How Do You Raise Money During a Global Pandemic?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on April 7th, 2020.

The reality of our, and I do mean our, situation in a global pandemic is hitting hard. It is hitting so hard, on so many fronts, that if you are anything like me, you’re oscillating between moments of wanting to retreat and hide in the crevices of deep trenches, and moments of wanting to throw yourself out onto the battlefield, weapons in hand. It should not be a surprise to regular readers that images of Wonder Woman striding across No Man’s Land often come to mind (see my multiple articles on Wonder Woman).

So what battle are we fighting? And what are the weapons being used? I usually don’t like any kind of war analogies, but it feels appropriate at a time when millions of people have lost their jobs, have had to close their businesses, are being told to stay home and shelter in place, wash their hands, and practice social-distancing. The war is against a virus, COVID-19, and its weapons are isolation, economic devastation (on so many levels), disconnection, and of course, actual sickness and death. That is our reality right now, and it feels right that with every conversation, email, and point of connection, we have to acknowledge that this is our shared reality. We must humbly come together with great acknowledgment of these circumstances, and… life must go on. Work must go on. Creating must go on. Art must go on. Innovation must go on. Taking care of people in need must go on. And for all of that to GO ON, we must continue to ask for and provide financial resources; giving, spending, and investing.

So how on earth do we do that? How do we talk about money in times like these? And for the primary purpose of this article, how do we continue to ask for charitable financial support for organizations that are providing direct and meaningful solutions to the most pressing needs surrounding COVID-19, as well as for those that are not? And we must note that for a financial transaction to occur, we need two sides. Money must move from somewhere to somewhere. So yes, this article is about asking, but it is also about how we might act on the receiving side of that ask. 

One again, I am turning to my go-to person when it comes to talking about fundraising, Kathy LeMay. Kathy has been a resource champion for social change work for over two decades. I interviewed her in 2016 for a piece titled, “If You Know How to Ask for Money You Will Have a Job for Life“, and again in 2019 for a piece titled, “How Not to Run Out of Money.” I recommend reading them both, especially the how to not run of money piece, which is so relevant for so many non-profits, and for profits companies, right now. Kathy has been an advisor and friend to me for decades, and she is who I turn to with questions like these. 

JZ: Where to start? This seems to be the question that precedes every question right now. So where do we start? No matter what the conversation is ultimately about right now, where do we start?

KLM: I think we start each conversation with radical listening. In this pandemic world, when we ask one another, “How are you holding up?”, the very best thing we can do is listen, really listen, with the aim of understanding that person’s experience. While we’re all going through the same reality, we are experiencing it differently. Listen and learn not to respond. Don’t interrupt. Don’t share a similar story. Don’t try to fix or tell the person it will be all right. Simply listen. If we’re quiet for long enough, we will hear things we didn’t expect, and that can shift our thinking and perspective. 

JZ: You have been a fundraiser in times of tragedy, and in some ways, isn’t that the constant for many development professionals? To raise money to save lives? So what is different now? 

KLM: This is such a great and important question. In most cases, fundraisers themselves aren’t experiencing the mission they’re raising money for, such as Syrian refugees or children who have been trafficked. You immerse yourself in the work. You learn from your colleagues. You might even make a site visit to see the work first-hand. You feel deeply connected to the issue. You take it to heart. You take it home with you. But in most cases, you yourself are not experiencing the tragedy.

COVID-19 is impacting every corner of the globe and seemingly people from all walks of life. You may be tasked with raising money for a hospital or a food bank, and at the same time wondering if you are infected or have a family member who has tested positive. You’re thinking about the health and future of the people you serve, and about you and your family’s health and future. Some fundraisers have had this experience, for example people with AIDS raising money to help find a cure, and cancer survivors providing care to those just diagnosed. But never before have we seen so many people affected by one shared experience.

Fundraising leaders are thinking about the people they serve, their own lives, and their family, and they are asking if their organization will be able to keep its doors open for the short-term and the long-haul. This is a unique convergence that is happening at a significant scale. 

JZ: Indeed Kathy. I am calling it a “what about me, and a what about we?” time. There is such a convergence of the personal and the professional. It is not business as usual. Nor should it be.

JZ: Given this convergence of their own their lives, their organizations, and the people they serve, what’s a roadmap they could follow? 

