Sarah Hanley

After a full year living with the effects of a pandemic, things are slowly beginning to return to normal. But for many industries, such as the nonprofit sector, normal now looks different than it did before.

At the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia, we immediately adjusted our fundraising strategies for our clients and pivoted our thought process. We knew that the way may have been planning to work with a client simply wasn’t going to work right now.

Our team is always prepared to make adjustments as the fundraising landscape is ever-changing, but this past year challenged us in new ways. We learned to rely heavily on virtual and digital capabilities for both fundraising events and general gatherings, and we discovered so much more about our donors and their willingness to support those in need during times of extreme crisis. We know a lot more now about not just our donors, but our clients’ donors as well.

Let’s take a closer look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted some of the ways we operate.

Donor stewardship

The worldwide crisis made for an easy conversation starter over the last year, so getting a donor’s attention was not the challenge. Instead, it was keeping and maintaining that attention going forward.

An important thing we learned over the last year is that emergencies are not going to go away. Unfortunately, there will always be situations in which people and organizations need immediate help. That’s why we plan to always have our Emergency Relief Fund (ERF) available for our donors to contribute to, and in turn, we’ll make distributions from that fund to organizations in need indefinitely.

The ERF didn’t exist prior to the pandemic, but we learned quickly that we wanted to support urgent needs whenever possible.

Stemming from this, we also saw that people are willing to help more in crisis situations, even if the crisis is impacting them as well. We initially anticipated we could see some fluctuation in giving due to the pandemic, because giving as a whole in the nonprofit sector did suffer due to COVID. However, giving towards religious causes was consistent.

One recommendation we have for organizations looking to create sustainability, especially during these uncertain times, is to discuss endowment funds or planned gifts with their donors. CFGP’s charitable fund management services allow for donors to establish endowment funds on behalf of an organization or cause they want to support in perpetuity.

Clergy and religious

Clergy and religious have also played a large and important role in engaging parishioners and donors since the pandemic began. Despite having their own challenges to navigate through, they have been readily available to minister to the needs of the laity first and foremost.

We’ve worked directly with members of our clergy through both our Parish Support Initiative and our Parish Stewardship Renewal. These initiatives were created to help the more than 200 parish communities within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Without the support and guidance of our clergy, we would not have had the reach that we have as far as engaging parishioners.

Technology and special events

As with most organizations, we’ve transitioned to a primarily virtual atmosphere since the onset of COVID. While virtual meetings can present difficulties, a big positive is that they make it easier for people to attend — specifically, board and committee meetings where you’re looking for maximum engagement.

Because people don’t have to travel, they are more readily available and a bit more flexible with their time. This is a blessing for any organization that works closely with clients, donors, board and committees on projects, like we do.

Donor-Advised Funds

According to the Nonprofit Quarterly, giving to Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs) in 2020 increased by 30%. We saw this statistic come to life through our DAF growth at CFGP. Our number of DAFs established in 2020 stayed consistent with years prior, with additional established funds benefiting specific programs.

The generosity of our fund holders over the last fiscal year was also significant. In FY 2020, our funds alone distributed almost $870K to faith-based services and outreach programs, $822K to health and essential needs organizations, and just over $200K to education and youth development organizations.

So the pattern we are seeing is that Donor-Advised Funds continue to be a reliable charitable giving vehicle for donors, now more than ever.

Recently, I was invited to be a panel member for a webinar focusing on these topics and others involving the changing nonprofit landscape. Presented in partnership with the Nonprofit Alliance and the Catholic Development Council, I was joined by some of my peers to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on Catholic giving and philanthropy. Watch a recording of this webinar and learn more here.

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Sarah Hanley is the president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia. To learn more, visit TheCFGP.org or call 215-587-5650.