Through an arrangement with TechSoup, PND is pleased to offer a series of articles about the effective use of technology by nonprofits.
Much has been written over the years about how nonprofits should fundraise in tough times. Fundraising pioneer Mal Warwick famously advised nonprofits during the 2008-09 recession to reassess the whole ball of wax. At the time, that seemed like good advice to cope with an unprecedented economic collapse that was impacting the day-to-day business of nonprofit fundraising.
The situation for most nonprofits in 2020 feels similar and yet more complex as we cope with the triple challenge of the pandemic, the economic fallout on communities and nonprofit institutions, and serious disruptions in donor activity caused by quarantines and high unemployment.
We've been here before, and now is a good time to look back to what we've learned in past crises while also adapting to these new challenges. The bottom line is that your donor community cares about your mission and can be an active partner in helping you through this time of uncertainty. Here are five things that nonprofit fundraisers can do to survive these tough times and emerge on the other end of it with a more positive approach to donor engagement and fundraising.
Focus on cultivation and stewardship
While charitable giving is down in 2020 and face-to-face supporter engagement has been limited by lockdowns, now is the time for nonprofits to redouble their efforts to stay connected with supporters. Adopting a cultivational mode of communications will help strengthen your relationships with your donors and allow you to showcase your organization's value to the community. In these uncertain times, people are yearning to establish deeper connections, including with their neighbors, local businesses, and civic leaders. Your job is to be there with them and help lead the way forward.
Even when you're not directly asking for financial support, there are several things you can do:
- Thank your donors. (Often.)
- Provide updates about your budget situation and emergency needs (if any).
- Share compelling stories about your work.
Enhance your stories with testimonials, photos, videos, social media posts, and anything else that will grab donors' attention. And be sure to include your supporters' own stories and voices. They've already made the decision to support you and are in the best position to make your case.
Strengthen your case for giving
Consider how you're positioning your nonprofit's mission, values, and programs during these uncertain times. How can you sharpen your messaging to address historic levels of unemployment, economic hardship, public health risk, a growing anti-racism movement, an upcoming presidential election, and other societal challenges? Whether it's updating your website, posting on your social media channels, or writing a fundraising appeal, make sure your donors understand both the more urgent need for your services during these anxious times and the many concrete steps you're taking to enhance your effectiveness for the beneficiaries you serve.
Alan Cantor captures the essence of this idea in a recent article in Harvard Business Review when he writes: "In the coming weeks and months, successful requests for charitable donations will need to be embedded in a larger expression of mutual support, empathy, and solidarity."
Embrace contact-free fundraising events
Perhaps nothing has stressed out nonprofit leaders more than the reality of having to cancel fundraising events due to the virus. A huge amount of annual nonprofit revenue depends on face-to-face fundraising events. But necessity being the mother of invention, nonprofits have adapted quickly by converting many in-person events into virtual activities.
And while lockdown rules are now being lifted, many people will continue to avoid social gatherings in order to protect their health, resulting in a likely impact on nonprofit fundraising well into the fall.
High on nonprofit priority lists has been learning how to produce virtual fundraising events, using video meeting platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, and others. Nonprofits are also turning to social media platforms such as Facebook Live to hold virtual real-time events. In-person activities have been replaced by keynote videos, speaker panels, online breakout chat rooms, and more, all with the aim of creating an interactive virtual group experience. While not as personal as an actual in-person event, virtual events can be designed to integrate a fundraising appeal, auction, raffle, video contest, virtual concert, and much more. Check out these two recent TechSoup articles on "Producing a Virtual Nonprofit Event" and "Raising Money Using Zoom" for additional tips and resources.
In addition to virtual events, many nonprofits are organizing local contact-free fundraising events for supporters. These can include walk/run-a-thons where participants collect pledges and complete the physical challenge at home. Or they can be non-run challenges, talent competitions, art contests, photo competitions, or essay challenges. Now is the perfect time to tap into the creativity and at-home engagement of your supporter community.
Get your digital house in order
The coronavirus pandemic has been a wake-up call for many nonprofits to get their digital house in order. if yours isn't, here are some things you can do:
- Take a long, hard look at your website to assess what needs to be refreshed, whether with basic messaging or with answers to questions people might have about your services during the pandemic.
- If you need help tuning up your website, check out TechSoup's Website Services to learn more about the resources available to help you freshen up your site's design, attract new supporters, amplify your fundraising efforts, and/or accelerate your impact.
- Review the donation pages on your website and make sure they make a strong case for giving to your organization. Are the giving levels properly aligned for tough economic times? Could you introduce a few lower giving levels? Is the monthly giving option clearly visible?
- Review your social media management practices to determine how best to stay current through those channels. Should you change the frequency and content of your posts? Many nonprofits have found social media to be the most efficient way to stay connected with their stakeholder communities.
- Review your email messaging practices to determine what, if anything, needs to be updated.
Empower your supporters to help you
During these uncertain times, consider how you can be strategic as you communicate and fundraise with different donor groups. For example, you might want to target more of your outreach to mid-level and major donors, who typically have more capacity to give. Think hard about what messages and which value proposition is most likely to inspire this important group of donors.
Encourage your supporters and donors to set up Facebook Fundraising campaigns, enabling them to help raise money for you. Many of your supporters will already be familiar with giving on Facebook. To help your supporters get started, you should provide sample content and images they can use to promote their campaigns.
Times of crisis often are a time when new supporters who want to make a difference in their community emerge. In this current moment, when so many people are feeling out of control, supporting a nonprofit provides a unique source of inspiration and empowerment. Invite in new supporters, even at low gift levels, to be part of the change you are trying to create through your programs. Reaching new supporters might involve outreach to your volunteer network, trading mailing lists with like-minded organizations, increasing your activity on social media, reaching out to lapsed donors, or spending money on a social media advertising campaign.
For more great advice, check out these resources. Good luck!
- "The Show Must Go On: Producing a Virtual Nonprofit Event," by Shannon Cherry, TechSoup, April 2, 2020
- "Raising Money Using Zoom," TechSoup webinar, May 7, 2020
- "Nonprofit Fundraising in the Age of Coronavirus," by Alan Cantor, Harvard Business Review, April 15, 2020
- "Fundraising in Tough Times," by Mal Warwick, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2009.
- Fundraising When Money Is Tight: A Strategic and Practical Guide to Surviving Tough Times and Thriving in the Future, by Mal Warwick. Published by Jossey-Bass, April 2009
Michael Stein works as a freelance consultant and coach to nonprofits, foundations and educators, with a focus on digital strategy, online fundraising, social media coaching, and email and website usability.