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COVID-19 strategy: creating a plan to weather the crisis

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Nonprofit professionals everywhere have felt the pressures of the COVID-19 crisis.

With both a constituency in need and a donor base that’s unable to give at the levels it may have at other times, many nonprofits are finding it particularly difficult to continue advancing their missions—let alone keep their doors open. When the world around us feels bleak, it can be difficult to keep perspective and persevere.

Nonprofits can outlast the crisis, continue serving their communities, and perhaps even contribute to pandemic relief efforts. The following tips will help you create a strategy for your nonprofit to weather the COVID-19 crisis:

Let’s get started!

Use this time for relationship building

Your nonprofit’s mission is crucial. It was important prior to the pandemic, and it will be just as essential after the pandemic. During the pandemic, however, your donors may need to focus their efforts and give to those on the front lines.

During the COVID-19 crisis, consider pausing all immediate gift asks unless directly related to the pandemic response. With the continuing economic downturn, there’s no denying that your supporters are likely feeling the pressure. Whether they’ve experienced lost or furloughed jobs, decreased salaries, or even stressful work-from-home scenarios, there’s a decent chance your supporters simply have less to give right now.

Understand the limitations of your supporter base and avoid asking them to stretch themselves thinner than they already are. Those who are able to give right now may be giving to pandemic-related issues, such as relief for those whose stability has been displaced or even to fuel our nation’s weakened health-care system.

Don’t confuse pausing gift asks with abandoning your nonprofit’s mission, however. Now more than ever, it’s essential that your organization stays the course. The course should just look a bit different than what you’re used to.

Consider the following alternatives:

  • Focusing on relationship building and donor stewardship. Simply checking in on supporters can go a long way!
  • Pivoting to new fundraising methods. For example, focus on pledge fundraising, and collect pledges after the pandemic’s effects have subsided.
  • Ramping up fundraising efforts ahead of schedule. For example, if you’re beginning a planned giving campaign at the end of the year, consider starting the cultivation of those relationships now.

There are ways to continue furthering your mission while respecting your donors’ boundaries during this time. It just takes a bit of creativity!

Direct your fundraising to aid in the fight

If your organization has the resources to do so, consider adjusting your strategy to aid in the global fight against COVID-19.

Even if your organization’s mission isn’t directly involved with the COVID-19 response, there’s no denying that you’ve likely seen the effects of the pandemic reaching every corner of society. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t fundraise for COVID-19 relief, especially considering:

  • Your nonprofit organization likely already has the infrastructure built out to accept donations.
  • You have a contact list full of supporters who would be eager to give if their current situation allows them to.

Don’t replace your mission or the relationship building mentioned in the last section with fundraising for COVID-19 relief. Instead, consider holding a COVID-19 fundraiser alongside the rest of your efforts during this time. Your supporters will appreciate that you’re addressing the issues of right now and providing them with a safe outlet to give toward the fight.

Making large strategy changes such as these can require intensive coordination and planning, something that can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned nonprofit professionals. This is one area where it might be helpful to consult with a fundraising advisor to help navigate the changes.

If your organization hasn’t worked with a consultant in the past, check out this resource with suggestions for hiring a fundraising consultant. You’ll learn a few actionable tips to keep in mind so you can pick the right fit for your organization.

Explore digital methods to communicate your mission

One-on-one conversations and in-person interactions with supporters build strong, authentic relationships. However, social distancing guidelines mean that stakeholder meetings and site visits are simply impossible for the time being—at least in the manner they’ve existed in previously.

These communication challenges don’t necessarily mean that your organization should stop reaching out to supporters. Rather, they simply mean that it’s time to get creative when doing so. To maintain connections with supporters during COVID-19, experiment with digital marketing and communication methods.

If your organization has been relatively digital-averse in the past, this may seem like a major transition on short notice. However, you likely already have all of the tools in your arsenal to succeed.

Let’s consider a few examples:

  • Do you have any pictures of past work that your nonprofit has completed? Share them on social networks with any additional background or narrative information that may not have been shared previously.
  • Record a quick video message from your board or staff members to express your gratitude for donors’ support during this time. Share it on social media and encourage donors to respond with how participating in your organization’s work has positively affected their lives.
  • Contact supporters via phone or, even better, video conferencing software. Use this check-in to make sure your donors are doing all right during this time of uncertainty and to express your gratitude for their past support.

Just because we now need to remain six feet (or farther) away from one another doesn’t mean we can’t connect. Donor retention is essential—just check out this Bloomerang guide—and it’s how your organization is going to outlast this pandemic. Going digital is how you can retain donors despite COVID-19’s determination to keep people isolated.

Research the resources available to your organization

Just as COVID-19 has had devastating impacts on public health, it’s also had grave impacts on the economy. In the nonprofit sector, almost everyone is affected by the pandemic. Many donors are giving less due to a lowered giving capacity, and, in turn, nonprofits are raising less.

It’s a common theme across the board, so if your organization is struggling to raise funds for your cause (let alone for covering necessary operating overhead), understand you’re not alone. It’s frustrating for all involved, so take a (brief) moment to mourn what could have been and then begin researching ways to pull your organization up by its bootstraps.

There are resources available for nonprofit organizations just like yours that are struggling to remain operational during this pandemic. Start by reaching out to your local bank and seeing what you can do to weather this storm. You can also research COVID-19 relief funds and grantmakers’ requests for proposals (RFPs) for COVID-19 grants on Candid.

Create a plan of action and be prepared to pivot

If there’s one thing this pandemic has demonstrated, it’s that it’s incredibly difficult to plan for disaster. When it comes to the COVID-19 crisis, you can only do your best to be prepared in this uncertain time.

Clearly articulate a plan for how your organization will continue operations throughout the pandemic. In particular, look at:

  • How you’ll handle donor communications.
  • Any changes you’re planning to make to your digital strategy.
  • Planned events that can no longer go on as scheduled.
  • How you’ll handle annual fundraising.
  • How you’ll handle any other major campaigns, such as capital or endowment campaigns.
  • The role your board and staff members will play in your response to COVID-19.

For help creating this strategy, check out this free crisis response toolkit.

Remember, though, that there’s a decent chance this plan will change as the pandemic progresses. The fundraising and overall economic landscape is unsteady, and there’s no way to know what tomorrow will bring.

Therefore, while you create your COVID-19 plan, keep in mind that none of it should be set in stone. Prepare yourself, your board, and your staff members to turn on a dime if needed, and you’ll be able to outlast whatever challenges the pandemic throws your way. Finally, remember that there are nonprofit strategy consultants that can help you and your team navigate this time of uncertainty.


The COVID-19 crisis thrown the entire globe for a loop, disrupting health care, the economy, social interaction, and more.

Nonprofit operations are especially difficult during this time. While donors may be unable to give, the need for nonprofit assistance is higher than ever. However, we believe that with a focus on relationship building and a willingness to pivot your strategy, your organization will be able to weather this crisis and assist your community during COVID-19.

For more assistance, explore these additional resources so that your nonprofit can continue advancing its work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Your organization is needed now more than ever.


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