Coronavirus and Fundraising: Use this time to deepen relationships with your donors. Never, ever stop!

The Weekend Briefing’sThe 10 Things Smart Fundraisers Should Be Doing Right Now” reminds us that during this tremulous time, acknowledge three important truths:

  1. Your donors still care about your organization. They still want to support you. Their ability to do that may be compromised for a while, but that doesn’t mean they care about you any less.

  2. The mission of your organization still matters. It matters a lot to the people you serve, and it should matter a lot to you.

  3. The relationships with donors you have worked so hard to develop? They have not gone “poof” in the wind. This is a time to be sensitive, to be sure, but those relationships are every bit what they were in December.

Recognizing these realities, the Briefing continues on to highlight 10 specific strategies to implement. Here are a three:

  1. More than ever, put yourself in your donor’s shoes. Maureen and Ed might be grateful to hear from you. Beatrice might need to be left alone for a bit. It is up to you to know which and to gauge everything you do through that lens.

  2. If you are in the process of discussing a gift with a donor, don’t stop. (!!!) Talk about the gift intention now and the gift later, if need be. “Kathy, if we were back to normal times, would this be the gift you would want to make? We can absolutely consider this your ‘present intention’ and you can decide on a time later this year or early next year to complete the gift.”

  3. Be relentless in sharing good news about your organization on your website and in occasional emails to your donors. (Example: Christ the King Jesuit in Chicago shared in an e-blast that on the school had 96% student attendance on the first e-learning day.)

Donors are wondering how your schools are doing. Let them know!

A headline from The Chronicle of Philanthropy reads, “Experts Urge Charities to Communicate Their Needs Clearly to Their Donors.”

We have lifted the follow excerpt:

As the coronavirus quickly spreads across the country, many donors are unsure how to step in and help.

"Nonprofits need to do everything they can to communicate clearly to their supporters and stakeholders in the community what their status is as honestly as they can and ask for the kind of help they really need," said Melissa Berman, president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

That might even mean nonprofit leaders telling their supporters directly that the organization might not have enough money to survive if the crisis escalates, Berman said.

"Nonprofits have an opportunity right now to talk to their staunchest supporters about how to make sure their balance sheets can get them through this and figure out creative ways to help those they serve," she said.

Succinctly highlight your e-learning plans with your donors, emphasizing that quality educational instruction must and is continuing on for our students.

Without communications, relationships are at stake.

Unlike other health crises or natural disasters that have hit in recent years, the coronavirus is unusual because it has the potential to affect everyone. Previous crises have shown that when donors think they could be directly affected, they are much more likely to direct their attention and support toward their own towns and cities, said Melissa Wyers, a consultant with more than two decades of fundraising experience.

"If you’re making appeals right now, where you’ll be most successful is in the things that are going to have a direct impact in your community, like social services," Wyers said. "Nonprofits would be smart to fundraise for things that will help families get through this."

The best course of action, Wyers said, is to send out a lot of communications thanking donors who have supported the charity, either recently or in the past. While the style and tone of those communications will differ depending on the giving level of the donor, the core message should focus on how important that person is to the charity, said Wyers.

"Really acknowledge the value of these donors because those people will stick with you," she said. "If they have to give a little less, they’ll give something because it’s important to them, and then when this is all over, you’ll have all these donors to move forward with."

Another Chronicle article, “What We Have Learned From Crises and Can Use in Coronavirus Age,” addresses how organizations are keeping in touch with their big donors, especially those that are older and especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.

They are using technology and finding out how [donors are] doing, and then sharing with the donor the plans for the institution. They want to check in and make sure that their key stakeholders are navigating this well.

Go with the most personal medium you can. If you think they’ve got the capacity for a video conference, then use Skype or FaceTime or Zoom. If that’s going to be tough on their end, pick up the phone and have a conversation. Listen to them and be a non-anxious presence. If you can’t reach them because they’re not at their office, and that’s the only contact information you’ve got, then send an email, but make it a personal email. So not "I hope all of you are faring well in this crisis," but "I hope you are faring well in these difficult times."

In conversation, if the donor seems to be amenable, explore with them ways in which they may be helpful as the organization navigates its uncharted waters. In some instances, they may be pivoting from a discussion about a capital campaign or endowment gift, and if the donor seems receptive, talking about the contingency measures they have in place to remain resilient through this crisis.

If your donor isn’t on your email list, while in phone conversation, direct them to your school website. Create a page dedicated to communicating your school’s COVID-19 response plan, and includes updates on implementation progress.

Event cancelled? Dial for dollars, now.

A video “Nonprofit Fundraising Events during Coronavirus” by charity auctioneer Abra Annes offers advice on what to consider and how to make the call to cancel your fundraising event. If you just recently cancelled your event, she advises connecting (via phone or video) directly with your event sponsors and donors to invite them to transition the gift to help alleviate the school’s unanticipated negative financial implications of the pandemic.

MobileCause offers a recommendation for organizations to consider transitioning a gala to a Virtual Fundraising Event.

Continue to hold an “event,” simply make it a virtual one. Have some fun with it. Tell supporters they don’t have to get dressed up, drive across town, or worry about what’s being served. They can ‘come’ in their sweats or jammies, make and enjoy their favorite meal and have a front row seat to watch the gala or luncheon.

Live stream your virtual event on Facebook Live or YouTube and broadcast it through your event page. By using your event page to share the live stream, you have your impact metrics, donation link and information about your organization all front and center. By live streaming you can still give your planned presentations, show videos, and present awards and keynotes. You’ll want to continue to use text-to-donate, and just like at a live event, remind the audience multiple times throughout the virtual event to donate. Display the event thermometer and donor wall on your event page so everyone can see the progress toward your fundraising goal and donors continue to be recognized.

Pro Tip: If you have already sold tickets to the event, don’t assume you need to give an immediate refund. Ask your guests if they would like their ticket purchases to be considered a donation, with the applicable tax benefits that come with a monetary donation.

Live from Corona! Here is a video demonstration by Synchronicity Events of how to host your fundraising gala during social distancing.

Nora Kyger says, “Even before this crisis, some organizations had tried a virtual gala - recognizing that folks were getting tired of the big events. They raised as much money as they would have anyway!”

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Fundraising in Uncertain Times free Webinar Series by American Philanthropic 3/19 - 4/30.

March 19: Major Donor Cultivation & Solicitation Notes

Webinar panelists noted: when it comes to major gifts during uncertain times, strategy doesn't change but tactics do. Here are some additional key takeaways from this session:

  • Do not stop talking to your donors—identify creative ways to connect with them!

    • Use video meetings to stay relational

    • Move forward with foundations—they must give money away

    • Corporate gifts will likely prove harder during this time

  • Ask, if appropriate—but be sensitive to the situation

    • Don't assume every donor is hurting during this crisis

    • Consider asking the pledge amount to be paid later

    • Consider having large, one-time annual gifts turned into smaller monthly ones

  • Stay the course and stay "near, dear, and clear"

    • You put a 2020 development plan in place to achieve success—so stick to it

    • Stay in close contact with donors—stay near

    • Draw in your donors closer to you and your mission—stay dear

    • Remind donors of your great work, made possible by them—stay clear


Brenda Morris
Senior Director of Advancement