Are you worried about how the emerging Coronavirus pandemic is going to impact your non-profit’s ability to fundraise? In this article, I’m going to give you a game plan for keeping your fundraising thriving during this tumultuous time.
No doubt you have already seen some e-mails and blog posts from consultants and others in the fundraising industry with thoughts on fundraising during this crisis. Some of them offer some good suggestions, while others are simply rehashing old articles about fundraising during an economic downturn.
I’m not going to simply repeat what others are saying. What I want to do is give you a basic game plan how to raise the money your non-profit needs during this unprecedented time… and because you are busy, I want this to be as quick a read as possible. Here goes:
Fundraising Will Change for an Unknown Period of Time
Due to the Coronavirus, fundraisers are dealing with two major changes that will impact how they do business:
First, because much of the country is being asked to quarantine / use social distancing, for the time being you will not be able to meet with your donors, hold events, offer tours of your facility, or do other types of in-person cultivation or fundraising. Even if there are parts of the country where shutdowns / social distancing is not in effect, donors will be much more likely to attend events or agree to in-person meetings.
Second, the uncertainty of this pandemic has caused a major strain on the economy. The stock market is down, people are being laid off, and many industries are suffering right now. This means some donors will need to be extra careful with expenditures, including philanthropy.
Thus, as fundraisers, we are dealing with two major changes: the inability to continue face-to-face fundraising and the possibility of a continued major economic downturn. There's no telling how long these two major changes will last but we do know that eventually, in all likelihood, life and fundraising will return to normal.
Don’t Worry. Your Non-Profit Can Deal with This…
Let’s talk about how your non-profit can not only stay afloat during this crisis, but effectively deal with each of these issues and come out even better than before.
#1: Don’t Stop Fundraising
It is extremely important that you not stop or even curtail your fundraising activities during these uncertain times. Your non-profit needs to keep raising funds in order to carry out your programs… and you need to keep cultivating and communicating with donors, or else you will lose them.
In fact, my best advice is that you try to stick as closely as you can to your current fundraising plan. This includes your major donor meetings. Of course, you won’t be able to meet with your major donors face-to-face, but you can schedule calls with them, or even better, use FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or one of the other video meeting platforms to meet with them virtually. While not all donors will be tech-savvy enough to be comfortable with this, many will, and these types of meetings will tend to grow your relationship by increasing the sense that you and your donors are “all in this together.”
#2: Don’t Cut Your Fundraising Investment or Team
This is a big one. If at all possible, don’t cut your investment in your fundraising program during this time, and don’t cut the size of your fundraising team. Most for-profit companies know that the worst time to cut a sales staff is during an economic downturn or other company crisis. The same is true of your fundraising team.
If your non-profit loses some donors or some big gifts during this time, you will need your fundraising program to nimbly respond by working to find new donors and new revenue streams… and there’s no way you will be able to do that if you have cut your development staff and budget. In fact, it may sound crazy, but if you can afford it, this might even be a good time to increase your investment into fundraising.
#3: Keep Communicating with Your Donors
This isn’t the right time to go silent on your donors. Some fundraisers and non-profit marketers that I have spoken with are feeling sheepish about sending out things like donor newsletters and other communications right now. Don’t let the Coronavirus pandemic stop you from sending out your regular donor communications!
It’s important to keep communicating with your donors for two reasons. First, if you stop now, it will be hard to restart when the crisis passes… if your donors don’t hear from you for a few months, chances are, you’ll lose them.
Second, your donors are a key part of your team… being in communication with them during this difficult time reinforces that fact and helps to build your relationship with them further. Plus, if they’re stuck inside their house, they may welcome having something extra to read from an organization they care about!
I also recommend that you send at least one e-mail to your donor base acknowledging the Coronavirus and letting them know how concern about the virus will impact your operations for the coming weeks. Be open, be honest, but also be positive and forward-looking. Keep your big picture vision front and center. Your non-profit will continue doing its work, and this crisis will pass!
#4: Be Sensitive with Your Messaging and Your Donors
As you communicate with your donors, remember to be sensitive in your messaging. While your donor communications should be positive about the future of your non-profit, remember that many of your donors are very anxious right now, and some of them may be dealing with relatives or friends who are ill. Your donors may also be dealing with financial stress caused by the economic impact of the virus.
Being sensitive does not mean that you shouldn’t be making asks. You absolutely should continue making asks. It just means that some donors my need to curtail the amount that they give, and other donors may not be as responsive as they normally are to your solicitations. Be patient, be sensitive, but continue asking.
Of course, if you are fundraising in the healthcare sector, your non-profit may be able to raise more money than normal, since not only your donors but the public at large will be more attuned to health issues during this crisis. In that case, don’t sensationalize your fundraising communications, but do reach out and start asking for more donations now so that you’ll have the resources you need over the coming weeks and months.
#5: Use This Time Wisely
Chances are that right now, or very soon, your non-profit’s executive, fundraising, and administrative staff will be moving to a work-at-home situation, or at least limiting the amount of time that you spend in the office. This will likely mean that you have some extra discretionary time, since you will be doing fewer office meetings, not commuting to work, etc.
For that reason, this might be an excellent time to do some additional planning or training that will ensure that your non-profit comes out on the other side of this crisis stronger than ever. In my mind, the two best things you can do to use this extra time wisely are:
Take Advantage of Online Fundraising Training
If you or your team have some extra time in your schedule right now, it could be a great time to take advantage of fundraising training opportunities that will supercharge your development program.
Shore Up Your Fundraising Plan and Case for Support
Now is an excellent time to write a new fundraising plan or case for support for your non-profit… or to strengthen the plan and case statement you already have in place. Imagine coming out of this crisis having not only followed the advice above, but also having a supercharged fundraising plan and/or case statement in place and ready to launch!
Quick Questions about Specific Tactics
Before I wrap up this article, I want to briefly address three questions that many non-profits are asking themselves during the Coronavirus crisis.
#1: What Should We Do about our Fundraising Events?
Most non-profit fundraising events have been cancelled. Even if your state / city / country isn’t mandating that you cancel your fundraising events, you should… many (if not most) of your donors will want to stay away and socially isolate during this time.
That being said, why not turn your fundraising events into online affairs, at least as much as possible? Is there a way to get your donors together online via an online platform (particularly for smaller events) to hear from your executive director and see a short video of your work?
Think outside the box… right now, it seems that everyone is giving everyone else a little added grace. If you message it right, your donors will not ask for their ticket purchases or sponsorship dollars back when you cancel your events, but you should definitely offer them future value in return for letting you keep their donations.
If you already had sponsors lined up for your event, ask them if they will turn their sponsorship from an event sponsorship into a website sponsorship or other type of corporate sponsorship of your work. Create some marketing packages and present them to your sponsors to give them options for continuing their support.
Likewise, if you already had auction items lined up, why not run an online silent auction as a fun (and profitable) way to stay connected with your donors? T
#2: Should We Still Be Sending out Fundraising Letters?
Yes you should. There’s no reason to stop sending out fundraising letters and e-mails, although you should definitely keep an eye on the news. If people start to worry about handling snail mail during this pandemic, you can switch over your efforts to focus primarily on e-mail solicitation letters.
#3: Should We Be Focusing More on Online Fundraising?
If you already have a robust online fundraising program, keep it up… if you don’t currently do much fundraising online, now might be a great time to start. Focus on fundraising from your e-mail list, as it is the most effective form of online fundraising. I also think crowdfunding campaigns targeting your current donor base can continue to be effective.
Stay Strong… I’m Here for You!
Remember, your non-profit does great work. People are counting on you, and you are counting on your donors. Keep focused on fundraising, and keep investing in your development team. You can do this! If you have any questions, or need any additional help, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m here for you!