Erin Koppel

Chief Strategy Officer, Tessitura Network

What does it mean to be a relational fundraiser during social distancing?


3 min

Arts and culture has already defined the gold standard of meaningful social distancing.

Two weeks ago, could you have imagined penguins on patrol, lessons on how to doodle, free virtual field trips, and outrageously high demand for live-streaming of opera? The arts lift our collective spirit and soul, and provide critical human touchpoints, even when social distance stands between us.

As fundraisers, we now have a wholly unique opportunity to expand our vocabulary of engagement with donors. Improvisation is a fundraiser’s greatest strength! I have been thinking about ways to reinforce existing shared connection above all else right now. Here are three ideas to help you get started.

1) Be a little vulnerable.

Look for opportunities to commiserate with donors about how sad cancellations are, with stages dark and buildings empty. We often get to share the emotional highs our art produces; don’t be afraid to share these lows as well.

2) Webcams work with donors.

Get live video conversations going between your major donors and the leader of your organization. Even if it feels weird to you, we need to amplify the visual connection between donor and organization, and video accomplishes that. (Also, your donors are likely already having video chats with their families, so, it’s less a technology shift and more a mindset shift for us as fundraisers. I’ll have more tips on this in a follow-up post.)

3) Get serious with stakeholders.

Your Board has been with you during this crisis already. Depending on your financial position, soon it will be time to start thinking about how the organization will need to redeem the investment of relationship capital that’s built up over the years. Challenge grants, exceptional gifts – it will all be on the table. Your board’s authentic involvement in your revenue strategy now will help them to make their own plans accordingly.

I’m so impressed with the outstanding creative and passionate efforts I’ve seen to deliver the best of our sector to the world in this moment. Because of this, I know arts and culture fundraisers will be at the forefront of successfully adapting the very nature of fundraising. Any ideas you want to share are most welcome! Drop me a line via email or find me on Twitter at @erinkoppel3.

Be well, friends.


Top photo by bongkarn thanyakij from Pexels


Arts & Culture





Erin Koppel

Erin Lively Koppel

Chief Strategy Officer
Tessitura Network

Erin (she/her) works to translate Tessitura’s vision of a day when every human in every community we serve has arts and culture as a meaningful part of their life into a clear strategic plan.

As Chief Strategy Officer, she is responsible for clarifying this vision, creating shared alignment around it, and driving the change effort. Of critical importance is ensuring the decisions being made are aligned with the strategy and creating the desired results. 

In addition to her role as Chief Strategy Officer, Erin leads Tessitura’s Professional Services group, which seeks to align the business of Tessitura members with a holistic use of our technologies. She directs this highly skilled team of industry experts to help organizations create revenue-generating strategies, gain meaningful business insight, and maximize their use of CRM to connect audiences to their mission.

Erin’s background includes nearly twenty years fundraising for Lyric Opera of Chicago (one of North America’s largest opera companies), where she directed multi-million-dollar fundraising campaigns and led major initiatives. She later worked in consulting, where she honed her ability to develop and critique strategy. Erin is a highly sought-after conference speaker and seasoned executive adept at strategy formation and execution, focusing an organization on what needs to be done today, as well as planning for tomorrow. She resides in Bolingbrook, Illinois, southwest of Chicago.

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