Episode 55: Fundraising During the Coronavirus Crisis

March 17, 2020

by: Sheela Nimishakavi

I know it’s been a crazy few weeks so far and the uncertainty of the coronavirus has many of us feeling a bit anxious. It’s all kind of up in the air right now- we don’t know what the next few weeks are going to have in store for us.

If you’re feeling like things are a little out of your control right now, you are absolutely not alone. I’m right there with you. It seems like every time I turn on the news I get a fresh wave of anxiety.

But, I’m a planner. So, for me, when things feel out of control, the thing that helps me most is making a plan for what I can do and focusing all of my energy on that.

On this episode, I answer the questions that I’ve received the most in the last week and I hope my answers will help you begin to make a plan for your organization moving forward.

Is it appropriate to be fundraising right now?

My answer is a yes…. but. Yes, it’s appropriate to be fundraising, but we need to be sensitive and compassionate. Just as we are struggling with this new normal, so are our donors.

I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t a person exempt from worry right now, so we just need to be sensitive to that and recognize that our nonprofit may not be top of mind for them right now so ease into the conversation.

Along with the idea of compassion, really listen to your donors and ask how you can help them? If they own a small business right now and they’re struggling, maybe you can offer to post about them on your social media and encourage people to buy gift cards to their business or something.

I think through all of this craziness, the thing that your donors will remember most is how you made them feel. We always want to make sure that our donors feel good about their gift and that they feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. 

I know it’s really hard right now because you may be feeling the pressure or you may be feeling anxious and like you won’t have enough funding. But when you try to talk to donors from that mindset- from that scarcity, there isn’t enough to go around mindset- it comes through in your voice and it provokes anxiety in others.

So maybe before you call your donors, don’t watch the news. Don’t get riled up about the election. Focus on gratitude for all that you do have and for the good your nonprofit is doing in the world. Focus on the gratitude you have for your donors and for their support. And then pick up the phone and chat with them.

Overall, I think nonprofits should stick with their current plan. So if you have an appeal that goes out every April, there’s no need to put that off. You just want to be sensitive to the current situation.

What does it mean to be sensitive to the current situation? Keep your community abreast of the changes you are making to how you run your nonprofit during this time.

It’s not doom and gloom- please help us. Rather it’s time to showcase how creative your nonprofit is being, how resilient you are, and how committed you are to your community. Those are the types of messages that inspire donors and make them want to be a part of what you’re doing.

My nonprofit had to cancel our biggest fundraising event. Now what?

The best thing you can do is act early. Even if your event is one month from now, go ahead and start fundraising right now.

First, take a look at what you had budgeted to net from this event, and then evaluate where that funding was expected to come from. Once you’ve determined the amount of money that needs to be raised for your organization to reach its budget, now you need to determine what sources you were expecting this income to come from.

If you were expecting corporate sponsorships, you need to reach out to your sponsors and let them know that this event may not occur, but let them know that you would still like to partner with them in other ways.

For instance, if your organization decides to host a virtual event, you can still include sponsors this way. Since we’re all stuck at home, even more eyes are tuning in to our social media, so it’s a great opportunity to showcase your corporate partners.

With corporate sponsorships, you definitely want to get creative- don’t just take no for an answer. If you feel like it’s appropriate, go ahead and ask for other ways the company can stay involved with your fundraiser. It may not be at the level that you wanted or what they had originally promised to do for your organization, but like I said, every little bit helps.

Depending on the type of work that you do, your services may be needed now more than ever, and companies may be even more generous with their funding. Let’s not assume that every company is going to be pulling back on donations. Companies are made up of people, after all, and I really think that there is a real sense of unity to get past this pandemic and do what’s best for our communities.

When we look at what the fundraising event was projected to raise from individuals, again, every little bit helps. You want to be really transparent with your entire donor community. Let them know how much this fundraiser was projected to bring in, and that it’s a significant amount that your organization needs to be able to serve your community.

In fact, I suspect that many of you will see an increase in the need for your services in the aftermath of the pandemic. This funding is evermore crucial right now.

Reach out to your major donors and ensure they are able to keep up with what they typically give for this fundraising event. Try to get confirmation from this group on the amount they are able to contribute. Then, you’ll have a sense of the gap you’ll need to fill with your broader donor community. 

Finally, let your community know how urgent this request is. You’re essentially replacing a fundraising event with an appeal, so your case needs to be really compelling. If you know the need for your services will skyrocket because of the economic downturn, then let your community know that’s what you anticipate. If you need this funding to keep the doors open, let your community know that.

From what I’ve experienced, when I’m up front with a donor about current needs and how their funding will support it, I’m most successful in getting what I ask for.

Should we host a virtual fundraising event?

The answer is- it depends. Check out the audio for a full explanation!

In Conclusion

Fundraising is possible during the coronavirus crisis and there is no reason for nonprofits to shy away from asking for gifts. During this unprecedented time, when all we can do is stay home and worry, giving a donation to support an organization that is going out there and doing the work is a wonderful way to feel like we are contributing to our community.


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