Moving Forward Together

We’ve been here before, you and I.

The Black Monday stock market crash in 1987. The tech-bubble burst in the late 1990s. The terror of 9/11 in 2001. The housing collapse in 2008 that sparked the Great Recession.

Hartsook has experienced numerous cycles of uncertainty during its 33 years helping nonprofit organizations raise more money and change more lives.

Now, with the advent of COVID-19, we face new challenges together.

In addition to health concerns, we’re all juggling the demanding and surreal task of moving forward while staying put. It’s a time to be wise. Not panicked, not passive… but wise.

At Hartsook, much wisdom comes from much experience.

Stay Put… Move Forward

With minute-by-minute updates on the virus, we are all dealing with the strange new necessity of adjusting our lives and schedules between opposing priorities: stay put… move forward… stay put… move forward.

In one way, it’s what nonprofits do every day. They adapt to meet the need.

Only now, everything is heightened and amplified.

Here are five time-tested principles to guide our fundraising decision-making as we navigate this season together.

1. Keep working.

Don’t pause or pull back from fundraising. Lean into it. As unlikely as it sounds, we will face greater challenges in the future than we do today. Anyone who experienced the aftermath of 9/11 or the Great Recession remembers the fear and uncertainty. It was tempting then, as it is today, to become paralyzed.

Fortunately, our firm was founded in 1987 by two consummate optimists, Bob Hartsook and Karin Cox. They declared without equivocation: “Full steam ahead!”

As a result:

  • Hartsook raised $100 million for Wichita State University in the late 1980s, even with the 1987 economic crash.
  • Despite the tech-bubble burst in the late 1990s, Hartsook guided The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art through a $200-million campaign that expanded its space by more than 55%.
  • Following 9/11, another Hartsook client, Harvesters, raised $5 million more than its annual budget.
  • Hartsook raised $500 million in foundation challenge grants following the Great Recession, because other organizations had pushed pause while we pressed on.

Hartsook clients have raised money during every cycle of uncertainty. Some raised even more than they would have otherwise because – unlike other organizations – they leaned into the unknown and believed in the essential nature of their missions and the power of philanthropy.

Keep working.

2. Keep cultivating.

Uncertainty has a way of bringing priorities to the surface. It doesn’t diminish the importance of the work you do; it magnifies it.

Use this time of collective concern to underscore the tangible ways your nonprofit changes lives for the better. Reach out to donors with meaningful messages of care and consideration. Plant virtual seeds today that can be harvested in person tomorrow.

Keep cultivating.

3. Keep thinking.

Stay positive, flexible and imaginative. If donors express uncertainty about their ability to fulfill pledges, be open to extending fulfillment periods. Communicate the importance of continuing to give, even if periodic gifts are smaller and pledge fulfillment windows expand.

Review your existing campaign commitments and, if donors are concerned, create alternative pledge fulfillment plans.

Keep thinking.

4. Keep asking.

“Nothing” doesn’t exist. While theorists and scientists may debate Aristotle’s postulate that “nature abhors a vacuum,” we know it’s a fact in fundraising. Something will fill the void.

No matter what’s going on in the world, someone will move into the empty space. Make sure it’s you.


  • There always will be people making money.
  • There always will be needs to be met and people who need help.
  • People want to make a difference in the world.
  • People give to people not projects.
  • People give, because they are asked.

Keep asking.

5. Keep communicating.

Communication conveys appreciation, so stay in touch with donors. Fashion your donor solicitation messages around the importance of what you do, especially now.

Develop messages that highlight how your services change lives. If you need help, contact Hartsook for assistance crafting solicitation strategies that include specific goals and accountabilities.

We know benchmark funders receive fewer requests in times like this, because many organizations sit out the storm and dial down fundraising activities. Their loss can be your gain.

This is also a great time to reach out to prospective donors. Make yourself more connected and available than ever by phone, email and on social media.

Keep communicating.

What You Do Matters

At times like this, we search our souls and reprioritize how we spend our time and resources. Estate plans are being retooled, and major gifts are still available. Donors are more alert to the needs of others in ways that will dissipate over time. Make an effort to connect with them during this window of heightened concern.

Thankfully, this season of uncertainty will not last forever. Leverage the lull, and use your time wisely to keep making a difference. With more down time, this is the ideal opportunity to make some calls, check in on donors, hear what they have to say and see how you can help.

And if your nonprofit needs answers, advice or encouragement, contact Hartsook. We’ve helped our clients succeed in times of prosperity and through cycles of uncertainty, and we’re here today to help you.

With respect and admiration for all you do,

matt beem

Matt Beem, PhD, CFRE
Chairman and CEO