The truth is I became just another statistic.

One Day Employed, The Next Not

I am an experienced nonprofit executive and fundraiser who has worked for a few organizations over the last two decades. Like everyone else, I have had major successes and yes, some failures. I enjoyed my work, knowing that the funds I raised and distributed were helping those who in general did not have the opportunities I did.

And then one day, about 9 years ago, I was laid off. Yup- a gut puncher if ever there was one.

But rather than dwell on the negative, I saw it as an opportunity. You never know what lies over the horizon… I learned new skills. I joined Twitter and taught myself how nonprofits can use it effectively. Less than two years later I had established myself as a field expert and authored the cover story in Fundraising Success Magazine about social media and fundraising.

My biggest problem at the time was how to support my family. Nonprofit salaries are not, shall we say, going to get me on Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous (remember that show?). We had no savings and pressure was on to find a job quickly.

That didn’t happen. Instead, things got very tight in a hurry. The little unemployment money I could collect did not pay the bills. Can’t go to friends- they’re maxed out and have their own issues. Family? Forget it. So now I had to scramble.

From Fundraiser to Donation Recipient

In the community I lived in at the time, there was a Free Loan Society. This society helps families who are having financial troubles and need a little “breathing room” for a few months. The amount isn’t that much- a max of $500 per month. But if it helps with food shopping…

I had a very tough decision to make. I had always worked in nonprofits and money had always been an issue, but I never took charity. Yet now I faced unpaid bills, mortgage payments and everything that millions of unemployed persons face daily.

So I took the plunge. I contacted the head of the Free Loan Society. After filling out a small amount of paperwork, I went from fundraising for others to a receiver of donations.

How did I feel? You can figure that out on your own.

from fundraiser to donor receiver

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Handle With Care

I am reminded of this story as our sector deals with the current pandemic. Just look at the meteoric rise in people applying for unemployment in the U.S. Some of those people used to be donors to your organization. Now? They may be needing your services.

The experience of receiving monthly donations opened my eyes to a number of lessons I knew, but didn’t think about often enough. They are certainly applicable today.

  • Don’t assume: We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. Ask how people are doing. Don’t make assumptions based on past donation levels. Tell donors your organization can provide X services if they need. That’s what you’re there for.
  • Careful how you ask: Make an ask? Yes. What type of ask? Here you need to be careful. For example, don’t ask donors to sign over their $1200 stimulus check to your nonprofit. They might have been furloughed and need that money desperately!
  • Distribute with care: It was embarrassing to approach the society but they did NOT make me feel ashamed at all! They handled my story with care, empathy and guided me through the application process smoothly. Donor recipients do NOT want to be receivers. They’d rather be givers. We have to keep this in mind at all times.
  • Speed matters: From start to finish, I had my first check within one week of applying for assistance. I am well aware that many nonprofits can’t move funds or provide services to beneficiaries that quickly. The speed with which people were furloughed/laid off was unprecedented. Maybe now is a good time to review your organization’s processes to see where things can be more streamlined and thus wait times cut significantly.
All’s Well That Ends Well

Things eventually turned around. I found another job. But the lessons from back then are still relevant today.

People are hurting out there but your organization may not know it. Ask how you can help. Believe me- they’ll remember the good you did for them in their time of need.

Hi nonprofit pro! NOW’S the time to be engaging with your donors. Since you might not be able to in person, let’s give your digital communications and marketing a kickstart, so we can give a boost to your bottom line!