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Supercharge nonprofit coronavirus fundraising with 4 easy steps

By Claire Axelrad
April 27, 2020

In part 1 of this article, we discussed why you need a plan to serve as a roadmap for all your crisis fundraising communications and appeals. Today we’ll cover specifics of how to develop and execute your 4-step coronavirus nonprofit fundraising plan of action.

Truthfully, these four steps work in good times and bad. Whomever you’re approaching for support, and whenever you’re embarking on fundraising, you’ll need to begin with a well-thought-through plan. Success stems from the simplicity and precision you’re able to develop and articulate around these four elements of your plan. Once you’ve got clarity on these steps, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running with transparency, creativity, and aplomb.

1. GOAL: determine your fundraising purpose and amount

Don’t just say, “Times are tough, and we’re going to need more money.” People know this is an exceptionally challenging period. They’re feeling it. Their friends and neighbors are feeling it. Their local communities are feeling it. Small-, medium-, and large-sized businesses are feeling it. First responders and essential workers are feeling it. Many nonprofits across the world are feeling it. People everywhere are worried, not just about their health but also about their finances. Survival in the short term. Survival in the long term.

Be specific about how this state of pandemic is affecting your nonprofit. Your goal is your WHY. For what purpose are you reaching out to ask for emergency philanthropic support? Be transparent about the shortfall you’ve identified for the next three, six, and nine months. Project out longer if that’s a likely scenario for your organization. This crisis is likely a marathon, not a sprint. Set a goal so donors can step up to the plate to help you meet that goal. How much money do you need, and what will it be spent on? Setting forth a clear purpose is not only more helpful to you but it is also more satisfying for your donors.

People seek meaning and will give generously when you give them the opportunity to find that meaning. By stating the purpose of asking, you give donors a purpose as well, thereby helping donors meet their own needs. They’ve always been interested in what you do and have found joy in being affiliated with you. They’re no less interested now and, certainly, in no less need of finding joy.

2. SCRIPT: develop your script

Your script not only stems from your why but also from your donor’s why. Always ask yourself, “What will the donor think and feel when they hear this message? How will it resonate with what they most care about?” Your script has a dual purpose: (1) to build the relationship and sense of community (reminding people why they appreciate being a part of your mission, and pre-disposing them to want to stick with you), and (2) to ask for support (assuring folks that, together, you’ll weather this storm and come out strong on the other side).

Do not assume people don’t want to be asked! I know you’re afraid for your nonprofit and those who depend on you to carry on, but don’t allow that fear to be projected onto your supporters. They care about your mission or they wouldn’t be on your mailing list. They can say “no” on their own behalf.  If you’re going to assume anything, let it be that people generally want to help. Trust in people’s goodness, and it just may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Philanthropy literally translates to “love of humanity.” You’re not being compassionate by not allowing folks the opportunity to express their love and humanity, and thereby feel a warm glow from giving.

Here’s a basic appeal template for a phone conversation, email, or mailed letter:

  1. The check-in. Let folks know you want to be sure they’re okay. Lead with your listening ear and empathy.
  2. The honest talk about what's going on with your nonprofit. People won’t know the challenges you face unless you tell them. Plus, this makes them feel like trusted insiders—real members of your family. Be transparent about the urgency of the problem, current and projected downsides, and possible solutions.
  3. The ask. Let folks know specifically how they can be a hero, should they so choose.
  4. The gratitude. Thank them for everything you can think of—past, present, and future. Thank them for taking the time to chat today. Thank them for something they said that inspired or touched you. Thank them for any advice offered. Thank them for responding positively to your request for a gift.
  5. The closing of the loop. Meaningful philanthropy should not be viewed as a one-shot transaction. If you don’t show your donors you’re in this for the long haul, they won’t stick with you for the long haul, either. Frankly, it’s poor form not to follow through and let donors know the impact of their gifts. If you don’t close the loop for folks, they’re left to wonder whether their money just went into a black hole. This makes them feel bad. Hopefully, you don’t want to be in the business of making folks feel bad. Want to know a little secret? Don’t just keep in touch; tell donors when you’ll next be in touch. When you follow through as promised you build trust. And trust is the foundation of all lasting relationships. Maybe send a follow-up email after a call, with a link to a little gift to lift their spirits. Ideas: Recipes from staff for sheltering in place (e.g., how to perk up canned soup/beans/tuna); recommended shows to stream (perhaps related to your cause); inspirational poems; YouTube videos of prior testimonials from beneficiaries; You Tube how-to videos with helpful tips and/or fun ideas for sheltering in place; video greetings and thank-yous from staff and/or those you serve, etc.).