KLM: I think now is a moment for fundraising leadership to revisit its primary purpose: Building relationships to advance shared values and missions. For right now, leave this question behind: How are we going to make budget? It’s not the right question. The right question is this: How can I make meaningful connections?

None of us can predict the future. We don’t know when this pandemic will end. We don’t know the full impact on the US and global economies. What we do know is that many of us are feeling fearful, anxious, unsettled, and worried. For your organization’s donors, this is where your leadership is needed. You can’t control this pandemic, but you can reach out to your supporters and make meaningful connections.

Write to five long-term supporters today. Let them know you and the organization are thinking of them and their families. Thank them for having been there for your organization when you needed them. Let them know you are here for them now. 

Send a video message from your organization’s Executive Director. Invite the Director to be open, heartfelt, and caring. I can’t tell you the number of emails and videos I’ve gotten in the month since this pandemic became real for the United States. The messages that have stayed with me are the ones that are steady, measured, caring, and very clearly about making a meaningful connection.

You likely got into fundraising because you are relationship-driven. You don’t thrive off of transactional relationships. You are at your best personally and professionally when you can create meaningful, values-driven connections. This is a moment to return to this.

JZ: Is there a point in your fundraising history that you can liken to this moment?

KLM: I would say the HIV/AIDS crisis in United States in the early 1990s and the war in Bosnia in early to mid-1990s. At that time, HIV/AIDS wasn’t yet a global epidemic, and the war in Bosnia was isolated to the Balkans. In this way, neither is similar in scope to this pandemic. But there are striking similarities.

The women I worked with in Bosnia had to figure out how to keep their families and communities going when thousands were dying every day. They had no idea when the siege would end. They needed financial support to keep going, but weren’t sure where it would come from. They were scared for their neighbors, for children who had been left without parents, and they were scared for their own lives and their families’ lives. They were exhausted and traumatized. They wanted to go back to life as they knew it, and yet would say that they knew nothing would ever be the same again.

And I suppose you could say something very similar about the people who had been diagnosed with AIDS. Trying to figure out how to keep going knowing you didn’t have much time left. Those in high-risk communities wondered if they would be the next person to test positive. Wondering if the spread of the disease would end. Wondering if you were infected or if you had unknowingly infected someone else. Hoping and working for a vaccine and a cure. Being isolated from society. The people I knew with AIDS were courageous and terrified. They talked about life before AIDS, and they knew nothing would ever be the same again.

I was very graciously and lovingly let into those worlds. I had no idea what I could offer, or even what I should be offering. So I listened. I spent days, weeks, and months listening. It’s when and where I learned the power of radical listening. I couldn’t save anyone’s life. I met and worked with women in Bosnia I would never see again. I buried friends who died of AIDS. I couldn’t end the war or the AIDS epidemic. But what I could do was listen. And then with permission, share those stories with caring, compassionate donors who wanted to make a difference. And I would listen to how donors felt about wars and disease, their own experience, their grandparents’ experiences. What I experienced most was the power of empathy to transform lives. Donors empathized and then they gave generously. And that giving mattered. It made a difference. And it will make a difference with COVID-19. 

JZ: I recently heard from a professional fundraiser that he thinks 10 – 20% of non-profits will close this year, including institutions of higher education. If you do the math, that seems possible. Meaning, if charitable giving is pretty much a constant percentage of GDP, and GDP contracts by that amount, then it will be the inevitable outcome. What do you think?

KLM: There was a piece by David Streitfield in the March 27, 2020 issue of the New York Times, where it was shared that non-profits that are thinly capitalized, or don’t have a diverse source of revenue streams, may struggle to be able to keep their doors open. As the article rightly summarized, this is the cruel reality of this pandemic, in that revenue may be less available for some non-profits while demand is skyrocketing.

I do think we’ll see non-profits that will have to close their doors. I expect there will be a merging of organizations with similar missions, and organizations coming together under one roof to share space, leadership, and resources. I think you’ll see non-profits get more creative than ever before. I don’t think that the sector will stand by and let people fall through the cracks. The sector is too values-driven to let that happen on a large scale. I anticipate we’ll see innovation in our sector, and a new level of creativity to respond to a rapidly changing landscape.

