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Fundraising in ANY Crisis...and of course the COVID One

Last spring, 2019, when the flooding hit Nebraska, a small nonprofit hit the STOP button on their major fundraiser. The development director was told by the board that they felt it was impossible and outright wrong to proceed with the major event. She had negative budget numbers and an epic fail on her funding goals. How do you prepare for the unexpected disaster, like a pandemic...or a flood?

In an article from the Nonprofit Quarterly, (Abzug and Derryck, 2002) a survey of New York City nonprofits brought to light the extreme struggles that were visited upon them by September 11.

“Almost 80 percent of responding small and medium-sized New York City nonprofits reported being impacted by the events of September 11th; just under a quarter of those responding had sites below 14th Street in Manhattan—right by Ground Zero.”

Three quarters of the respondents were impacted financially and one quarter had site issues. An easily imagined plight for a flooded area. Some will be shut down due to the flood, others will be impacted due to the demand of funding being re-directed to emergency funds and donors being strapped financially due to their own losses.

The coronavirus is a crisis across the whole country, not just a flood zone. The stock market is dumping and the board members may be saying now is not the time to be asking for gifts.


Now IS the time to ask as no other. Your supporters are coming forward as in no other time to make sure your programming moves in the right direction. Here are three points to consider as you move forward in all crisis situations and fundraising.

Make a plan and keep the plan.

You should make a plan. Simple and yet time consuming as it may be. In that plan, a direct mail campaign should be a center of attention. The USPS is there to serve as neither the email nor the internet can. Directly to one of the most important communication portals at the home. Along with mail, an email communications plan and solicitation campaign has to be implemented. While there is crisis, send a daily update. Just three or four sentences that say, hey, we are treading water and we know you care about us enough to read our updates. Telephone them. Call your donors and let them know you are thinking of them even though you are busy trying to make miracles happen. Let them know you have an interest in THEIR well being and chat with them.

Monthly giving keeps the organization a float.

If I give you $10 a month for 12 months, I am a $120 a year donor. I am as likely to give you a one-time check for that as do a monthly donation. But, if a crisis comes up and I have $120 to give, I am very likely to give that dollar amount to the disaster services organization. But if you have put me on the monthly automatic donation plan, I am highly unlikely to stop that payment to you. Monthly giving is one of the very best ways to even out an external crisis affecting your funding. Make sure you have a monthly giving option on your web donation page and on your return slip for a mailing. Start there and continue on through the year. It really will be your future life preserver in a crisis.

Keep moving towards your goals.

If it is a bad time to ask for a large gift right now because of the stock market, wait. Don’t stop. Use the time to communicate about your programming and the lives you are impacting. Use one story to share the degree of change you have brought into a life and then remind your donor of the heavy need still waiting for help.

Use the crisis as it affects your impact. Did the crisis displace a family in your program? Tell their story and ask around that story. An example could be a homeless family who have a difficult time with home schooling. Or, a foster child who had to be quarantined due to possible infection.

Re-Think the Process

If you have an event that is canceled, be creative and look for ways that event can be turned into an on-line program or transformed by a partnership with another organization. An annual home tour canceled because the homeowners don’t want all those people coming in, so ask your local real estate company to film the homes and host the event on line. Can a canceled 5K be turned into a backyard 5K via Fitbit race? (There are approximately 3,500 steps in a 5K) A canceled superhero themed 5K might be turned into a superhero themed dress-up for Friday’s work event via Zoom across town.

Remember, bad things do happen to really great organizations. We are only as good as our plan and commitment to success make us. Don’t stop now! You Got This!

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