Salem Square

BBQ chicken and ideas for nonprofits racing against a loss of donors

When I was a kid growing up in Salem, the American Legion would randomly have chicken barbecues on Saturday mornings right on South Main Street. They were rarely published in advance in the newspaper. They’d just decide to cook some good chicken and the smell and word of mouth would take care of the rest.

You could get chicken, coleslaw, baked beans, and a store-bought roll for $7 and they made bank doing it. People would stop to use payphones to call their friends and say, “The Legion’s got chicken!” People lined up in their cars for a bonafide drive-thru in hopes of getting lunch.

I was thinking about that today as I’ve digested every hot take, Reddit thread, webinar, and tweet I can find from people I trust about sales, donor operations, etc. That chicken would be a great fundraiser today because if you paired it with a restaurant, it’s quick to do, everyone stays in their cars (or bicycles), and it does well.

Some other potential ideas:

  • Mail tea or coffee to small groups for virtual tea.
  • Consider “shareholder” meetings with select groups of donors to talk to them about what you’re doing, problems, solutions, etc. 
  • If your community is small or tight, consider organizing a delivery night with a local restaurant to a group of 10 or more people at their homes. 
  • If your organization works with a group that is being impacted by recent events, like kids, consider what expertise or advice you can offer to or about those groups through the web.
  • Auctions, contests, and “raffles” all translate well online.

I condensed this together and hope it may be helpful for you. Some of it may be obvious, but perhaps it leads to a new idea for you.

  • Expect major donors to hold off on giving in a recession. We saw that clearly in the last recession. We’re not there yet, however.
  • Some donors will continue to give, but they will be spread thinner. 
  • We should use this time to deepen relationships with major donors. For organizations that have dedicated outreach staff, they should be making phone calls and writing cards, letters, etc. Don’t ever stop. Ask them how they’re doing, how their businesses are, etc.
  • The fundraising we don’t do is guaranteed to be 0. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume events as far as this summer or fall may still be in jeopardy. Looking at 2008, organizations that kept fundraising did exactly that. Those that canceled events suffered. Unlike 2008, we may need to rethink events from the ground up to capture their essence but work well online.
  • If you’re facing increased costs somewhere right now, fundraise around that. Whether that’s a need for new equipment, software, etc. 
  • Now more than ever it’s critical to engage your boards and keep them aware of each cost sector and specific need. And get them to reach out to top donors.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people suggesting now is not a good time to ask for money for fear of being tone-deaf. I now think this is mistaken.

People not in shaky hospitality or entertainment industries are most interested in trying to do something right now. There’s a feeling of control gained by knowing you can address a problem. Asking donors to step up is likely to yield good results for them and you.

And like my hometown can attest, a group can do well selling some chicken and letting people drive-by to get it.

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