2020 September

Best Practices in Fundraising During a Pandemic

by David King, of David P. King Fundraising Counsel, LLC

Data to Focus Your Fundraising Thinking

  • The stock market is strong, indicating an underlying healthy business capacity.
  • A Gallup poll in May found that 66% of respondents said they will continue charitable giving during the pandemic at the same or higher level than in 2019.
  • Eighty-five percent of people who gave at least $1,000 in 2018 or 2019 to a faith-based nonprofit say they expect to give the same amount or more this year (Chronicle of Philanthropy, July 30, 2020).
  • Major donors who own their own businesses or are professionals continue to have incomes.
  • Grants from foundations and major donor support are as strong or stronger than in 2019, according to a survey of 172 nonprofit CEO’s (Chronicle of Philanthropy, June 8, 2020).

Major Gifts – Your Nonprofit’s Lifeblood

As the data above suggests, one of your fundraising focuses during the pandemic should be on major giving.  Your major donors have made past donations to your mission (‘investments’) and thus have a strong interest in seeing you continue.  These are the donors that you talk with face-to-face or via telephone or Zoom in a personal way and who give you an annual gift of at least $1,000 (or whatever threshold you set). 

Major donors expect and are given the most intimate “care and feeding.”  They are assigned to staff or board members to help with maintaining these regular contacts.  The development office coordinates the points of contact and schedule.

Every major donor should be contacted twice a year – once to thank and bring up to speed on your work, and once to thank and bring up to speed and then to ask for the annual gift.  More frequent personalized contact is even better along with invitations to participate in organizational activities (virtual events, webinars, Zoom calls, etc.).

It’s important to share positive stories during the pandemic – ways you are able to continue meeting your mission, stories of individuals in their own words.  People are looking for hope during this troubling time; your best donors will appreciate your sharing these uplifting stories.

Direct Appeals

Direct-appeal fundraising is productive now because our constituents are at home and on their computers.  Focus messages on how you are effectively meeting your mission despite the pandemic.  Frequency is also important to increase ‘touch points,’ reminding constituents of your work and needs, and giving them frequent chances to respond.

I recommend quarterly direct appeals; if your budget allows, send out more frequently.  It’s good to mix up the types of appeals:  in the 1st and 3rd quarters, send a newsletter (printed or emailed) with an envelope or link to your giving page; follow up in two weeks with an e-appeal referencing the newsletter; then send a printed letter with an envelope in the 2nd and 4th quarters (just before Thanksgiving) followed by an email referencing the letter; then send a year-end appeal in the 1st week of December for last-minute giving over the holidays. 

Be sure to segment your database to reach donors using whatever channel they prefer and removing them from a channel they don’t want (e.g., snail mail).  Also, be sure your web site has a highly visible giving page.

Foundation Grants

A number of the largest national foundations (Ford, MacArthur, Mellon, Kellogg, Duke) announced in June they would give more than the 5% required by law during the pandemic (Chronicle of Philanthropy, June 16, 2020).  Other foundations have set aside their traditional grant-making programs to focus on pandemic related grantmaking.  Foundations are in many communities taking the lead in helping sustain nonprofits during the pandemic; it’s a good time for grant-seeking.  Be sure to show how you are continuing to fulfill your mission in a difficult economy and that you describe how a grant will help you position yourself to not only endure the pandemic but also emerge stronger in the future.

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