9203 Mike Garcia Dr, Manassas, VA 20109 540 428 7000 info@grassrootcommunication.com

Fundraising During COVID-19: Adapt–Don’t Start Over

Fundraising During COVID-19: Adapt–Don’t Start Over

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

GRC Marketplace

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.

Contact us today.

Amid Live-Event Uncertainty, Some Guidance For Moving Forward

The novel coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot about the way business is done. Arguably the largest change has a direct impact on the association world: the strict limitations, if not outright cancellations, of large-group gatherings. In the membership world, this means conferences and meetings.

Like it or not, associations are beholden to local regulations at their venues. If you’re headquartered in a state that is opening quickly, your event still may not happen as scheduled if it’s in a hotspot. Even if you happen to be ready to go, attendees may have other ideas. If there’s international travel involved for your attendees or your event site, you have even more hurdles.

Suffice it to say that the events world is not going to be the same for a while. ASAE conducted a snapshot poll in early June, asking several pertinent questions about planned events. Among the eye-opening results: 50% of association executives believe their next in-person conference will be in 2021 or later, or have no idea. Nearly 25% of them said their associations canceled at least four in-person event slated for 2020. The major takeaway: uncertainty reigns.
Grassroot Communication | In Person Events

But events will happen, and when they do, associations and event planners have to be prepared. The International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) has taken the lead in developing a best-practices guide for safely reopening events to attendees and exhibitors. The guide is not prescriptive, because every event is different—from number of attendees to the venue layout. But the 35-page guide runs event planners through big-picture basics on how to assess risk, establish protocols for ensuring physical distancing is practiced, and—perhaps most importantly—how to communicate it all to audiences.

Much of the guidance relies on existing protocols, such as using event-specific apps to supplement communications efforts. But other things are completely new to the events world, such as health screening.

The 35-page guide is available at IAEE’s website at https://www.iaee.com/covid-19-resources/. The first version was released in early June. IAEE plans to keep updating the guide as protocols change, so bookmark that page.

Changes Amid The Pandemic—Do Your Customers Understand?

Not long ago, a member of the Grassroot team went to a local store to pick up some supplies. It’s a large store—big enough to have its own shopping carts, merchandise displayed out front of the shop, and a big, automatic door welcoming customers.

This store wasn’t in the “essential services” category, and it had some protocols in place that differed from, for example, a nearby grocery store. One of the protocols: only 10 customers at a time were allowed in. The restriction was understandable, considering the COVID-19 risks.

The problem isn’t what the store had—namely, a way to keep people socially distanced—but what it didn’t have. There was no signage out front explaining the policy, nor was there an extra staff member on hand to manage the queue. This meant that one employee had to pull double-duty by leaving his post, which was manning a specific service desk inside, and running outside to explain the situation to confused customers milling about outside the door.

Grassroot Communication | Social Distancing Signage

Customers handled the situation well. A few balked at the idea of waiting to get into a store that has probably never had a line out front (with the possible exception of Black Friday), but most were understanding.

Things would have been much easier, however, with a few well-placed signs explaining the situation.

When we help create marketing outreach strategies for clients, one of the primary areas of focus is message communication. Usually, that means newsletters, social media, and other, more common types of regular communication.

But there are times when reviewing all forms of communication that a customer sees is prudent—invoices, business cards, and, yes, signage. This is definitely one of those times.

Protocols for interacting with your customers, members, and the general public have changed. If your workplace requires people to be on-sight, those protocols have changed, too. Ensure your communications policy is keeping up with all of these changes.

All it takes is a simple set of signs or messages on commonly used channels, such as a daily email that is already sent out.

COVID-19 is causing enough confusion…help your customers and employees navigate through it by making sure your communications game is strong.


It’s Spring, and Almost Nothing Is the Same

Springtime is usually the season filled with renewal and growth—both in the world around us and with a lot of membership-based organizations. Our original plan for this issue of Member Centric was to focus on keeping your new members (renewal) and adding new ones (growth).

But this spring isn’t like most springs—in fact, it’s like no other spring we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes. The novel coronavirus has brought the global economy to its knees. Simple pleasures like meeting a friend for coffee are not possible as we stay inside—or at least away from each other—and limit the virus’s spread.

The abrupt shift has meant every organization must change. Working from home is now expected, wherever possible. The Grassroot team is maximizing this, with only our on-site production staff still going to our facility on a regular basis (and practicing aggressive social-distancing measures when they do). We’ve also shifted some of our quick-turn production priorities. We’re printing a lot fewer business cards, and a lot more COVID-19-related posters, signage and other information for use in lobbies, offices, and other places.

