Robin Williams’ Suicide: Fundraisers’ Role When America Copes With Tragedy

Robin Williams

Robin Williams was selfish when he committed suicide, because it ruined his day, an acquaintance told me on the train on Monday night. With the news just 90 minutes old on the East Coast, my acquaintance was probably trying to be funny. This acquaintance, though, was no Robin Williams, whose gift for comedy still unites generations. My seatmate, however, did bring up one of the most important ways nonprofits can bring about positive outcomes from this tragedy: education, including correcting misconceptions, and fundraising for suicide prevention.
Fundraisers know tragedies and disasters bring their causes front-of-mind during the grieving process. Charities see a bump in giving, which nonprofit software and services provider Blackbaud says won’t sustain an organization unless the fundraisers turn those first-time givers into sustaining donors.

“Historically speaking, retention of episodic donors has been poor,” Charleston, S.C.-based Blackbaud writes in 2013 research. “And reversing this trend will be critical for these organizations in the future.”

On Tuesday, the outpouring of grief and fond memories on #RobinWilliams included education, such as “#Depression: Test your knowledge on this treatable condition” from @MedicineNet. The online test is reviewed by a physician and includes research from the American Psychiatric Association.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline similarly offered educational material.

  • Fundraising for Suicide Prevention. Although AFSP didn’t tweet an ask, its stakeholders did. “Even if it’s just $1, pls DONATE to support suicide prevention. My sis is fundraising for @afspnyc: #RobinWilliams,” tweets @alexisgoldstein late Monday night.
  1. Reach out. Others would like to help in the fundraising effort.
  2. Huddle with “your insider group” of donors and supporters and “tell them your concerns, your worst fears and allow them to problem-solve with you.”
  3. “Make a list of the top five things you need—no matter how big or small. Update this list daily.”
  4. Use email and social media to tell stories in words, photos and videos. Don’t forget to ask for support.
  5. Update supporters daily. Thank them and ask for more. “Nightly emails, tweets or Facebook posts with more stories and specific needs will keep people coming back to check in. Keep telling them exactly how to get you what you need.”
  6. Say “thank you.” Have an in-person event where beneficiaries “tell their stories and thank the donors personally.”
  7. Keep track of lessons learned and save this list.

What other advice is there to share with fundraisers?

Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.

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