Fundraising in Difficult Times

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

Money is a hard thing to ask for when everyone around you needs it at least as much as you do. An appropriate reaction to the current crisis would be to make the assumption that donors will be less able to help this time. Yet, according to Annie Boisclair, fundraising director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, this is the worst thing an organization can do. “The key is to – even in times of a pandemic – never stop communicating with your different categories of donors. Even though donations can potentially be less generous, organizations should continue to communicate with people and tell them about their mission in order to keep what unites them alive.” 

We are living through a situation that arguably no one has experienced in the last century, and even though the fundraising structure and tools might stay the same – an annual campaign, a newsletter, etc. – the message is different, the needs are much more urgent. Different times call for different measures and therefore for projects out of the ordinary. 

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“At the moment, a lot of organizations and foundations still have a fundraising model geared towards events,” points out Gabrielle Blackburn, executive director of the Jeunesses Musicales Foundation. “They should actually think bigger than what they are used to for the simple reason that what we are used to will not be possible this year. Every organization will have to relate to their mission but think differently on how they can serve it in the current situation.” 

That is what the JM Foundation did last spring with the Do Mi Si La Do Ré Contest (“Domicile adoré” or “Home sweet home”). The fundraising project, for which Blackburn will receive the outstanding innovative manager award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals this November, has been recognized as pioneering in both the cultural and philanthropy sectors. “The contest was not just about giving money to young talents,” says Blackburn. “It was about creating enthusiasm for them, making them known and investing in their future, which aligns with our mission of helping emerging young musicians. We wanted to help them not just financially, but also re-motivate them to play even though everything had stopped.” 

Bal d’une nuit d’été (Photo: OSM)

Arts organizations should not underestimate the unifying role that artists and musicians can play in fundraising. As representatives of the organization and the personification of their art, musicians have the power to bring the community together and be compelling figures for donors. Especially now that live performance has been stifled, musicians around the world feel the urge to roll up their sleeves. The musicians of the Orchestre Métropolitain, for instance, support and participate in the organization’s promotional and fundraising campaigns. “They are the soul of our organization,” says Céline Choiselat, the OM director of funding and partnership. “Galvanized by uniting and ambitious projects led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin – even in times of pandemic – they put their shoulder to the wheel to ensure the continuation of our artistic program. The audience cannot fail to sense this determination to offer music for the well-being of our community.”

While we ironically have less of it in our lives today, we need more of the human connection we once took for granted. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there is a greater general awareness of the needs of others, and that is good news. 

“There is a spirit of global community that is generated when we talk about gifts and needs that did not exist before,” says Blackburn. “More prominently than ever before, we feel that pressing need to be part of a community and that all of us will need to do our best to help others.” Organizations need to ask for help and reach out to their donors more than ever before, and not just because they want to survive, but also because the people who followed them before the crisis need them. Troubled, worried and in need of comfort, people are counting on organizations to carry on providing their good services and products as known and appreciated before the pandemic. It is in times like these that people need to hear from each other the most. Organizations, donors, audience – we are all connected. Donors are no exceptions. Isolated from friends and family as well, they will appreciate the human touch of a phone call or a personalized letter. 

The stakes have changed in relation to the pandemic. Living in an unprecedented time, we will all have to start thinking differently. “A situation like this gives us much wider understanding, empathy and perspective,” says Tricia Baldwin, director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at Queen’s University. “And arts organizations are given the opportunity to start playing a more integrative role in the society.” More than ever, fundraising is about the human behind the communication. Organizations will have to be creative in finding ways to bring people together. Fundraising in times of COVID is a question of knowing how to reach people and make them understand that our mission is still there – that we are still there – even if the context has changed.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

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