Blog Post: Five ways historic sites can embrace fundraising during challenging times

By Alison Faulknor, Director of Philanthropy and Partnerships, National Trust for Canada

Blog Post: Five ways historic sites can embrace fundraising during challenging times

This week my thoughts are with the many staff and volunteers caring for Canada’s special places. For many historic sites, this pandemic means closures and cancelled events as well, as lost entry fees, gift shops sales, event revenues and more. These are challenging times indeed. But, what about those supporters who sustain us – long-time donors, sponsors, funders and members? What is the right approach to navigating these relationships during such uncertain times?

These past two weeks, I have spent much of my time watching videos of how to handle fundraising during times of uncertainty and reading everything I can get my ‘virtual’ hands on. While I do not profess to be expert on how to handle fundraising through a crisis, I am happy to share with you what I have learned.

1. Don’t stop communicating!

Fundraising has always been – and I hope will always be – about relationships. Communication is key. We are all grappling with uncertainty, but you can use this time strategically to nurture and strengthen relationships with your supporters.

If you are able and only once staff and volunteer safety are secured, mobilize your staff, board and volunteers to help you reach out to your donors, members, sponsors and funders. You may not have the time or resources to reach them all by phone, but you can send out individual and/or group emails, just to signal that you care.

I’m not suggesting this communication is an ask for funding, it’s about letting your supporters know that they are important to you. Start by simply asking how they are doing. What challenges are they facing? How are they keeping their spirits buoyed?

2. Acknowledge the situation.

Don’t go out with any communications (especially an ask for financial support) without acknowledging the situation. This is not business as usual. Nuance your messaging to supporters to communicate that you care. Tell them about how your organization is responding and the impact that this has on the people that you serve. Share stories about what you’re seeing on the ground.

I also urge you to think beyond the walls of your historic place. Are there ways your organization can help your community through this challenge?

3. Be honest in your organization’s communications.

Your organization is likely grappling with some uncertainties. Perhaps it is not clear yet how long your historic site will be closed or maybe you haven’t quite nailed down how you are going to take your event online. Don’t wait to communicate until everything is completely certain. Your supporters will understand that your organization is facing challenges. You may not have all the answers right now and, that’s okay.

If your organization relies on funds generated by an event that has been cancelled, for example, let your supporters know. The key is to be honest with your supporters and tell them that you will keep them posted as things unfold.

4. Adjust your plan. But, keep moving.

It can be tempting to put fundraising on hold as your organization moves swiftly to focus on reorganizing programs and activities. However, this is unwise as it will take that much longer to pick up fundraising activities when you are ready to return to business. I suggest instead that you that you regroup, adjust your fundraising plan (as necessary), and continue.

Think about whether there are ways you can creatively adjust your funding ask without being insensitive to the times. Maybe you serve vulnerable communities most affected by Covid-19 or perhaps you are taking important steps to improve your programming or find new ways to connect with your community online. These are compelling reasons to call on the generosity of your supporters.

Be sensitive to the fact that some people may not be able to contribute financially right now. Give your supporters options for monthly giving or donating in installments and consider ways they can support your work without giving funds.

5. Upskill, initiate, look ahead.

As you think ahead and plan for sunnier days, use this moment wisely. If you find yourself with extra time, you can always read about what other organizations are doing to cope, upgrade your fundraising or marketing skills and/or think creatively about future fundraising efforts.

Need some help?
The National Trust’s Regeneration Works
platform now has additional resources to help us all plan for better days. Previously recorded webinars are now available on demand, covering relevant topics such as fundraising and marketing, and special resources for regenerating places of faith. Visit

My colleagues and I hope that you find ways to weather this storm and, in the coming weeks, we will do everything we can to support you in your efforts. I welcome you to reach out to me directly at should you need some advice.