Raising Donations in a Crisis, Part 2: Q&A With Karen Brooks Hopkins

Recently, Jim chatted with fundraising expert Karen Brooks Hopkins to see what live events organizations can do to raise funds when they can’t produce in-person events. You can watch the full conversation here, or read on for an excerpt of their conversation (which we’ll post in three parts — click here for Part 1).

Photo Credit: Erin Trieb for The Wall Street Journal

First, a little about Karen: The Brooklyn Academy of Music President Emerita has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising and is the author of Successful Fundraising for Arts & Cultural Organizations. She served as President of the Brooklyn Academy of Music from 1999 until her retirement in 2015 and was an employee of the institution since 1979.

Selling Out: What other things, besides understanding the whole institutional picture, should you be looking at? 

Karen Brooks Hopkins: When we think about fundraising, we always want to think about layers. Raising money for the institution, for initiatives, for individual programs, then parts of the programs. The key to successful fundraising is looking at what you have and then packaging it in as many different ways as possible in order to deliver the maximum amount of money. 

We really have to focus on our individual strengths and challenges and build the ask around that. 

For example, at BAM, we have these historic facilities. So think about the fact that these historic buildings need to be maintained despite the crisis, and how soon they will be alive again with music and shows and so on. 

Or if you have a show that’s a hit show, you want to remind your donors about that show and how timely it was and how much they enjoyed it, and that the show will be back and others will be starting next season — with their help. 

Another example: at BAM it costs $4,800 a person to maintain their health insurance for the rest of the season. So if everyone added $4,800 to their gift or even half that to their donation, a staff member, a loyal ticket services person who’s taken care of you year after year when you’ve called the patron desk, you’d help maintain their health insurance. 

It brings it home in an individual way. And that’s the creative work of the fundraiser and in this case of the entire management team. 

SO: How do we approach brand new donors and ask them for contributions at such a strange time? 

KBH: It’s first about existing donors and then it’s about donors you know are in the sweet spot of what you may be offering. The third place is the obvious place: your audience. Go back to your audience. They have a vested interest in your work because they have experienced it. So you might be expanding your asks to people who’ve been in the audience but haven’t become donors. 

To go in completely cold right now, unless you’ve got a really personal connection, is going to be really difficult. Go for the low hanging fruit first. Existing donors, review loyalty, look at the audience. Everyone who has a connection. 

Are you near local businesses that are still doing well? How have you connected with them? How have you been a good neighbor? All of this is important now but also important after.

Check back tomorrow for Part 3.

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