How To Engage Donors While the World is Focused on COVID-19

It’s hard to believe that we are living in an entirely different philanthropic landscape than we were just six months ago. COVID-19 has greatly impacted every facet of our lives, including how and where we direct our financial resources. This ripple effect has left the nonprofit community grappling with how best to continue to support their communities while weathering the storm internally.

While it may seem challenging, there are still ways to engage donors, keep funding coming in and recoup some of the losses your organization has faced. It will take creativity, flexibility, transparency and a focus on nurturing donor relationships. The steps below can help your organization respond to this “forced” innovation and may even result in nimbler and more resourceful fundraising practices on the other side of this crisis.

State Your Case

The first step to ensure fundraising doesn’t flounder is to develop a mini case statement that effectively tells your story. Like any case statement you’ll want to explain your need. Share what’s different now and/or what’s been exacerbated by COVID. For instance, did you move your programs to a virtual platform or are you seeing an increased demand in services because of the crisis? Also, since we are already 3 months into the crisis, you’ll also want to share any current outcomes.

Your case should also include a budget that details how your projected revenue and expenses have been affected. Answering some of the questions below can help your donors understand where your organization stands.

  • Are you losing revenue from fees?
  • Is there a decrease in fundraising or have you cancelled an event?
  • Have expenses gone up because of increased services or because you’ve had to modify your service model due to the stay-at-home order and social distancing?
  • How are you working to fill the fundraising gap (Paycheck Protection Program, emergency grants, etc.)?

Citing real numbers as you answer these questions will enhance your organization’s credibility and increase trust. Lastly, be sure to clearly communicate your current fundraising goal.

Avenues for Support

Next, you’ll want to clearly articulate ways your donors can offer support during this unprecedented time. Here are a few key strategies to consider:

  • Capitalize on Donor Advised Funds – these are funds donors have already allocated and set aside for charitable gifts. Have open and frank conversations with your donors about why an extra or larger gift would be helpful now.
  • Create a Monthly Giving Program – this is a great way for smaller donors to continue their support without breaking the bank – click here for more on how to develop a comprehensive strategy.
  • Address your Fundraising Events – determine how you will approach planned events and consider alternatives, including:
    • Virtual Events – can elements that made your in-person event unique, i.e. entertainment, interaction with clientele, art, be translated?
    • Live Events – now that some restrictions have been lifted how can you get together in a small or distanced group for a modified version of the original event?
    • Online Auctions – do you have high value, unique items that can be auctioned off online?
    • Ask Supporters to Donate Ticket Cost – asking donors to donate the ticket cost can be an easy request. Your donors want to see you survive and thrive so be optimistic and make the ask.
    • Take Sponsorship Recognition into Account – corporate sponsors will need a value proposition and/or benefits articulated. You will likely need to reframe these if there isn’t an in-person event.
  • Consider Launching Online Campaigns
    • Find a Matching Gift Donor – this a great way for companies to lend support to your organization and also display their commitment to supporting the community. It also increases your campaign’s success because individual donors like to see their support amplified.
    • Target Your Outreach Offline – If your goal is significant; you’ll also need to conduct personal outreach to your donors to drive them to the campaign. This will not only help ensure your campaign remains active but also further solidify your relationship with the donor and encourage larger online gifts.
    • Develop Engaging Messages and Updates – once the campaign is active, you’ll need to keep supporters regularly updated on your progress. It’s also a great way to highlight significant donors and say thanks. Don’t forget to include videos!
    • Review your In-Kind Needs and Volunteer Opportunities – do you have non-monetary needs that can be supported in a creative way? Donors like to do more than write checks during a crisis.

Connect with Donors

Once you have your mini case statement and defined ways for donors to provide support, you’ll need to engage your donors in the process. In our new world, engagement will also look different. Consider trying one of these approaches:

  • Increase Personal Outreach – this is a great time to transition your fundraising tactics from transactional to relationship based. Many nonprofits have relied on transactional fundraising, like events, at the detriment of building personal, lasting relationships with donors.Now is the perfect time to strengthen relationships by getting to know your donors. Don’t think of outreach as a one-time task. Building relationships takes time and lots of contacts! Find out what interests them. Why do they support you? What is their vision for you? This will lead to more major gifts in the long run.
  • Increase Social Media
    • Program Highlights – share what’s new and different about how you are doing your work. Are there successes or compelling stories to share?
    • Video Messages – these make connecting to your mission more engaging and heartfelt. Keep them brief and feature a variety of people – board chair, CEO, Development Director, volunteers, etc.
    • Feature Donors – you can help inspire others to give by featuring current donors. Have them share why they support your organization and why your mission is critical.
  • Leverage the Board
    • Thank You Calls – engage your board in making thank you calls and create a tiered system of outreach based on constituent type, the amount of their last gift, and the overall relationship.
    • Ask for Introductions – who can your board reach out to or introduce you to now?
    • Amplify Social Media – your board should be re-sharing your organizations content to help spread the message about your work and your needs.

Moving Forward

Incorporating the steps above into an action plan (click here for a sample) can help your nonprofit identify a path forward during this crisis and beyond. When you clearly communicate the opportunity for your donors to support you through this challenging time, you provide them the chance to make a difference and everyone wins.

About Rachel M. Decker

Having spent nearly 20 years in the nonprofit sector as an effective and strategic fundraising and foundation executive, Detroit Philanthropy Founder and President, Rachel Decker is passionate about helping others, making meaningful connections, solving problems and, most importantly, creating impact in our community. With the founding of Detroit Philanthropy, she turned that passion into a commitment to champion philanthropy throughout metro Detroit as a philanthropic advisor, fundraising consultant and speaker.


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