The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the course of the year across all industries, especially, as you’re well aware, the nonprofit sector. By this point, you’ve likely addressed any of your organization’s urgent needs, like canceling upcoming events or managing emergency funding. But once you’ve checked off these red-alert tasks, how do you prepare for the road ahead?
Although the broad pivot to virtual engagement has been effective for many nonprofits, some of the fundraising campaigns and strategies you carefully laid out for 2020 have likely been derailed, or in some cases, thrown entirely out the window. Certain revenue streams may have run dry or slowed to a trickle while the need for your organization’s services or resources is at an all-time high.
In a world rife with crisis, doubt and economic uncertainty, it may feel impossible to stay afloat and navigate your nonprofit’s path forward.
But if you’re waiting around for the crisis to end before pivoting your fundraising plans, you may be missing out on key opportunities for growth. This holds true for not only the current coronavirus pandemic but also for other crisis situations you may have to face in the future.
Investing thought and effort into your crisis fundraising strategy can help you engage your community, strengthen current systems and yes, raise money.
Even in the middle of a crisis, you can (and should) continue to:
- Keep up your fundraising energy.
- Reinforce your connections with supporters.
- Cover your fundraising bases.
- Focus heavily on donor communication and stewardship.
Read on to learn how to build more resilient strategies for your nonprofit and swim instead of sink in the wake of a crisis.
Keep up your fundraising energy.
Whatever you do, don’t halt all of your fundraising efforts. This loss of momentum could have consequences that extend far beyond the reach of the current crisis.
By remaining active and involved, your organization signals continued relevance and (most importantly) need to donors. Radio silence now could lead to a loss of interest later—out of sight, out of mind.
Although now might not be the ideal time to take on a major fundraising effort like a capital campaign, actively raising general mission support and launching crisis-related initiatives are critical.
If you’re already in the middle of a campaign, beware of the temptation to cut costs and quit early. By shortening campaigns, you undermine your investment of time and energy and lose out on the potential for much-needed funds.
Among all the recent disruptions we’ve faced, you might feel discouraged or assume that donors won’t want to or be able to make gifts right now. Do your research and understand how your constituency and community have been affected. Oftentimes, donors are less “fatigued” than they are simply not being excited, mobilized and appealed to in effective ways.
When considering the impact of the crisis on your potential donors, ask yourself:
- What industries do they work in? The COVID-19 crisis is not one-size-fits-all, especially when it comes to economic impacts. Some industries have been much less impacted than others. For example, you may not want to solicit donors in the travel industry, but may want to consider those in certain technology sectors.
- When do they normally make contributions? Consider whether your donors typically make recurring or annual donations, and allow that to guide your requests.
- What do they care about? This is a question that should always be at the heart of your fundraising efforts, but it’s still worth mentioning. Understanding your donors’ motivations will help you appeal to them on both an emotional and practical level, allowing them to feel good about helping solve a problem.
- Do they understand where their donations are going? Transparency creates not only confidence but also a sense of cause and effect. Translating dollar amounts into concrete resources and services forges a stronger connection between the donor and your mission.
Use these insights to guide your next move. You can and should make changes as necessary to your fundraising goals and plans, but don’t lose steam.
Reinforce your connections with supporters.
Doubling down on the emotional connections between your supporters and your mission will be essential. Especially when their wallets have been hit hard, people want to feel like they mean more than just dollar signs.
Remind donors about why your work matters and how they have made an impact already by supporting your organization. If possible, share meaningful anecdotes that add a human touch to the unfeeling metrics of financial transactions.
Personally check in with your major donors and most loyal supporters. This doesn’t mean making a tone-deaf ask, but you might ask for funds if they bring it up or the situation is appropriate. Start a conversation, share support and information and strengthen the connections that will matter most as things settle down, whatever that might look like for your community.