For many of our associations, similar shifts have taken place. Virtual meetings have replaced conference-room gatherings, and in-person events are postponed until the second half of the year, at the very least. Communicating with members has taken on an even higher priority. Perhaps your strategies need to shift based on what we’re learning during the novel coronavirus pandemic—distance learning may become a feature, and not an afterthought, for instance.

In this issue, we’ll share some of what we’re seeing, what we believe will help you get through a very trying time, and what long-term changes may be awaiting on the other side.

First Thing’s First: Funding

Before you talk about some ideas for managing and mitigating the disruption caused by the pandemic, you first have to get through it. If you’re like most nonprofits, finances and funding are your most pressing issues, and that’s only exacerbated now. Rather than diving into how to tackle this, we’re simply going to refer you to references put together by the National Council of Nonprofits. Here’s the link:


There, you will find resources that talk about possible funding sources at the national level, including the pandemic-related emergency funding. There are also links to state-level resources, as well as detailed analysis of some of the most common options.

Member Centric Newsletter

Trying New Tools

If pandemic-influenced workplaces have one thing in common, it’s the rise of using technology to get people together. Maybe your organization already used collaboration software like Slack or video-conferencing tools to help keep everyone on the same page. If so, then you were a step ahead. If not, you now have plenty of opportunity.

Many service providers are offering extended trials of their products. While it’s a good marketing ploy, it’s also a great opportunity for your team to try out some new tools and see how they work. As we’re headed to press, popular video-focused tools that are available free for a time include Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Premium, and GoToMeeting. Also worth checking out: Dropbox Premium, for file organization and sharing.


Maintaining Connections

A membership organization’s foundation is built on community. This has only grown more important during the current era of social distancing. Much like your workforce, your members are seeking outlets to stay more connected. This is an opportunity for your organization.

Hopefully, you have regular newsletters, social media feeds, and other communications tools that help you keep members engaged. Keep using them. You should also consider adding more ways for them to engage with each other, if you don’t have several already. Examples include dedicated Facebook or LinkedIn groups, where members can connect and share information.

Virtual meetings are another possibility. Along those lines, the folks at Higher Logic are offering their event-engagement tools free for any organization that had to cancel an in-person gathering this year.

Going online with meetings, conferences, and trade shows is a worthwhile opportunity, but it also presents some challenges, and requires some planning. Will you be charging for the event? Recording it for later consumption? Thankfully, the same vendors that offer software to help manage events and virtual meet-ups have a vested interest in satisfied customers. Tap into them—it may even be worth budgeting for both the software and some training.

Staying The Course

The pandemic will pass. Many things will be different, but your organization, and your members’ needs, probably won’t shift very much. Your members are surely dealing with pandemic-related challenges, just like you and your organization. But a major challenge does not push the rest of life—or work—to the side.

Remember this as you put together your near-term communications. Your members count on you to keep them informed and educated, as well as connected. By all means, communicating about how the novel coronavirus is impacting your association and your members is appropriate. But don’t forget the reason your members belong to you in the first place.

Looking to get more insight from your data? We can help!

Contact us at susan@grassrootcommunication.com and let’s get started.

Coronavirus, how we can help

We at Grassroot Communication, like everyone else, are keeping an eye on the latest news about COVID-19. We’re writing to ensure you that we will do everything we can to support your operations, even as the community adopts social-distancing and other preventative measures.

Our CSR reps are available even when they work from home. Your calls are routed to their extensions, which will ring on their cell phones if they are not in the office. Our CSR’s are monitoring their emails and checking messages routinely,  so rest assured that your project will continue to move through our production.

We are offering shipping and pick-ups to your home addresses. Everything from sending proofs to dropping off materials can be done to your personal home should you need us to.

Set up a webex meeting with us to discuss how you can be more proactive in the current environment. We expect a very crowded environment for nonprofit messaging during the U.S. election cycle this summer and fall, and the COVID-19 crisis adds even more uncertainty.

We are actively encouraging our clients to use the springtime as their primary fundraising and member outreach season. Is there anything we can do right now to offset any potential and unforeseen impacts on fundraising and outreach? Contact us to set up a call with us today.

We will continue to stay in touch as events unfold. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or concerns.

Stay safe and healthy,

GrassRoot Communication Team