2008 Recession Versus Now - Reflections from Past NPD Winners
Jenni Jeffress, Executive Director at Madison Public Library Foundation, and Marcy Heim, Founder of The Artful Asker, are both past National Philanthropy Day honorees in the professional fundraiser category. They were kind enough to share their expertise on fundraising in hard times, especially during this time of COVID-19.
1. What is one significant shift you have seen in the fundraising profession over your career?
Marcy Heim: There has been a growing appreciation for the role OUR mindset, as fundraisers, plays in both our fundraising success and our personal joy in our work. When I first started with the tag line, “the mindset and methods for major giving success” there was a good deal of eye-rolling. In my experience, my own success raising millions, and the success my clients enjoy has been more dependent about what they believe is possible than the latest “tactic” or “strategy.” Hard to implement any of those when your own doubts and fears keep you from beginning or building the relationships.
Jenni Jeffress: This pandemic has created an unreal environment. We are raising money for organizations that we can’t open. I feel especially sympathetic for museums and performing arts organizations. We all want to keep staff on, but our workload has changed as we can’t meet with donors in the same way. Fundraisers and their supporting staff will be losing jobs. I am seriously worried.
2. As it relates to fundraising and philanthropy, is this economic shift different from others you have experienced or the same?
Marcy Heim: Fear is crippling. There was a great deal of fear around the Twin Towers and major donors stretched our pledge payments. There was fear during the Great Recession of 2008-2010. It shut down non-profits that had ask and ask and never shored up those relationships with good stewardship. Now is different in my mind for two reasons. 1. The fear is SO much greater inserting a certain desperation. The void of real interactions eats at our spirit. We turn on our neighbors for not following the arrows in the store. We fail to question what we are fed by the media and politicians – we just react out of fear. 2. With the business shut-downs money doesn’t flow as in the past. A dollar spent at the bar, paid someone who spent the dollar at the gas station and paid someone who etc. Now a dollar doesn’t radiate out like it did. It’s both a demand-side shock and a supply-side shock that will challenge us. But I believe there will always be wealth – and perhaps we can begin to more deeply respect and embrace it instead of blaming it for all the world’s evils. And, I know with all certainly that we will get through this.
Jenni Jeffress: It feels different because of its unpredictability and high unemployment. So many businesses and individuals are affected that I think it makes fundraisers tentative. We do need to be sensitive to each situation, but our job is to ask for support. We need to keep doing that.
3. What advice would you have for a fundraising professional right now?
Marcy Heim: Shut off the news. Manage your self-talk. Manage the story you are telling yourself about what is possible and how your donors feel. What you focus on, you grow. My clients have had record-breaking success this year with special Covid efforts, completing campaigns and overall giving. Our focus? Action with authentic caring – you can’t pull that off if your head is messed up with fear. As Nelson Mendella said, “Rise above hate. Rise about fear.” Not against…above. I know you can do it!
Jenni Jeffress: It is still a great field of work. The mechanics may have changed, but the methods haven’t. Connect with donors. That is how you learn to be a good fundraiser.