Even during a time of social distancing, you can find creative ways to engage with your supporters on both an individual and community level. Do your best to:
- Get face to face. You may not be able to hold events and meetings in the same way right now. Still, technologies like Zoom and Instagram Live make it easy to congregate in virtual spaces. Use these platforms to gather your most dedicated advocates or to mobilize a larger audience. Regardless of the platform, emphasize the power of the tie between your audience and your mission.
- Be social. In our physically isolated world, people may be spending even more time scrolling through social media news feeds. Meet them where they are! Continue to create relevant and compelling emotional content that will bolster your connection with your community and ensure you stay on the front of everyone’s mind.
- Embrace gratitude. Thank you notes are a tried-and-true method to convey appreciation to your donors. But push yourself to go beyond the greeting card or automated email. Consider ways to publicly acknowledge fundraising success and its impact on your cause, such as a weekly post or video.
If you’re taking a very strategic approach and working with a fundraising consultant, make sure any new strategies you develop also focus on building relationships and tapping into emotional connections.
Cover your fundraising bases.
Broken or underperforming systems are harmful in the best of times. In a crisis, it’s especially critical to confirm your tools are working for you, not against you.
Review the essentials to make sure you’re even able to effectively fundraise at this point in time. This means things like auditing your website and toolkit to make sure they are getting the job done. If the crisis has created a slow season for your organization, use this time wisely to take stock of where you stand.
Be sure to take a look at key components like your:
- Donation page. Is it simple, streamlined and segmented? Every page on your website should be mobile responsive, but triple-check that this page looks sharp and works perfectly on mobile devices.
- Database software. Confirm everything is organized and up to date. Do your data entry and maintenance protocols need an update or overhaul?
- Marketing tools. Determine whether your current tools are effective or not. Do you need to make any updates to better convey a crisis-related need?
You have likely already invested (or will need to invest) in new virtual fundraising technology and strategies. If fundraising online is still new to your organization, start with a robust resource like the OneCause guide to virtual fundraising. Getting a clear overview of the landscape will help you choose the best tools for your community and ensure nothing falls through the cracks. If you already have virtual-friendly solutions in place, confirm that they’re optimized for both your current and future needs.
Putting a solid infrastructure in place now will provide benefits down the road. But crises are fluid, so don’t get stuck in a rut if something isn’t working.
In addition to making changes as needed in your own organization, make sure to stay on top of any and all new federal and state-level developments that may impact you. Stay updated on key legislation like the CARES Act and on news items that relate to the safety of your constituents.
Ensuring you have these key areas covered will keep the rest of your fundraising efforts running as smoothly as possible.
Focus heavily on donor communication and stewardship.
Now is the time to focus heavily on engaging and stewarding your current donors to retain their support in the future.
Even if supporters are unable to make large donations, occasional small gifts and regular engagement with your messages will lay a powerful foundation for growth. Every dollar counts, especially when that dollar is doing double-duty to contribute to your mission and maintain the relationships between donors and your organization.
Use storytelling strategies in your marketing and communications to reinforce these relationships, focusing on impact and people rather than just numbers or problems. Photos, videos and testimonials paint a picture of the important work your donors are funding.
Overall, your messaging will be more effective if it is concrete and relatable.
If you work with a consultant to develop any new strategies, make sure to ask how their proposals will support your engagement and retention efforts. Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s guide to hiring fundraising consultants offers tips to ensure you find someone who aligns with your nonprofit’s mission and current needs.
With these tips in mind, you can craft an effective crisis fundraising strategy that allows you to adapt to today’s challenges and develop resiliency for the future.
By maintaining momentum, auditing your current strategies and focusing on connections and stewardship, your organization will be well-positioned to emerge from the crisis with strength.
Author: Aly Sterling
Long before Aly Sterling founded her eponymous consulting firm, she was solving the unique yet similar problems encountered by nonprofit organizations.
Her decision to start her own business in 2007 was driven by her belief in leadership as the single most important factor in organizational success, and her determination to work with multiple causes at one time to scale societal change.
Aly’s expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for the well-positioned nonprofit. She is regularly sought for comment by trade and mainstream media, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and U.S. News & World Report. She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute.