The novel coronavirus pandemic has changed just about every aspect of our society in some way. Even setting aside damage caused directly by the COVID-19 virus, many people are worse off now than they were before the pandemic started. For nonprofits, especially those focused on humanitarian causes, this offers both challenges and opportunities.
Many of the challenges are obvious. More unemployed people mean less disposable income to spend. While entertainment options are down thanks to pandemic-related lockdowns, so are household incomes. That puts pressure on fundraisers and their causes.
Reaching donors is more difficult as well. The post office is under the same pressure as all other service organizations, trying to keep customers happy while navigating the pandemic’s hurdles.
Of course, the job losses and general financial pressures mean more people need more help from charitable organizations, too—yet another challenge that puts a strain on nonprofits to deliver.
While challenges may be easy to spot, opportunities may not jump out right away. Altering your perspective, you will see that the pandemic’s new way of living and working has created some potential opportunities to tap into, and even grow, your donor base.
Adjust your tactics
The pandemic’s reality means that common fundraising tactics are not all applicable. In-person events, from onsite auctions to black-tie galas, are generally off-limits for a while. Printed mail campaigns are possible, yet the postal service’s challenges make them less optimal at the moment.
Online interaction, on the other hand, is exploding. Even if your donors were regular participants in your digital campaign before, there is always room to grow. Simply put, anybody who has online access (and the vast majority of your donors and potential donors do) is connecting. Whether it’s on their phones, tablets, or computers, you want to give your audience plenty of ways to connect with you—and help you—without leaving their homes.
Empower your community
Many of our clients use digital tactics in their fundraising. These are good when you start planning an all-virtual campaign. But familiar methods such as personalized email outreach or social media-backed efforts to drive patrons to online donor pages should be complementary efforts, not primary strategies.
Why? Simply put, each business and organization is trying to reach its customers, donors, and audiences via digital channels: Emails, sponsored tweets, social posts. Messages get lost in the noise.
Instead, think about ways to narrow your audience and bring focus to your cause. For instance, set up a crowd-funding page with a specific donation goal. Ideally, the platform will include social components that kick in when donors contribute, enabling them to spread the word.
Then, target your super-donors—those most active members based on both donations and online activity. (This is important: a mega-donor during the pandemic isn’t just someone who gives often or gives a lot, but also someone who responds to your digital nudges.)
Integrating email outreach and social media mentions (like a dedicated campaign hashtag) into a crowdfunding-style push can build momentum. It can also leverage your donors as evangelists.
Another idea is to use a peer-to-peer fundraising platform to engage your donors. This is where you are using your donors to reach out to their peers on your behalf—think of charity runs where you pledge money to a participant. It’s the same idea, but all online.
Among the many benefits of peer-to-peer fundraising is that it stretches your campaign dollars and helps create organic awareness for your cause. It also helps get your most ardent supporters involved and, like a dedicated crowdfunding campaign, usually has specific goals broken up into smaller dollar amounts and shared among the peers.
To assist the nonprofit, there are many helpful software providers from which to choose. One of them, CauseVox, has an excellent primer on how to set up a peer-to-peer program (https://www.causevox.com/blog/peer-to-peer-fundraising-primer/).
An alternative to a full peer-to-peer campaign is the do-it-yourself (DIY) fundraiser. If you’ve seen social media posts that link a birthday celebration and donating to a specific cause, for example, you’ve seen DIY fundraising in action. Typically, these require less organization than a full peer-to-peer campaign, and your fundraisers can work on their own schedules, as opposed to being linked to a specific campaign window.
Adapt what works
The pandemic is forcing organizations and donors to adapt, but that doesn’t mean everything has changed. Tactics that worked before social distancing can be modified to fit the new circumstances.
For example, auctions can still be used as fundraisers, with slight adaptation. Before, it was easy to add a silent auction table to a larger in-person event. With events being cut back, this is harder but not necessarily impossible. Consider setting up online auctions and then partnering with related virtual events. You can share promotional efforts and raise the profile of both the virtual event and your cause.
No event to help boost your effort? No problem! Set up a stand-alone online auction that you can promote through your channels.
There are many platforms that can help you manage the process—some even take only a percentage of what is sold, making the costs appealing.
A related idea worth exploring is online marketplaces, such as eBay, that have dedicated programs allowing sellers to give their proceeds to charity. With people spending a lot more time at home, de-cluttering is a popular pastime. Connecting the ability to turn unwanted items into donations for you could be a win-win.
It may take some staff time to research and communicate the ins and outs (including getting your organization set up to receive donations from the site), but once in place, such a program could pay dividends long after the pandemic is gone. EBay’s instructions on direct selling for a charity are here: https://www.ebay.com/help/donating-ebay-charity/default/buying-selling-ebay-benefit-nonprofit-organizations?id=4668#section2
One of the most time-tested tactics for boosting donations is a thank-you gift. The pandemic hasn’t changed this, although it may be altering some of the chosen items. Giving donors who contribute at certain thresholds a mug, tote bag, or some other useful item remains popular. Clients using our recently launched GRCMarketPlace (www.grcmarketplace.com) have added some pandemic-appropriate items as well. We’re seeing touch tools that can be used for everything from elevator buttons to PIN pads, customized masks, and even stress balls!
Coming up with a fun, useful thank-you gift and connecting with your donors asking for a minimum donation is a proven tactic. There’s no reason it can’t be used now.
How can we help?
Fundraising is a matter of strategizing, shifting, and adapting. The pandemic hasn’t changed this—it’s simply changed some of the outcomes. We’re engaged with clients on a regular basis, coming up with new approaches that factor in their circumstances, those of their donors, and the temporary disruptions that the pandemic has created. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about adjusting your strategies to meet your goals.