Donor Appreciation & Virtual Opportunities — Karen Spataro

Donor Appreciation & Virtual Opportunities — Karen Spataro

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Episode 03

Meet our Guest — Karen Spataro

Karen is the Chief Communications Officer at Riley Children’s Foundation. Previously, she served in various roles in the Gift Development Office at the Indiana University School of Medicine and ended her time at IUSM as the Director of Strategic Communications. 

Riley Children’s Foundation is an independent non-profit dedicated to raising funds to support children’s health through patient care programs at Riley Hospital for Children and pediatric research that primarily happens at the Indiana University School of Medicine. It is through the combination of research and patient care that they can help make healthcare better for children in Indiana. Follow them at @RileyKids on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Click here for more information on their current fundraising campaign that Karen mentions.

Responding to Needs

Riley Children’s Foundation is a healthcare organization, and we are in a healthcare crisis. They wanted to respond to immediate needs, and donors wanted to be a part of that. Many of the families with children receiving treatment are already struggling, and the economic impact of the pandemic made the financial strain that much greater on these families. The RCF team started sharing stories of those in need with donors to see if they were able to help. They found that some of their donors gave at an even bigger level than normal, because they realized the gravity of the situation. They had incredible empathy for the families and responded. Here is a link to one of the posts for this campaign.

Many times, non-profit organizations can respond to immediate needs of those they serve. These giving campaigns must be pulled together quickly and don’t have to be 100% perfect! Do the best you can to try to fulfill the need right now.

Going Virtual

Relying on phones 

RCF usually has a team in the hospital that can connect with families and facilitate capturing professional video footage and photography. Since that’s not possible right now, they are relying on families to share cell phone videos and photos. They have used these to keep their social media feeds active, and engagement has been great. People like seeing these “slice-of-life” videos and can relate to them. Here is the video Karen mentions.

Reimagining Events

Normally, gift officers would be out meeting with donors, but that’s not possible at this time. To help fill this void, RCF hosted a Zoom webinar where donors heard from the COO of Riley Children’s Hospital and CEO of the Foundation. It was well-received, and while in-person events will definitely resume when it’s safe to do so, Karen expects virtual events to also be a part of RCF’s future.  They can bring people together who couldn’t attend in person and are less of a time commitment, making them a short opportunity for donors to engage and connect more deeply with RCF’s mission.


The pandemic has pushed us to change the way we do things. It has forced us to be innovative. Karen encourages us all to try new things and be willing to take risks and fail. The world is so different right now, and our approach also has to be different. 

Focusing on Stories

Storytelling has always been critically important, and it will continue to be vital to make sure people want to join RCF in their mission. When their communications center around a child’s story, people respond — they want to do more to help kids who need it. Sharing stories engages your donors like nothing else can. 

Combating Burnout

Virtual fatigue is very real. When do people get burned out, how do we overcome it? There is no question that we will have to rely on virtual communications, especially in the event space, for a while. So, how do we get people to show up? How do we make them feel like they are part of a community while they are in separate spaces? Karen is exploring technologies, formats, and creative ways to bring people together virtually.

Building Donor Relationships

Communicating with donors is all about building a relationship with them. Right now, many donors are going through a difficult time with health or financial concerns. Donors will remember how organizations treat them after they come through this, and RCF wants their donors to know that they are there for them whether they can give at this time or not. They’ve been calling donors more than ever just to thank them and see how they’re doing. It’s about a relationship, not a transaction — every communication shouldn’t be an ask. Sometimes we need to be communicating just to build relationships.