JZ: What advice are you giving professional fundraisers right now? What should they be paying attention to?  

KLM: First and foremost, I’d say something that I wouldn’t have said prior to 2019: Take unbelievably good care of yourself. I didn’t. After 25 years in social change fundraising, I, for a host of reasons, lost my way. I’d lost my sense of who I was. I didn’t know how to wave a white flag and ask for help. I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t at the top of my game. Instead of slowing down, I sped up. I tried to do more. I failed. In that failing, I let people down. I’ll spend the next few years of my life trying to right those mistakes.

You are one person in a very big world with a whole host of challenges. Be as good to yourself as I know you are to the people in your world; to your clients, to your donors. Go gently. Go slowly. Don’t speed up like I did. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Spoiler alert, you’ll end up being not very much to anyone.

So be gentle with yourself. Reconnect with your values. Talk to your colleagues. Share what you’re experiencing. Ask for help. When the world says, “We’re in this together”, they mean you too.

JZ: I want to flip the conversation, or perhaps broaden it. We all have time, talents, and treasure to give. In your book, The Generosity Plan, you talk about creating a plan for our generosity. How should all of us be doing that right now? 

KLM: My advice is actually not very different than what I shared in the Generosity PlanMake generosity a daily part of your life, and make it your own. You don’t have to do what others are doing to make a difference. You only have to do what you feel called to do. Do the thing that makes you wonder, “Am I up for this?” Chances are the answer is yes. Try something new. Pick up the phone and call a non-profit to ask if they need volunteers. If they say no, try another organization.

I don’t think that generosity is a one time event or a certain sized check. I think true generosity is giving until you feel a deeper connection to the world than you did before. When you feel that feeling, you’ll know you’re living your definition of a generosity plan.

JZ: In my work, I talk about our financial resources being used to spend (buying the products and services we need, such as housing, food, education, and health care, and those we want (all the extras)), to give (to charitable organizations, friends, family, and others) and to invest (savings, capital markets products, and companies as a direct investor). Of course, we all have varying degrees of resources to do any of these. But I also think we all have assumptions and there are social norms around how and why we use our money around those three buckets. Now, during this crisis, I am seeing people using their money differently. For example, people are buying gift certificates in record amounts for their local restaurants and shops, even though they are closed, to help those businesses stay afloat. It also seems, anecdotally, that people are giving more money to organizations that provide basic services such as food right now. Talk about how you think we should think about these buckets? 

KLM: I would say this is a time to contribute to the collective good AND to support what is calling to you. Giving to funds for nurses, hospitals, soup kitchens, and/or all front line workers, is in my opinion essential. Give what you can. If you can’t give money, that’s ok. Send emails to the local hospitals thanking them for their extraordinary service. Have your children record videos thanking front line workers and share them far and wide. In short, give locally.

At the same time, give where you are called. Give to the arts because our souls need to be fed. Give to your local restaurants because they are people’s livelihoods and they keep our community connected. Give a gift to your postal carriers. Don’t fall prey to “giving shame”, where the dominant narrative tells you where to give and what to give. Now is the time to listen to what calls to you. We need all sectors of society to be resilient and healthy. Each place you give matters. Each place makes a difference.

Jacki’s note: I will be writing a lot more about this question I just asked Kathy above and will be using it as a frame to interview others. Stay tuned. 

It is hard to find a way to end the questions, as there is so much to talk about, so let’s not end it! Post your comments and questions. Kathy and I will review them and respond via a second article, or better yet, a podcast! Stay tuned…

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Find Kathy on LinkedIn by clicking here.

Find me on LinkedIn here, and on my website jackizehner.com. Once published I cross-post all articles on my blog.

This pretty darn adorable photo, if I do say so myself, is from the fall of 2019 at the Sundance Resort.

COVID Positive

As published on LinkedIn Influencers March 28th, 2020.

I have been wondering for six days whether or not to write this article, and if I did, how to write this article. What to say, and how to say it. It was only this morning, after waking up feeling truly better, that it felt like the right time.

On Friday March 20th I was tested for COVID-19, having had symptoms of headaches, body aches, stomach issues, and chills earlier in the week. It was only after learning that two people we had been with at a recent gathering, a “before” gathering, had tested positive and were pretty sick that getting tested seemed like the right thing to do. I was lucky, because I was able to get tested. Two days later I got the call that I had tested positive. At the time, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, there were 136 confirmed cases in Utah.

