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COVID-19 vs. live events: alternative ideas for 2020 fundraising

By Daryl Hatton
March 23, 2020

With rapid development in the novel coronavirus pandemic, many nonprofits are facing a serious dilemma: should we cancel our live fundraising efforts or continue promoting them?

Regardless of the current public health concerns, alternative fundraising options such as digital fundraising or virtual events are always a good idea. In a recent interview with the Chronicle of Philanthropy, David Hessekiel, president of the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum, said that nonprofits should seek ways to hold "alternative" events that keep the revenue stream intact. Identifying actual next steps on execution, timing, and processes is crucial to putting his words into action.

If you are considering postponing or even canceling your spring or summer events, think about other revenue streams that may help you cover operating expenses. Right now, going into virtual space and fundraising online is the safest way to keep in touch with your donors and community. Some forward-thinking nonprofits have already come up with new sources of emergency funding. They have tapped into specialized enterprise crowdfunding techniques that have the potential to rapidly fill in some of the revenue gaps.

Here are some alternative ideas:

Emergency fund crowdfunding campaign

If an unpredicted cancellation of your event or gala resulted in extra costs or dips in revenue, you can create an emergency crowdfunding campaign to sustain your operations. It is important to be hyper-transparent and keep open communication about the costs and fees you need to cover.

It is also crucial to write frequent updates on your operations, COVID-19 impact, and day-to-day progress to keep donors engaged. Drive initial donors to your campaign via posts on social media and by an email blast to the subset of your donor list who are most likely to respond. With crowdfunding, donors are encouraged to share the story of their contributions on social media and help spread the charity’s message to a wider audience. This results-based sharing inspires more confidence in the charity. Given the attention people are paying to COVID-19 articles in social media, a crowdfunding campaign can help distribute the message to a much wider audience and attract people who are ready to help.

The Keep-Us-Safe campaign

Many charities serve the populations most vulnerable to COVID-19, including seniors and people with serious health issues or disabilities. Preventing the spread of coronavirus through their community members is one of the most important tasks these charities face in the coming months. With charities frequently operating on budgets with little flexibility for unexpected costs and financial shocks, funding additional actions to help protect their community members poses a big challenge. If you are serving community members that need food and essentials delivery or you are part of an animal nonprofit that requires your physical presence and daily travel, a Keep-us-Safe campaign could work really well for you.

Charities can use crowdfunding “wish list” incentives to communicate the impact a donor will create with their contribution. For example, a wish list including items for additional disinfection equipment, additional staff time to support cleaning of common areas of the facility, doorknobs, food surfaces, etc. helps donors visualize the difference they make and inspires them to give more.

The charity drives initial donors to the campaign via posts on social media and by an email blast to the subset of their donor list most likely to respond. Again, encourage donors making contributions  to share the story of their gifts on social media and help spread the charity’s message to a wider audience.

Crowdfunding campaigns for sustainable revenue

If you are looking to replace your organization’s revenue without mentioning coronavirus, you can run a regular crowdfunding campaign for your cause. Crowdfunding is a proven way to diversify revenue sources and reduce reliance on live event-based fundraising. It provides new options for engaging digital donors in online events without losing emotional engagement and effectiveness. Crowdfunding technology makes creating and managing online fundraising projects fast and effective, so this option might work great if you need funds urgently. Here is why you might consider trying crowdfunding:

  • Flexible timing and deadline
  • Less risk of disruption from external force-majeure factors
  • Timeliness—creating and launching a project takes less than two to three days
  • Less dependency on territorial boundaries
  • High virality and social shareability factor

Keep in mind that if you are planning to run a crowdfunding campaign, with the overcrowding of public social media channels, you need to leverage dark social channels for reaching more people. Dark social media channels are private chats (Messenger, WhatsApp, etc.), texting and emailing people instead of relying solely on public social channels. Traditional social media channels are full of news about COVID-19, so it might be more challenging to break through the noise if your campaign doesn’t have a coronavirus theme.

Learning and adapting for fundraising in 2020

If COVID-19 escapes into the broader community despite all the efforts at containment, living with the threat it poses may become the “new normal.” Charities are wise to begin planning now for ways to diversify their revenue sources and reduce their reliance on live event-based fundraising. Crowdfunding provides new options for engaging digital donors in online events without losing emotional engagement, fun, and effectiveness.

For more information on how your organization can crowdfund during this crisis, watch this free webinar video.

Tags: Novel coronavirus (COVID-19); Fundraising