June 26, 2020

Fundraising is the lifeblood of virtually every charitable organization. However, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has brought the fundraising efforts of many not-for-profits to a virtual standstill. This is particularly true if your nonprofit’s mission is unrelated to human health and services or other causes related to the pandemic.

Maybe you’ve operated in challenging circumstances before — for example, during the recession following 2008’s financial collapse. Even so, high unemployment and general uncertainty about the severity and longevity of the COVID-19 crisis is likely to make this time even more difficult. Here are some ideas for navigating the greatest obstacles:

In-person events. So long as social distancing procedures are in place, your organization may need to cancel, postpone or alter in-person fundraising events involving large groups of people. Make sure you know your state’s and municipality’s current rules. For example, are you allowed to assemble in groups of 10 or are 50 or 100 allowed? Even if you can assemble in bigger groups, do you really want to? Take into account the risks to everyone from staffers to supporters to clients. If you need to cancel events, provide donors with other channels for giving — for example, through your website or a mobile app.

One-on-one meetings. Even if you usually meet with big donors in person, most such meetings aren’t essential and can be canceled or postponed. If you feel a meeting has to be in person, limit the number to only those who must attend, such as you and your development director and the donor and his or her financial advisor. As an alternative, use a videoconference service such as Zoom, Skype, Slack or Microsoft Teams. Teleconferences are also an option, of course, but they don’t enable you to pick up on visual cues.

Webinars and other online resources. Like videoconferences, webinars can provide a substitute for in-person meetings. Although they’re generally not as impactful as a gala or association conference, webinars can help you keep your organization front and center with donors. Because attention spans tend to be short — especially these days with so much going on — limit webinars to 30-minute sessions followed by a short question-and-answer period. Other fundraising functions can also be moved online. For example, if you were planning to hold a silent auction at your since-canceled fundraiser, research the various apps you can enable you to hold an online auction.

Travel. You and your executives may be accustomed to traveling when fundraising — especially if your charity has a national or international reach. Even if air travel is once again available, you may want to avoid it while COVID-19 is still a threat. Consider whether driving is an option for locations within a day’s drive. However, be aware that hotel accommodations may be limited.

Cybercrime. Typically, fraud proliferates when there are major societal and economic disruptions. The COVID-19 pandemic counts as both. So be sure you and your staffers are on the lookout for fundraising scams. For instance, a con artist could pose as a representative of your not-for-profit and solicit funds. If you spot a fake email purporting to be from your organization, warn your email list and tell them to make contributions only through your website or by mailing a check. Warn them that any requests for charitable donations via gift cards or wire services are almost certainly illegitimate.

Budgets. If you haven’t done so already, revisit your organization’s 2020 budget. Forecasts you made at the end of 2019 aren’t likely to hold up as unemployment and other negative financial conditions affect donor support. Cut costs where you can. For example, now may be a good time to end an expensive program that hasn’t lived up to its potential. Think carefully before you cut your fundraising budget and staff. Now more than ever, you need every last resource that can be dedicated to finding new revenue sources.

Social media. If your charity has never really taken advantage of social media, it’s not too late. Platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram provide plenty of opportunities to engage with supporters. Depending on the type of content you want to post (for example, news updates, short articles, photos) and the demographics you hope to reach, some social media networks may be more useful for raising awareness than others.

The long-term impact of COVID-19 is unknown. The best you can do right now is to tackle challenges as they come and stay on your toes. Flexibility will be key to surviving this challenging time.

© 2020