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December 3, 2021
Fundraising in the Time of Coronavirus
Nonprofit fundraising, arguably, has become more important than ever during the coronavirus pandemic – as more people than ever need help that nonprofits can deliver, as nonprofits are cancelling or postponing traditional fundraising events, and because 'going silent' raises the risk of nonprofits going out of business.

“When the current crisis ends, history will show that the most successful nonprofits continued to ask for donations, although likely in a different way," notes Ben Miller, chief analytic officer of DonorTrends. "Those nonprofits who go 'silent' or attempt to give their donors a break will likely see the same results as others before them – and suffer or even go out of business as a result.”

In response to a request from Massnonprofit News, fundraising experts offer the following advice.

Rita Fuerst Adams, Charitable and Philanthropic Management Counsel:

Stay true to your mission. Organizations looking for new ideas can mistakenly believe they must throw out everything they have done before. The charitable and philanthropic organizations that flourish and thrive will be those that stay true to their mission, keep their eyes on their vision, and work their plan.

Reach out personally to the 125 people you depend on.They are the people, funders, connectors, volunteers, partners, collaborators, foundations, businesses, and other organizations vital to your organization’s vision. They will want to see you face-to-face, so hold online meetings. Be transparent, truthful, and engaging. Share your good news and your challenges. Invite them to explore solutions with you.

Christina Yoon, vice president of Campbell & Company:

Stay in close touch with your major donors. If you don’t stay in contact with your major donors, others will fill the void. Donor retention is arguably the single most important strategy for long-term fundraising success. Get creative and use a mix of email, calls, texts, and handwritten notes. You can ask your annual fund and marketing team members to help you curate videos, articles, and other multimedia content to share.

Ask your closest supporters for matching funds. Create a special pandemic response fund to cover critical operating expenses during this period of social distancing and send it to your email list. Amplify the ask with a video from your executive director/CEO sharing a heartfelt, personal plea. Watch this video from the Shakespeare Theatre Company for inspiration.

Look for opportunities to promote additional giving. Donors may respond to specific human needs arising from the virus if your organization is able to provide special help. During the Great Recession, many donors focused on human needs and supported their favorite organizations at a higher level than usual.

Adapt campaign activities to the current situation, but forge on. If you’re in campaign planning, now is a good time to finish setting up the internal processes and systems needed for the campaign. If you’re mid-campaign, you should continue to communicate your campaign plans with key prospects. Fundraising can’t stop: during the Great Recession, many campaigns were delayed but ultimately finished successfully.

Robin Cabral, principal of Development Consulting Solutions:

Overcommunicate. This is the time to overcommunicate with your supporters. Keep them informed about what is happening in your organization. Share both the pandemic's impact on your organization and the possible longer-term impacts. Now is not the time to pull back on communications or fundraising. Transparency and honesty are what your supporters need at this moment. And, if you are on the front lines and suffering some significant financial impacts, let your donors know.

Use technology to connect with donors. Now that we are moving to more remote and virtual communications. Use these tools to your advantage to continue to build on your relationships with donors. Use the telephone to contact your donors, particularly those that may be facing isolation and check in on them, use Facebook Lives as a tool to keep your audiences informed, text messaging, and email updates also supplement that communication. Consider hosting virtual Town Halls and Q and A's with your Executive Director to give your supporters, family members, volunteers opportunities to engage. During times of crisis, particularly when social isolation is at hand, supporters need to be assured that there is a person behind a post or an email.

Carla Cataldo, principal of Proposals, Etc.:

Tell donors how important they are. Connect the dots for them. By helping one another, they save us all.

Create a sense of urgency. Your cause needs money RIGHT NOW. If not because you are serving those directly affected by this world pandemic, then because resources are being diverted to fight it, your events are cancelled due to quarantines on crowds, and the like.

Make donors feel powerful. Even if a potential donor is sitting home alone in isolation, even if they aren’t feeling well themselves, they can make a powerful difference by contributing from their computer or phone. Combat people’s sense of helplessness in the face of a new, unknown virus by giving people a positive action step that they can take. Empower them to take action for something they believe in.

Remember the health benefits of giving. Studies have shown that people experience positive physical and mental health benefits by giving. It feels good to give to charity, and it does good for you. Volunteers have likely been sidelined during this health crisis, so make the case for cash donations to experience better health for everyone.

David Sharken, principal at Rainmaker Consulting:

Maintain an attitude of gratitude. We all will have more time given to us by canceled travel plans and meetings. Take the opportunity of time to amplify your stewardship with personalized thank you notes, postcards, and phone calls.

Have every board member and key staffers make five phone calls. Or ask them to send five handwritten notes to priority donors and stakeholders. Tell donors you are thinking of them. Share one brief story about a time when you witnessed your program making a difference. Ask them if they need anything (especially if you make a phone call and they are local). Thank them for being a part of your organization.

Sarah Lange, principal and founder of New Era:

Use photos. At a time when you need a rapid response from your donors, you need to get straight to the heart of the matter. Focus all of your communications on the impact and outcomes your clients are experiencing, particularly amidst the current chaos. Your donors are giving you money to help your clients, so keep the focus on the recipients of your services and programs. The best way to do this is with photos and a story.

Keep everything on a human scale. Right now, a lot of people are feeling completely overwhelmed and helpless. Focusing on how your supporters can help one child, one family, one animal, an acre of land, etc. will help them feel like they can—and do—make a difference.

Send out an appeal letter NOW. It doesn't have to be perfect. Just get it out to as many people as possible. NOW. If you can, mention their last donation amount and ask them to increase it by 10%-15%. Most people are willing to give more, particularly at a time of need. Send out the letter via the mail (long story short, Boomers will carry philanthropy until 2025 and are predictably paper-responsive), then follow up with email and social media posts. Set a goal and a deadline to bolster the response.

Tina Cincotti, owner of Funding Change:

Stay calm, focus on what you can control, and don’t stop fundraising. Your job as a fundraiser has never been more important than it is right now. It’s critical to stay calm and not make decisions driven by fear or panic. Make sure donors know you still need their help. But whatever you do, don’t stop asking people to donate. That’s a direct route to raising less money. Even if you only raise 80% of your goal, that’s a lot more than the 0% you’ll raise if you stop fundraising. Groups that scaled back their fundraising during the Great Recession took far longer to recover than those who forged ahead. Don’t be that organization.

April 2020
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