Can you successfully fund raise after a scandal?



Good institutions, on occasion, suffer through scandals.  It is a fact of life.  Sometimes it is the product of a poor hire while on other occasions it is completely unforeseen.  When a scandal does hit an institution it often occupies all the public space.  Often it overshadows everything, including the need to raise funds to support the institution’s mission, projects and plans.  So you should ask the question, “If scandal did hit, what could we do to continue to seek support from our constituents?”

Penn State University, recently suffered through a very high-profile scandal .  It involved the athletics program, an iconic coach, missteps and resignations.  The trail of bad publicity was long and rough.  Yet, just recently, the University announced the achievement of a $2.1 billion campaign goal two months ahead of schedule.  What was their secret?  More than anything, the actions that lead to their successes were:

1) After initial missteps, the school listened and acted better.

2) Long-term leadership stepped forward and led!  The school’s long-term Provost, put off retirement to serve as acting President and the school’s long-term chief fundraiser stayed and rallied his fundraising staff behind him.  The volunteer campaign chair, convinced other involved volunteers to stay with the University through the crisis.

3) Fundraising staff analyzed giving data and realized, donors of $5000 or more continued to support though the crisis.  They focused on this group.

4) The fundraising staff redoubled its efforts to go out and meet with donors.

So what lessons can we learn from what happened at Penn State?  Here they are:

1) Do the right thing, even if you don’t start out well, change.

2) Leaders need to provide the leadership as well as model behavior and thinking necessary for your organization to weather the storm.

3) Don’t leave it to chance, look to your giving data for answers.

4) It IS personal– meet with your donors face-to-face.

If you follow these steps it is possible to raise money through a crisis.  Look to Penn State as an example of a great organization showing tremendous fundraising results even while suffering through one of the biggest scandals to hit in recent years.



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