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With Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading in the USA and around the world, many organizations may have a knee-jerk reaction to stop fundraising during this time of public panic and economic uncertainty. 

While giving and fundraising will certainly be impacted, what remains to be seen is how long this crisis will last, and how significant the impact to the economy will be. At Pursuant, we recommend that organizations stay the course with their fundraising while being sure to proceed with heightened levels of sensitivity. 

Previous studies have indicated organizations that continued to fundraise and engage with donors following events like the 2008 recession emerged stronger than nonprofits that completely halted their programs. 

However, the way that nonprofits approach fundraising and engage with donors will have to change. Nonprofits and other giving-related organizations should not undervalue the work they do even if it is not on the frontlines of fighting public health crises. Here we’ve highlighted ways your organization can be mindful while continuing to fundraise effectively. 

Focus on current donors

Each year organizations need new donors to fuel their mission. While we are not recommending you suspend all acquisition efforts, Pursuant does suggest you review your plans and strike a balance between acquiring new donors and focusing on engaging the donors you have. Organizations at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis (patient care, hospitals, general healthcare organizations, and more), may have an easier time acquiring new donors at this time and we recommend seizing on that opportunity. However, our past experience has shown that organizations focusing on enhanced donor stewardship (think: impact reports, personalized thank-you letters and phone calls, and volunteer engagement) in addition to continuing acquisition tend to recover more quickly following a giving slump. 

If your nonprofit is one of the aforementioned healthcare organizations working to alleviate the effects of this pandemic, we salute you. It’s also time to make sure that donate buttons are prominently displayed on your website and that you have social fundraising in place. While giving may slow in many sectors, in times of crisis people are inclined to give where they can have the most direct and immediate impact. 

Ramp-up communications

In the midst of dour news about illness, stock market downswings, and bickering pundits, your nonprofit can be a source of positivity and hope. While it’s important to avoid sounding tone-deaf, continue encouraging donors by reminding them how their generosity is making a positive impact on the world. 

Something to remember is that right now people may be more receptive to communication from your nonprofit. The volume of people working remotely and social distancing has greatly increased, so a donor may happily welcome a phone call or a piece of mail. Now is the time to share your most compelling stories of transformed lives and highlight the needs that still exist. Some ways to do this are: 

  • Keep the focus on the mission and not the virus itself
  • Communicate via multiple channels: digital, phone calls, and mail
  • Don’t try to ignore or sidestep people’s fear. Rather, acknowledge it and empathize with their worries
  • Be flexible with timelines (and communicate this!) with donors, especially those needing to recover physically and emotionally
  • Segment your audiences if you haven’t already and personalize your messaging for each group

Maintaining open communication channels with your existing donor base can increase transparency and trust in the organization. Your organization can also provide value by sending helpful information or sharing an uplifting story during a stressful and difficult time. 

Review messaging in current campaigns

As the news is changing rapidly, your current communication with donors should be closely evaluated with the added perspective on what is occurring in the world. Keep talking about your organization’s mission, but circle back on any in-flight campaigns to assess whether the message itself is still appropriate during the current time of crisis. Some ways to do this are:

  • Updating your messages to refocus on certain parts of your mission above others 
  • Evaluate words, phrases, or idioms that might now lack sensitivity in light of current events. 
  • Avoid language that makes casual references to illness or infection, unless it is relevant to your organization’s mission. 

Also, changes around events (walk/runs, galas, etc.) like cancellations should be promptly communicated to expected attendee lists. A good idea would be to develop alternative strategies for fundraising in the form of virtual events. 

Likewise, if your organization depends largely on direct mail it might be a good time to increase digital forms of communication.

Benchmark giving

In the early days of a crisis, it can be difficult to know what is up from down. The best way to measure the actual impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on your fundraising is to have solid year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter benchmarks to track the course of giving. If you have metrics from previous economic crises, such as 9/11 and the 2008-2009 financial downturn, now would be the time to look at those to see how your organization performed. 

If you’re not sure how to set these benchmarks up, Pursuant’s team of fundraising strategists would be happy to meet with leadership at your organization. Your nonprofit can get a better insight into fundraising plans and performance, plus, together we’ll brainstorm strategies on how to close any fundraising gaps.

Remain Flexible, and Take Care of One Another

While previous crises can serve as a useful reference for how to fundraise, it’s also important to remember that every crisis is unique. Nonprofit organizations must prepare to be flexible when it comes to timelines, deadlines, and revenue expectations. Draft up not just one, but multiple contingency plans for situations like:

  • Cases where key team members are quarantined
  • Meet with production teams on a plan for print runs given the time-sensitive situation
  • Moving in-person work and events to remote and virtual environments

Moreover, it’s essential to keep calm and stay the course in your fundraising (albeit with a few adjustments) and leaving as much margin as possible for the unexpected. 

In times of uncertainty, everyone’s emotions are heightened. Crises often present opportunities to demonstrate strength, courage, and reliability. Your donors and constituents will still care about your mission after the current crisis has passed—they might even care about your organization more, depending on how you encourage and steward them now.

Want more resources on how your organization can prepare for the new  challenges presented by COVID-19? Listen to our recent podcast episode here.