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What does it mean to be a relational fundraiser during social distancing?

Three things savvy fundraisers can do now 

Erin K.

Erin KoppelChief Strategy Officer, Tessitura Network

TitleWhat does it mean to be a relational fundraiser during social distancing?


Read/View Time3 min

Arts and culture has already defined the gold standard of meaningful social distancing.

Two weeks ago, could you have imagined penguins on patrol, lessons on how to doodle, free virtual field trips, and outrageously high demand for live-streaming of opera? The arts lift our collective spirit and soul, and provide critical human touchpoints, even when social distance stands between us.

As fundraisers, we now have a wholly unique opportunity to expand our vocabulary of engagement with donors. Improvisation is a fundraiser’s greatest strength! I have been thinking about ways to reinforce existing shared connection above all else right now. Here are three ideas to help you get started.

1) Be a little vulnerable.

Look for opportunities to commiserate with donors about how sad cancellations are, with stages dark and buildings empty. We often get to share the emotional highs our art produces; don’t be afraid to share these lows as well.

2) Webcams work with donors.

Get live video conversations going between your major donors and the leader of your organization. Even if it feels weird to you, we need to amplify the visual connection between donor and organization, and video accomplishes that. (Also, your donors are likely already having video chats with their families, so, it’s less a technology shift and more a mindset shift for us as fundraisers. I’ll have more tips on this in a follow-up post.)

3) Get serious with stakeholders.

Your Board has been with you during this crisis already. Depending on your financial position, soon it will be time to start thinking about how the organization will need to redeem the investment of relationship capital that’s built up over the years. Challenge grants, exceptional gifts – it will all be on the table. Your board’s authentic involvement in your revenue strategy now will help them to make their own plans accordingly.

I’m so impressed with the outstanding creative and passionate efforts I’ve seen to deliver the best of our sector to the world in this moment. Because of this, I know arts and culture fundraisers will be at the forefront of successfully adapting the very nature of fundraising. Any ideas you want to share are most welcome! Drop me a line via email or find me on Twitter at @erinkoppel3.

Be well, friends.


Top photo by bongkarn thanyakij from Pexels

Erin K.

Erin Koppel

Chief Strategy Officer

Tessitura Network

Erin Lively Koppel works globally with Tessitura member organizations to advance their business and help them connect more visitors and patrons to the art they produce.

As Chief Strategy Officer for Tessitura Network, she leads a highly skilled team of industry experts who create revenue-generating strategies, deliver meaningful insight via Tessitura Analytics, and provide fundamental CRM guidance which deepens engagement with constituents, and improves operational efficiency using Tessitura.

Known for her ability to inspire and ignite organizationally-inclusive teams, Erin is a highly sought conference speaker and workshop facilitator in Europe and North America. She has personally worked in all genres of arts and culture, from major metropolitan museums and aquariums to regional theatres. Prior to working for Tessitura, Erin spent nearly twenty years fundraising for Lyric Opera of Chicago, one of North America’s largest opera companies, and using Tessitura herself to support multi-million dollar fundraising campaigns she directed. She resides in southwest suburban Chicago.

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