Written By: Kristen Jaarda, J.D., LL.M., CAP
In April 2020, shortly after the world shut down, Martha’s Village & Kitchen, a homeless shelter, food pantry and childcare provider in Indio, California, hired George Nasci-Sinatra as its major gifts officer. While the limited personal contact with donors posed initial challenges, George found new ways to reach and motivate supporters to give, making 2020 one of the best fundraising years in the organization’s history.
George says, “It was scary because the world was shutting down while Martha’s Village & Kitchen was gearing up.” Because people were out of work and children who normally received school lunches were forced to stay home, the organization was seeing three times the normal number of people needing meals from the daily food pantry and the number was regularly doubling for the daily public lunch the nonprofit served. The organization also had to hire more staff to meet new social distancing protocols. “The pressure was on to raise money,” George said.
How did George meet and exceed Martha’s Village and Kitchen’s fundraising goals in the midst of the pandemic? George tried two new ideas. First, he sent a mailing to supporters with the goal of obtaining bequest acknowledgements. The organization sent a letter with a remittance card and reply envelope to 432 individuals not directly asking for money, but encouraging them to “share our spirit.” The results were astounding! George received 19 replies from supporters confirming unknown bequests and 23 requests for information on how to proceed with naming the organization as the beneficiary of a will or other planned gift. While there was no fundraising appeal in the letter, 66 recipients sent the nonprofit the return envelope and many enclosed cash and check donations totaling over $11,000.
Who were the donors that responded? George says that 95% of the people who responded were known supporters in their database. However, 5% were completely new donors to Martha’s Village. Out of the 66 recipients who responded, 13 were supporters who had never given to the organization.
George’s second strategy was to send a donor survey on September 7, 2020 to 2,111 contacts. The survey asked questions about the recipients' familiarity with the organization, communication methods and ease of giving. The email had a 35% open rate and 12% click-through rate, generating 91 responses. Three recipients acknowledged new bequests to the organization, while 11 recipients requested additional information on ways to give.
George said that there was a spike in estate planning guide web downloads from their planned giving website immediately after the survey was sent. One of the more surprising results was that some of the respondents acknowledged that they were not sure who to contact at the organization when they had a need or a question. While not all responses to a survey will be positive, survey responses are nonetheless valuable in helping nonprofits respond to supporters’ needs and plan for future communications.
What have you done during COVID to reach out to your supporters? What strategy has worked best for encouraging donors to support your cause during this time? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org about how you have seen success in the midst of COVID-19.