directors of charitable foundations from across the country. Their message was clear: you must ask if you believe in your mission.

You have a new story to tell
Effective storytelling is arguably the most important component of any successful fundraising effort. COVID-19 is now a part of your story. People worry that it may be insensitive to ask for money as others struggle. If you tell the story the right way, that can be avoided. The risk of offending some supporters is far less than the risk of hurting your nonprofit by operating from a position of fear, ignoring its mission, and abandoning its strategic vision.

The 80/20 Rule still applies and the CARES Act provides unique incentives
For fundraising campaigns, the 80/20 Rule is commonly cited. Put simply, you can expect 80 percent of funds raised during a campaign to come from 20 percent of your supporters. For some nonprofits, it may be more accurate to call it the 90/10 Rule. During this pandemic (unlike the past crises cited above), the stock market, Dow Jones Industrial Average and other wealth indicators are rebounding vigorously and holding strong. While the unemployment numbers are troublesome and will be a significant hurdle for the grassroots portion of any campaign, your major donor support has the potential to remain just as significant in this crisis as it would be under other circumstances.

A key provision of the CARES Act states that donors can deduct 100 percent of any gift to a qualified charity against their 2020 adjusted gross income. For example, if you have $1 million of income, you can give $1 million to a nonprofit and deduct the full amount in 2020. This is set to expire at the end of 2020 and return to 60 percent of adjusted gross income. To summarize, many of your major donors are not losing wealth and they have greater tax incentives to give in 2020.

Stewardship is alive and well
For faith-based nonprofits, this is an important part of your story. Stewardship isn’t just for the good times in life, when we can give easily; it’s for all times, including the bad. Especially the bad. We may adjust how much we give, or to whom we give, but we continue to give – in gratitude for and in proportion to what we’ve been given. A truly sacrificial gift demonstrates our trust that God will provide what we need, though not necessarily what we want.

We hear how stewardship is a “way of life.” This is our life right now. And stewardship isn’t what KEEPS us from getting through the tough parts of life; it’s what HELPS us get through them.

If you aren’t asking, others will
Others are planning right now. They are not operating from a position of fear or uncertainty. They are being bold and moving forward with a plan to make sure their nonprofit survives, thrives and keeps working toward fulfilling its mission. You too must be bold.

The Steier Group would welcome the opportunity to visit with you about the pros and cons of conducting a study and campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you would like to set up a no-obligation call, please contact Matt Vuorela, President at [email protected] or 402-829-8656.