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Lessons learned - an interview with Ayron Corbitt of The Salvation Army

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Ayron Corbitt recently shared some observations and lessons she learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and how the recent past could inform future activities. As the Director of Development for The Salvation Army’s Kentucky & Tennessee Division, Ayron and a team of Development professionals support the Army’s work through fundraising, communications and organizational development. Ayron’s interview with Steve Waiksnoris, Senior Consultant at Arthur Alley, follows.

What were some of the most obvious ways that COVID-19 has affected your work?

Most obviously, we all started working remotely and not traveling. We were prepared for this as a lot of our team is home-based to begin with.

We found ways to do things alternatively and haven’t really skipped a beat on the returns we’ve seen. We’ve learned a lot about technology and the use of it, and lots of our donors have done the same.

Our Planned Giving team has focused more of their time on attorneys and financial planning professionals as opposed to the (often elderly) donors.

We had to shut down our Family Thrift Stores, which was a lot of lost revenue. Some of these stores will not be reopening even after the pandemic has passed.

What was most surprising?

One of the challenges working in a big Division with many Corps (chapters) is communication and getting the word out about some initiatives. During the early stages of the pandemic we had an internal task force and a great venue to effectively get our internal messaging and strategy communicated.

We’ve had our Major Gifts/Planned Gifts team hold webinar trainings for Officers and staff in the field. We’ve tried to translate the emotional and spiritual care components that they are comfortable with as Officers and apply it to donor calls and visits. We’ve equipped them with donor lists. We’ve ordered masks and sanitizer and will have these as leave-behinds for our donors.

How did contributions to your organization compare March - May, 2020 to the same period in 2019?

A lot of it has to do with our mission, but fundraising has been going really well. I think that a lot of our donors understand that more people need our services. Giving from foundations, United Ways, Donor Advised Funds and individuals generally increased. The response from corporations and businesses has decreased for us.

We came into Calendar Year 2020 in a big hole after being down through the Holidays. But we’ve overcome that deficit and are now up 3.5% on the year in direct response, up 40% in online giving, and up 21.4% in white mail giving.

How did/will you respond?

We’ll continue to do what we know are the right things. But we’ll also experiment a bit.

Many of our donors are still a little weary of meeting in person, even with protections. So, we are beginning to allocate our Resource Development (Major Gifts) team to spend time working on FEMA reimbursements, bloc grant funding, EFSP and other governmental opportunities. Due to the various components of the stimulus there is more money in most of these categories than in the past.

Did your online/email/digital engagement increase during the Pandemic? How so?

We got aggressive and definitely made investments in this area.

We usually have some local autonomy in these areas, but during COVID we did more execution at the Divisional level that we typically might. We moved more quickly than usual…I think the urgency prevented pushback.

How will this engagement inform your future plans?

I hope it encourages change and people will see it’s important for everyone to be engaged and act.

We’ll be bolder and take chances in this area…I think we have to do that.

It’s been really clear that if you’re not doing it, somebody else is!

What new habits/strategies/tactics will you bring with you into the post-COVID-19 era?

Increased use of technology for sure. Christmas kettles are coming up soon…we’ll be beefing up our digital efforts with the kettle campaign.

We’ll definitely go back to “knocking on doors,” but the outcomes we’ve seen from working behind our desks have been good. It still boils down to the relationships we have with our donors.

Territorially, we had a donor “townhall” meeting and invited a lot of our major gift prospects. We learned that the number one way they wanted to be communicated with is via email. So we’ll be making investments there and that knowledge will inform our resource development work in the future.

Do you have a strategic plan in place? How has it been useful during this time?

Yes, we do. We’ve certainly had to pivot, but we’re not completely off the rail. Having it defined will help us reset moving forward.

This interview was conducted by Arthur Alley as part of our efforts to share what we learn. Arthur Alley fundraising & mission development counsel empowers you to craft a meaningful story firmly rooted in your organization’s purpose and to effectively secure resources. Arthur Alley has the experience and insight to help you achieve your career goals and for your organization to thrive.

Want to learn more? Contact us here and we’ll be in touch.


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