The night before I got my test result, I did what I always do before I go to sleep. I prayed. However, that night I was not sure what to pray for. I always pray for my family, my friends, and the world in general. I pray for health, for safety, for kindness, for wisdom, all the usual things. I was pretty sure I had it, which meant everyone in our household likely had it, but so far none of our symptoms were that severe. We had already been isolating for a week at that time, so I prayed to either not have it, or have it, but please God, let it not be severe for anyone who I may have exposed to it. And so far it seems like that prayer is coming true.

As I shared my symptoms with family and friends, it seems to me that a lot more people may have this virus than is being reported. Of course, the lack of testing is making this an incredibly huge and challenging issue. But the good news is that if we continue to wash hands, stay home, social distance, quarantine if you are confirmed sick, and truly take care of our more vulnerable populations, then the experts tell us that we have the best chances of getting through this, together.

Ironically, March 1st was going to be the day that I emerged from my gap year (18 months) of sorts. While I have been working on a few things during this time, including non-profit boards, charitable giving, and investing, I had given myself some time after fully transitioning from my role at Women Moving Millions to figure out what was next for me in terms of how best to use my time, treasure, and talent to serve. I wanted to get through my full hip replacement that happened on February 11th first, and then I was going to hit the ground running. But let’s recall what has been happening since then, shall we? Global pandemic, financial markets tumbling, Utah earthquake, economic shut-down, three week home quarantine, and somehow we’re still having endless snow storms in Park City. So needless to say my March 1st date has shifted to April 1st. However, expect to hear a lot more from me going forward.

And please. Take care of yourself and take care of others.

Leaders or Hucksters?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on March 21st, 2020.

I woke up before 5am this morning, slightly later than my new normal of 4am, with words from “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette playing in my head. For a minute, disoriented, I wasn’t sure whether I was about to laugh or cry. And then I cried.

In January of 2008, I decided I would start blogging, and I hired a talented writer and friend, Deborah Siegel, to work with me. If you need a refresh as to what was happening in the United States at that time, the topics and people included President Bush, sub-prime mortgage crisis, Ben Bernanke Chair of the Federal Reserve, Hank Paulson Treasury Secretary (my former boss), and US Presidential candidates dropping out like flies. In fact, on the day Deborah and I worked together for the first time, we paused to listen to the news as Hank Paulson made a special announcement regarding the unprecedented (at the time) financial interventions of the US government to try and bail out the economy. I was so fired up and pissed off that I started to rant, but Deborah simply said, “Write about it.” And so we did. We submitted a piece titled “The Confidence Man” to the Huffington Post, and it was published on the front page.

Today’s announcement by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is but the latest effort by the current administration to downplay the severity of the current economic crisis. In the grand old American tradition of hucksterism, Paulson’s prescription is a sorely misleading sell.

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It’s time to wake up and smell the economy. Sadly, there’s no short and easy fix to the longer-term problems created by excessive borrowing combined with rampant consumerism. Yet Paulson insists (White House Stimulus Fact Sheet, Jan. 18, 12:03pm, WSJ.com), “By passing an effective growth package quickly, we can provide a shot in the arm to keep our fundamentally strong economy healthy and help keep instability in the housing and financial markets from more adversely affecting the overall economy.” Believing the economy to be grounded on a “solid foundation,” Paulson is ignoring the walls falling down.”

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Fast forward 12 years. Today, and every day for the past week, we have had government leaders and financial gurus appear before us on the same news channels as in 2008. In fact, this very second, as I hit publish, we are awaiting an announcement on another historical financial and legislative intervention, including billions, if not trillions of dollars worth of interventions. Instead of President Bush, we have President Trump. Instead of Treasury Secretary Paulson, we have Treasury Secretary Mnuchin (another former Goldman boss, my direct one). However, unlike 2008, we also have an array of health experts to listen to, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. If you flip from channel to channel as I have done unhealthily for the past couple of weeks, all you will see are panels of “experts”. Some of these politicians and health experts are giving us facts and useful information on how to take action against the Coronavirus. And some are not.

Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

The financial crisis of 2008 is obviously different than the crisis we’re currently facing. This time around the trigger is a global pandemic. Should we have foreseen the possibility of this and had a better plan? Heck yes. Will people, many people, die because of the lack of foresight and planning? Sadly, the answer is already yes. As of this writing, there were 18,900 confirmed cased in the United States and 263 deaths. 26 people are dying every hour in Italy. And beyond the absolutely devastating loss of life, there is the short term and long term economic and social impact.

Once again I find myself screaming at the television, and so once again I am turning to writing. This time around, I chose the medium of poetry to express my frustrations.

I keep thinking. Asking. “Why this is all so surprising”? Do you? I am not in to blame and shame. but I am into – leadership, responsibility, accountability. It’s a big deal to have NOT been better prepared. In all the big and obvious ways. And in all the invisible and hidden ways. A very big deal. This is about some people in particular. Those with big titles, big salaries, big platforms, big influence, big teams. But most of us. As well. It’s a big deal to witness and unpack and understand what all of this exposes. It will also be a big deal to respond. rethink, regroup, rebuild, reconnect. NOW. And especially. When the droplets settle and disappear.

Earlier today I looked up the term hucksterism, as I am not sure I have seen or used this word since 2008. Let me define it for you:

Hucksterism: To promote or attempt to sell (a commercial product, for example) in an overaggressive or showy manner.

Now, how about another word?

Leadership: A simple definition is that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal. They are the person in the group that possesses the combination of personality and leadership skills to make others want to follow their direction.

We have, and always will, live in times of hucksters and leaders, and it has and will always be up to us to figure out who falls into which bucket. What I can do, what we all can do, is pay attention. Make note. Remember. Act. And throughout all of this, my favorite definition of insanity keeps coming to mind: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

So President Trump. Everything is not perfect and great and awesome and amazing. Nor is it all your fault. But you are the President of the United States at this moment, and your job is to be a leader, not a huckster. The same is true for every other leader right now, and especially those with the big titles, the big teams, and the big pay-checks. The walls are indeed, falling down. This pandemic is quickly exposing the cracks, if not downright fractures, in our institutions, our systems, and our social norms. This includes those in government at all levels everywhere, businesses both big and small, philanthropy, and civil society. There is so much to be learned in terms of how we live and work, practice proper preparedness, and care for our most vulnerable populations, both in “normal” times and in times of crisis and need.

We should never forget that countless people suffer and die every single day for so many preventable reasons. We have normalized the abnormal because it has been going on for so long. We have become so used to the word ‘crisis’ being in the news that the meaning has become lost. We move on and move past the headlines around deaths due to violence, poverty, addiction, preventable diseases, and mental-health, and we do this for so many reasons, perhaps the most common of which being it is someone else’s problem to solve. It may be someone else’s problem, but it is our problem too. Problems are everywhere, but so are solutions. We can all do something, or we can all do nothing. Isn’t it ironic that the number one message of this particular crisis is that we can in fact ALL do something that matters.

We can stay home. We can wash our hands. We can social distance. We can take care of one another. We can donate to charities serving the needy. We can search #covidkindness on twitter to lift our spirits. People really can be awesome!

In closing, I am quite sure I will continue to wake up before dawn for the foreseeable future. I am quite sure I will continue to yell at the television. And of course, I am going to keep sharing, posting, writing, and connecting; doing as I have done, out loud, for the past 12 years.

A few lines from the end of this poem I wrote and shared on March 14th called Maybe/Who/Next.

Let us all do the next right thing. Let us all do the next kind thing. Let us all do the next hopeful thing. Let us all do the next generous thing. The next compassionate thing. The next wise thing. The next rational thing. The next loving thing. The next safe thing. The next calm thing. And then. Do it again and again. We are all connected. We always have been. We always will be. (May heeding the call to ‘social distance’ be the force that actually draws us closer together)

I have written 778 blog posts since 2008. If you want to check them out you can find them here. And of course you can sign-up to have them emailed directly to your inbox. 

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*A friend shared with me this white paper called “Public-Private Cooperation for Pandemic Preparedness and Response: A Call to Action”, which was prepared in partnership with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the World Economic Forum, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year. Again, for a second, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. And then I cried.