Fundraising in a COVID-19 World

May 1, 2020

Depending on where you dwell in the world, you are now a month or more into physical distancing, working and schooling from home, and a new temporary normal has set in. Nonprofit and commercial companies alike have had to throw their Q2 plans out the door, and race to plan and deploy a new approach to marketing.

For the nonprofit community, our challenge with this pandemic is unlike a typical hurricane, an outbreak of war or famine, or a known disease requiring a cure – or anything else we are used to mobilizing around, for that matter. How an individual can help a cause make an impact on this illness is not straight forward. The need in many areas, however, is immense. Organizations are navigating how their mission fits into the COVID-19 storyline, and as such, all organizations have been tasked with writing a new case for support. Face-to-face fundraising and events have been cancelled and so have in-person events for the foreseeable future.

During this time, quick analysis, observation, and a commitment to being flexible are what will help fundraising programs not just survive but thrive. Everything we do needs to be, first and foremost, responsive to market behavior.

How has behavior changed and how have organizations responded?

There’s hopeful news to share – your donors are out there, continuing to support causes they care about the most, but not through the channels you or they may be used to. After initial slumps across channels in March, we’ve seen a bounce back, and in some cases a surge, in digital responsiveness. Digital advertising volume, sales and charitable giving are all showing increases from earlier this year. Digital response tracked back to offline touchpoints have increased as much as 160% compared to prior years.

Here’s how different types of organizations are responding:

  • Frontline organizations related to health, human services and relief aid have been furiously building online content related to COVID-19 resources, basic needs and economic resources. Many organizations have been successful in communicating the help they can provide as demand and volume for their services soar.
  • Event-based organizations regardless of mission vertical are being hit the hardest with their primary fundraising channel on hold for an unknown amount of time.
  • Local medical offices have added new telemedicine content and portals as they shift to remote appointments.
  • Education organizations are promoting their services as well as charitable endeavors, as many have provided free resources for children, families and schools who are all distance learning during this time.
  • Every other mission, in-person event, and brick and mortar business has worked to create the new virtual, digital version of themselves to stay connected to their community at this time.

What to do now if you’re a charity or even a purpose-focused organization?

As stated above, many organizations have found opportunity and success amongst all this change. Those who quickly shifted initial Q2 plans are the organizations who are surviving better in the short term and will be better positioned to recover faster.

  • Manage your cash flow is mission critical at this time. If done well, whatever changes your organization is experiencing, you’ll be much more successful. Whatever your strategies and marketing plans may be, stay in close contact with finance to make sure you can make it work.
  • Organizations on the front line shouldn’t overlook the need for personalized new donor stewardship. While it is great to acquire these donors now, their immediate and ongoing stewardship is what will help you retain them. Update acknowledgements to echo the messaging that brought them in, and layer in additional thank you campaigns showing the impact of their support. Ensure that donors know they are the heroes that delivered support where and when it was needed most.
  • Shift strategies, don’t go dark, and keep testing. Be creative and move investment to channels that are seeing increased market opportunity. Test fast and smart in digital acquisition points of sale. With increases in audience volume, a quick test with a home page donate button or messaging on a donation form could mean huge increases in revenue for COVID-19 relevant organizations.
  • For organizations without a tangible mission connection to COVID-19, keep communicating with your audiences. Your mission is important, and your community still needs you. Adjust your strategies to manage for short term cash flow, but don’t go silent or stop asking for support.
  • Think through the donor response process and pivot your program to provide audiences everything they need to make a gift during this time. For offline campaigns, add BRE’s or clip stamps to packages, highlight ways to give digitally, and don’t look at response in a vacuum.
  • Don’t miss #GivingTuesdayNow. This new global day of giving taking place on May 5th is an emergency response to the increase in need caused by COVID-19 globally. All nonprofits should have a voice and ramp up their fundraising efforts for this event.

We’ll end with this quote from Mr. Rogers that feels right for this moment.?

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

We see people helping everywhere and it inspires us to do whatever we can to help nonprofit and commercial brands weather this storm. The post-COVID world will look a little different, but we will be there on the front lines helping create success for our partners.

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