As a gender-inclusive fraternal organization, Alpha Phi Omega’s members improve the world one community service project at a time. Not surprisingly, our revenue took a big hit when college campuses switched to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our annual fund is supported through direct mail to our alumni members. We rely on a large mailing in the fall and a more tactical mailing in early spring. With schools closed, I was concerned many of our members would make smaller gifts, skip making a gift or stop their automated monthly gifts due to layoffs or uncertainty.
We had two mailings scheduled. One was to donors who had given in the current year, asking for an increase in giving. The second was to donors who had given last year, but not in the current year.
There were many things we could have shared with donors. What we determined was the best approach was honesty.
Our revenue for the year was anticipated to be off by 8% from the previous year. The situation would have been much worse, had we not started cutting expenses as much as possible in March. Thankfully, we had not needed to lay off staff or make changes to our payroll. I shared this and underscored the fact that we had great staff members who were, and are, the backbone of our association. I made it clear that cuts to staff would be our last resort.
My appeal to donors was straightforward: “We need you now more than ever.” And, wow, did our donors respond!
We ended our fiscal year up 12% over the previous year. It turned out to be our highest annual fund ever.
In addition to the direct mail appeal, each staff member made 20 calls per week to key alumni members, key leaders, past officers, committee volunteers and donors. The conversations were kept simple and counterintuitively donor-centric: “How are you?”
Most were surprised, and everyone was very appreciative. Our genuine interest in them was reciprocated; and their generosity has continued to flow.
For example, we have a grants program that is supported through alumni donations. Through this program, our chapters can apply for grants to conduct volunteer projects that benefit youth.
A chapter in Louisiana received a grant that allowed them to buy takeout containers so they could partner with a local elementary school to provide meals for families in need when the school moved to virtual operations—a small project with enormous life-impacting potential.
Donors understand that needs increase during times of uncertainty. Our members, volunteering in their communities, want to be as effective as possible, especially now. And we, as nonprofit professionals, understand the only way these projects are accomplished is if the funding is there to make things happen.
Donors care about the mission. Volunteers are ready to serve. It was our willingness to be transparent and demonstrate our appreciation for donors that sparked even greater philanthropy at a very difficult time. The power of philanthropy has enabled us to combine our efforts and exponentially increase our effectiveness.
Bob London, CAE
Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity