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8 steps for successful fundraising during the coronavirus crisis

By Amy Eisenstein
March 20, 2020

Photo by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash

Reprinted from Amy Eisenstein’s blog.

Coronavirus is spreading. The economy is declining. And there’s continued political turmoil.

Any one of these three issues could be viewed as a recipe for disaster in terms of your fundraising. And here we are … experiencing all three at once.

Your donors are anxious. Your board members are freaking out. It’s up to you to lead the way.

So what’s a fundraiser to do?

Successful fundraising: 8 steps to weather the coronavirus crisis

Most importantly, don’t panic. If you keep a cool head and follow these eight steps, you’re all but guaranteed to come out ahead while other organizations fall behind.

1. Stay calm and carry on

We have lots of examples from the financial crisis of 2008 of organizations that reduced their fundraising budgets and eliminated fundraising staff in an effort to “save” money. Yet, they are the ones who suffered the most in the long run.

Meanwhile, other organizations stayed the course and invested in their fundraising efforts. Those organizations were able to raise as much as they needed, and more.

So look to the lessons of recent history—retracting during an economic crisis is not your best move. Keep reading …

2. Convene your board (virtually, by video chat, if necessary)

Call your board together to discuss the situation. Share your plan of staying calm and working your fundraising plan:

  • If you are in a capital campaign, keep going. (see #5)
  • If you’re about to launch a campaign, proceed as planned. (see #5)
  • Continue with your annual campaign as scheduled.

During your meeting, ask board members for their suggestions and insights as you continue to keep your board engaged.

As a group, discuss how the coronavirus, possible recession, and political turmoil could effect your organization and your mission. Will the problems you work on every day increase? In difficult times, there is often a greater need for helping the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick, taking care of the elderly, etc. So how might this impact your mission?

3. Meet with your donors more frequently

When disaster strikes, your instinct might be to avoid your donors. Do the opposite! This is the time to reach out, check in, and ask for assistance. Make a list of your top donors and schedule meetings (virtual or in person) with them as soon as possible.

Ask how they and their families are doing. Ask about their business. Share how these uncertain times are impacting your nonprofit and the clients you serve. For example, my friend who runs a soup kitchen estimates they will need to provide an additional 2,000 meals per month for the foreseeable future.

Many donors will step up to help if given the chance. Let them know what you are facing and what you need to get through. Give donors the opportunity to surprise you (in a positive way.)

4. Cancel events, but don’t refund the money

You may need to cancel your upcoming fundraising events for the health and safety of those attending. When you do, someone at your organization will suggest returning money to ticket buyers and sponsors. That might even seem like the logical thing to do. However, if given the opportunity, many donors would let you keep the money.

So instead of simply issuing refunds, use the opportunity to reach out to donors and let them know what’s going on. Provide them with the chance to donate the cost of the ticket to the organization even though you’re canceling the event. (Don’t burden yourself by trying to reschedule.)

In fact, in light of the situation, ask ticket buyers to consider joining your monthly giving club for $10, $20, or even $50 per month to help ensure stability for your organization for the turbulent year ahead.

5. If you’re planning or in the midst of a capital campaign, stay the course

If you’ve been planning a campaign for months (maybe longer), remember that the need for your campaign has probably not evaporated simply because of current events. To learn more about how you can—and should—proceed with your campaign plans in the face of these unsettling times, sign up for this free webinar:

Webinar: How to Keep Your Campaign Plan Moving Forward in Uncertain Times

And if you’re already in the middle of a capital campaign, keep on campaigning. Do not halt your campaign in the middle of an economic crisis. There are other steps you can take. You may need to lengthen the timeline or adjust your goal and plans, but abandoning your campaign could be a major mistake. Register for this free webinar to learn about your options:

Webinar: How to Manage Your Capital Campaign in Uncertain Times

6. Thank your donors

Gratitude goes far, especially when people are stressed. Take the time to extend genuine and heartfelt thank-yous to donors. Go out of your way to pick up the phone, handwrite notes, and even say thank-you in person when you can. Don’t take any donor for granted.

7. Don’t make assumptions

Simply because the economy appears to be in free fall, don’t make assumptions what your donors will and will not do, or what they can or cannot give. There are those who own stock in cleaning supplies and medical equipment who have made money in light of the coronavirus. Not only that, many of your largest and most loyal donors have enough resources that they will be able to continue to give to important causes, even in a time of financial crisis.

8. Ask for what you need

If your needs have increased due to coronavirus or the downturn in the economy, let your donors know. Don’t be shy and hold back. Share what you need and offer ways your donors can help. They just might surprise you (in a good way).

Some will retreat; others will step up

You’re not wrong to feel nervous during these unsettling times. It’s true—some donors are going to pull back on giving for the time being. But I promise, there will be others who step up to help during a time of extreme need.

Meanwhile, your clients may need you more than ever. Many donors will recognize this and do whatever they can to assist your efforts. But that will also depend on your outreach and leadership. Do your best to stay the course and keep calm.

What are your greatest concerns when it comes to your organization in the face of coronavirus? Let me know in the comments below.

Note: during this crisis, I'll be hosting two online town halls a week:

  • Mondays at 2:00 ET (with a slant toward capital campaigns). Register
  • Thursdays at 3:00 ET (general fundraising and major gifts). Register  

Tags: Novel coronavirus (COVID-19); Fundraising