As we are all too aware, Australia is facing a series of incredibly diverse and challenging situations as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact every aspect of our lives. Even for our friends and colleagues across the Tasman, alarm bells have started to ring again after more than 100 days of a return to normality. In Victoria, despite the best efforts of so many, the numbers of new daily infections are still high and the tragic death toll continues to rise.
With all educational institutions in Victoria closed, and borders around Australia and international borders closed, we are forced to look inwards a little more than perhaps we might be accustomed to doing. Yet such introspection should not lead to inaction or a lack of engagement with key sections of our community.
Most of us will have a Foundation or Fundraising Board or Committee with which we work. Data from the recent survey undertaken in partnership with Educate Plus shows that many institutions have amended or reduced fundraising activity over the last few months, and therefore may not be keeping in touch as much with these important members of their community. We would like to suggest five possible engagement opportunities which can keep you and the members of such Boards or Committees connected and engaged in thinking about what comes next as the pandemic recedes. We know from research that many of you have been reaching out to donors, potential supporters, alumni, parents and vulnerable members of your community. We have also heard how much such outreach has been appreciated. Now, perhaps it is time to apply the same principles to Fundraising Board or Committee Members. We are sure that most members are keen to help, and some will have a bit more time during current restrictions. What they possibly lack, though, is a path out of the usual Board or Committee activities or responsibilities : attending meetings, ensuring strong governance, receiving reports and possibly suggesting potential actions that you can take. Here is an opportunity to re-set some of those expectations and recalibrate them in a meaningful and productive way.
Opportunity 1: Care and Concern Calls
Ring each Board or Committee Member and have a real conversation with them about their own circumstances. Treat them like donors or potential supporters (they probably are in any case!). Ask about their family, especially their children and/or grandchildren and how they are coping with schooling issues, or juggling various tasks at home. Check if there is anything with which you or the institution can help, and thank them for all their efforts, contributions and support. Send them a thank you card the following week to acknowledge their time and reflect something of the conversation you had.
Opportunity 2: Member Engagement and Support
Suggest to the Chair/President of the Board/Committee that you organise a thirty-minute social catch up by whatever virtual means you are using: Zoom, Webex, Teams etc. Organise it around a good time for a morning or afternoon tea/coffee; or an early evening drink. Ask the Chair to host the event and provide an opportunity for members to share their current personal or work experiences, and talk about how the institution is going, and what, as a group, they may be able to do to help. Follow up with a card the following week picking up any individual concerns or thoughts which might have emerged.
Opportunity 3: Members Outreach Calls
Identify 4 or 5 alumni or community people for each Board/Committee member with whom you feel they would be comfortable having a virtual conversation. Ask each member to call those people over a two-week period. Provide a basic script of points to cover: asking after personal and family well-being; issues being faced; providing a brief update on the institution and how it is coping with the pandemic impacts, especially with regard to final year students and their exams (and University aspirations), and any key events (graduation, prize giving, annual concerts etc) which are being affected. Make sure the members thank those they are calling for their engagement with the institution and their support etc.
Opportunity 4: Members Supporting Your Work
Select 5 people from your research profile files for each Board/Committee member for whom you would like further information, especially about ways to engage, introductions, connections etc. Send each member their list of five and ask for any feedback within one week; then rotate the lists so that each member receives another five for the following week etc, until all the names selected (ie 40 people for 8 members) have been covered by each member. Thank them and report back on important information or strategic developments at the end of the activity.
Opportunity 5: Thank You Calls
Take your list of donors from the start of 2020 and divide the major ones between your Board/Committee Members. Allocate up to 5 donors per member. Ask them to call their list over a two week period to thank them for their donation; to bring them up-to-date with how the institution is coping with the impact of the pandemic; to let them know about continuing developments and future projects; and to explore any issues which the donor may be facing (as per Care and Concern Calls). Provide a brief script and the key information to make the calls as simple as possible., Ask for each member to report back on the success of their calls, and to provide any further information which might be useful and strategic.
Depending on your relationship with the Fundraising Board/Committee and its leadership, you may need to clear these potential activities with the Chair/President before you engage with the individual members. It’s a good policy to ensure the leadership has ‘no surprises’ and endorses your plans before you implement them.
Some members will probably welcome some specific and simple tasks like this to keep them involved in the fundraising work of your institution. They will possibly be keen to demonstrate their willingness to support you and your work, and to report back on what they have done and what they discover. Others, of course, may not be so responsive or enthusiastic; that is the nature of Boards and Committees. It is important not to pressure members to participate in any of these activities, but to offer them an opportunity to be involved.
The key thing is that you are being pro-active in seeking their engagement and support, and are showing genuine appreciation of what they can do, despite the impact of the pandemic. You are seeking their advice, their co-operation and collaboration and giving them manageable but meaningful tasks to undertake, and not just asking them for money!
You may well be pleasantly surprised at the results – and we would love to hear if any of these opportunities works really well for you.
Remember to keep safe and well, and please contact any of us if there is anything you would like to discuss.