While there has been enormous progress recently with the Covid-19 virus in some ways, we are all very much aware that the crisis is not over. There are some ‘hot spots’ around the country and, while Australia and New Zealand are doing incredibly well compared with most of the rest of the world, we know that there is no room for complacency. This same approach must apply to our work and our engagement with our amazingly supportive colleagues and communities.
Schools, of course, are back on campus and so that dynamic is changing rapidly. Some higher education institutions are also looking at staged returns to the campus, but hovering above all is the potential for further lockdowns if community spikes emerge around the country. With such uncertainty, it is the opportune moment to review your Case for Support for your institution, and for any specific projects for which you are seeking philanthropic donations.
In previous updates, we have suggested reviewing your plans and targets for this year, and thinking about what impact the pandemic may have on your strategies for next year. In a recent Educate Plus webinar Penny Bowman and Alan Watkinson looked at the strategic planning process and provided some examples of how you might undertake a review of your strategy, plans and Case for Support. A Case for Support is usually seen as something of a dynamic document, even though it can be printed on fine glossy paper and be used as a major marketing tool. In these changing conditions, where the financial impact on donors and potential supporters is still working its way through and becoming clear, the Case needs to be reflecting the new conditions and priorities of both your institution and of the community. In the USA, for instance, a recent research project has shown that, in the first quarter of this year, overall philanthropic giving declined by 6% across the country. Read the extract from The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Here are some suggestions for how you might both review and revise your Case for Support, and how you might use it to continue to engage with your community of alumni, donors and potential supporters.
How current is your Case?
Take out your existing Case (or Cases – for example, many of you will have one for bequests, one for scholarships/bursaries and perhaps one for a building project) for Support, share them with a small group of trusted advisors (both internally and externally) and ask the following questions:
- Have there been any changes or adjustments to the institution’s strategic or annual plans which may now need to be reflected in your fundraising work including your strategies and plans?
- In the context of the last nine months of drought, fires, pandemic, rising unemployment, economic downturn, climate-change activism and a growing awareness of and reaction against racism, are there any images that could be deemed insensitive or inappropriate? Does your Case contain images of diversity and inclusiveness? What are the spoken and unspoken values which the images celebrate?
- Again, given the contexts above, review the language across the entire Case. Is there anything there which might appear to be tone-deaf and not acknowledging the extent of the challenges facing your community at the moment? Is your language respectful while not veering into politically correct extremes? If you are including quotes from and/or references to specific people (staff, researchers or donors), do you have gender balance and the correct voice? Is the tone of your Case appropriate: strong and clear without being too demanding or importunate?
- What are the priorities in your current Case (even if your Case might still be in draft form)? Are they still going to be priorities for the institution and for your office over the next 18 months? For example, if you have been contemplating a capital works project, has that been put on hold until financial circumstances are more stable? Is the institution going ahead with it regardless of the current economic climate, and if so, will they be able to complete it without philanthropic support, or with greatly reduced support? If this is the case, then perhaps such a project should not stand as a priority in your Case. It is quite likely that various capital projects which have previously been thought of as ‘important’ for an institution to keep ahead in the competitive area of enrolments, may now not be seen as top priorities. In fact, it may be possible that some parents and students, with a much greater awareness of how an institution is dealing with some of the issues noted above, will be expecting to see less spent on new buildings and more spent on other areas, such as energy efficiency, green policies, scholarships and support for families facing financial difficulties.
- Does your Case include a focus on scholarship and bursary support opportunities? Are you able to show an approach to student diversity and inclusiveness in asking for such support? Are you demonstrating your support for Indigenous students? Make sure you are not appearing simply to be opportunistic in this area.
- If your Case has timelines and targets included, how will they need to be adjusted to reflect current circumstances and the institutional needs and timelines?
In reviewing and updating your Case for Support, there are several other components which may help strengthen it.
- With an assumption that your institution is not absolutely new to philanthropic fundraising, collect some stories and examples of how philanthropy has benefited the institution and its community in the past. Such philanthropy need not have occurred through intentional development office activity, but there are bound to be some key examples from the very early days of each institution.
- In the same way, collect some examples of contemporary philanthropy and its positive impact within the institution. Real life stories and anecdotes are very powerful.
- Use these examples to create a short narrative about the power and importance of philanthropy within and across your institution, and the importance it has to play in supporting the institution, the students, staff and wider community into the future. In such economically difficult times, and with government support becoming increasingly varied and uncertain, institutions really need philanthropic support to do more and to do it better than ever.
- Use the examples you have collected and create a small number of snapshot stories about real people, their philanthropy and its impact on the institution or, preferably, real students. Personalising philanthropic impact is a powerful way to inspire others. It is important to try and include a diversity of donors and recipients and also not to focus just on major gifts.
- In a previous Covid-19 update, we looked at the importance of bequests and building future support for an institution. Your Case should definitely have a clear section on the opportunity to support the institution through leaving a bequest. This medium to long-term strategy will usually not impact a short-term capital project, but what bequests do is to help safeguard the future of the institution by building – usually – scholarship support, or adding to an institutions endowment. Institutions with strong endowments at the moment are faring better in the economic downturn than those who as yet do not have substantial endowments. We cannot stress enough, we feel, that investing in a bequest program now will bring very strong returns in the longer term. You may well be able to talk about some ways that past bequests have supported your institution during this challenging period.
- Bringing these elements together in a revised (or new) Case for Support will show your own sensitive response to the difficulties everyone is facing at the moment. Because circumstances are changing rapidly still, and will continue to evolve over the next six months, it is not worth spending large amounts of money on new glossy brochures. This can send the wrong message. Think of using a pdf format at the moment since face-to-face meetings are still going to be some way into the future. Test the drafts with a number of key advisors and supporters, and be prepared to adapt and refine it as you receive feedback. This testing and seeking feedback is also a powerful engagement tool. A hard-copy Case for Support will then be ready for when we emerge on the other side of the current restrictions and immediate associated impacts of Covid-19.
It is important to keep in touch with your colleagues and to hear from them about how they are dealing with the crisis. Recently, Ann Badger led an excellent Educate Plus webinar with a number of experienced practitioners offering some practical ideas about their fundraising outreach and communications.
Marts & Lundy has also been collating a series of webinars across a wide range of advancement subjects. You can find the curated page with the links here: Philanthropy Amidst Global Disruption
You might be especially interested in listening to the webinars on: Schools Philanthropy During Pandemics from 28 April; Alumni Relations Strategic Planning from 5 May; and Navigating Burnout and Maintaining Balance in the Development Office from 4 June.
Finally, it is worth considering a subscription to the on-line The Chronicle of Philanthropy which provides some very useful resources, articles and suggestions:
A final suggestion is to be aware of the pressures and stresses which may well be impacting you and your team and others close to you. This second article from The Chronicle of Philanthropy provides some useful advice, and we have attached it for those who are unable to access the article on line:
As always, we appreciate hearing from you about any challenges you are having, new approaches you are trying (and how they are going), interesting stories and suggestions for further updates.
Stay safe. Stay connected.