3. PROSPECTS: identify whom you’ll contact

Given limited resources, you always want to prioritize. Begin with prospects most likely to give you major gifts right now. Then continue through the folks you’d normally be trying to upgrade (loyal mid-level donors, multi-year donors, volunteers who also donate, etc.). Then continue through to the folks you’d normally simply be trying to renew at the same level.

Don’t forget to come from a constituent-centered place. Many of your supporters are waiting to hear from you! Ask yourself how they’ll feel if you don’t contact them right now. This may inspire you to make an extra effort to contact additional folks (recent first-time donors, monthly donors, members, etc.). You don’t want to leave folks in the dark, or make them feel they’re not important to you. If you’ve cut back on staff (I really hope you’ve kept fundraising and marketing staff), see if you can recruit board, donors, and other volunteers to help.

4. ASK AMOUNTS: determine what donation request is reasonable

Don’t make donors guess how much to give. It makes them work too hard, and slows down the decision-making process. It’s always good practice to suggest an ask amount or range of amounts. Psychologically, this gives your donor an anchor—a target upon which they can base their decision. No one wants to be cheap and have you think poorly of them. Neither do they want to be a chump and give way more than anyone else. Here are some ways to set benchmarks:

  1. Base the amount on the donor’s last gift. There’s a natural human desire to be consistent. So if you tell people what they gave last year ... or remind them of tickets they purchased or memberships they bought ... you’re providing a decision-making shortcut. They don’t have to decide they want to be involved. Just at what level.
  2. Let people know numbers of people like them who are giving. For example, if you have members, subscribers, parents, alumni, former patients, volunteers, etc., tell them how you’ve been touched by fact that thus far 50 percent of people like them have made a special crisis-related gift. Psychologically, this information acts as social proof; folks are hugely influenced by their peers.
  3. Report average giving within a segment of constituents. This is a variation on the suggestion above. For example, you can say:
    • To date our subscribers are making average special gifts of $27.
    • “Our parents have responded with average gifts of $100!”
    • “Our volunteers may not be able to meet face-to-face with clients right now, but we’re receiving an outpouring of gifts averaging $55.”
  4. Consider suggesting a monthly giving amount as an anchor. This is an opportunity to encourage monthly gifts. Bite-sized amounts may seem more doable, especially if added to a one-time annual gift that’s already been made or pledged. For those who’ve not yet committed to a gift for this fiscal year, instead of getting a one-time $25 gift, you may get monthly $25 gifts. Even six months of $10 gifts would be much more than the one-time $25 gift (of course, you let folks know they can cancel at any time). While you’re at it, brand your monthly giving program with a catchy name, clear case for support, and donor benefits.

Don’t forget your role as a philanthropy facilitator

You are a conduit for enabling people to act on their most cherished values. As a philanthropy facilitator, your job is to offer people the opportunity to find joy, meaning, and purpose. Now is your golden moment. Donors are an integral part of your mission; you serve them as much as they serve you. If you fall short right now, you’ll short-change those who count on you to find fulfillment.

When you address a need, and people in your community rely on you to do so, it’s your responsibility to engage in fundraising. <a href="https://bloomerang.co/blog/to-ask-or-not-to-ask-todays-nonprofit-coronavirus-question/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"Ask donors for their permission to invite them to be a hero at this time. Tell them you don’t know how much they might be able to give, but … you have a specific fundraising goal to meet. You are on a journey together. You’re creating a work of art together. Would it be possible for them to support you today with a special gift? Let them know you value them, either way.

Tags: Novel coronavirus (COVID-19); Fundraising