When the pandemic first emerged, nonprofit professionals everywhere were caught off guard. At that point, the focus was on emergency funding, pivoting operations and simply responding to the crisis.
We’re now long past that point, and nonprofits everywhere are back to work with fundraising and other initiatives—after all, your organization’s mission is more essential than ever! But this period of uncertainty underscored the importance of a flexible, adaptable and informed strategy.
As we continue to work through unusual circumstances, it will be important to create a strategy that’s cognizant of the uncertain landscape while positioning your organization for success over the next 6 to 12 months.
When it comes to strategizing beyond the crisis, make sure to:
- Fortify your internal foundation.
- Revisit your planned fundraising goals and timelines.
- Adjust your communications strategy.
- Solicit gifts with care.
- Turn to alternative methods of funding.
Are you ready to establish a strong foundation for success beyond the crisis? Let’s get started.
Fortify your internal foundation.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the U.S., a flurry of stay-at-home orders and CDC social distancing recommendations sent citizens into their homes. Even many months later, many organizations are opting to extend these solutions to ensure staffers and volunteers are as safe as possible for the duration of the crisis.
This is the perfect opportunity to revisit your impromptu work-from-home processes and internal structures to ensure everything is working efficiently.
As you begin refining your strategy, consider the following:
- How can you improve your work from home policies? Consider which aspects of your organization’s productivity were impacted negatively in the transition to working from home. Can you create new policies around meetings, communications, scheduling, working hours, etc. to regain any lost productivity, or even to level up from your efficiency at the start of the year?
- How can you improve any in-office/in-the-field procedures? Ensure your in-office/in-field staffers and volunteers are equipped with all needed equipment (and more!) to feel as safe as possible during this time. While the initial transition was quick, you should have more time and perspective now to address any issues.
- Would third-party consulting benefit your organization? Consider hiring a fundraising consultant to help navigate major strategy changes and challenges associated with COVID-19 operations. These advisors provide an unbiased view and nonprofit expertise to guide your organization to success despite the uncertain landscape.
Any of these improvements will continue to generate benefits for your nonprofit for years to come.
Revisit your planned fundraising goals and timeline.
While we wouldn’t advise taking on a large-scale capital campaign right now, avoiding fundraising completely is not an option. Your mission and the needs of your constituents still exist, and may even be more urgent due to the pandemic’s effects!
Instead of pausing, revisit your existing goals and timeline and make adjustments where needed to accommodate the current circumstances. Let’s break this down a bit further.
Whether you’re in the middle of a campaign or you’re operating off a general 2020 fundraising calendar, you’ve probably set an overarching timeline for your organization’s upcoming efforts.
Revisit this timeline, paying close attention to benchmarks, campaign start/end dates and event dates. Then, consider the following questions:
- Are there any deadlines that you’re not on track to meet?
- Are there any upcoming events that must be moved?
- Are there any benchmarks that you’ll have a better chance of meeting if they’re moved?
Making any needed adjustments ahead of time gives your organization the best chance possible to adjust and get back on course.
The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t have been predicted, even by the most observant, worldly nonprofit leaders. Because of that, it’s time to let go of any guilt associated with the inability to reach every fundraising goal you set at the outset of the year.
Of course, that doesn’t mean changing course with wild abandon! Instead, as the year draws to a close, consider each goal you set for 2020. Are there any that are simply impossible to reach, even if your nonprofit operates as optimally as possible from here on out? Brainstorm new challenging yet feasible goals— referred to as stretch goals in the world of capital campaign consulting— for your team to aspire toward.
Adjust your communications strategy.
Before you dive back into nonprofit fundraising, revisit and revitalize your current communications strategy. This is because the pandemic has created a few unique communications challenges, such as:
- The society-wide stress that’s affecting many, whether due to economic challenges, health concerns or both.
- The risk of sounding insensitive in the wake of such a societal downturn.
- The physical distance separating nonprofits, supporters and the cause uniting both.
How do you greet all of these challenges when revitalizing your communications? We recommend starting with:
- Training staff and volunteers to respond. Your staff members may be greeted with a new gamut of supporter responses, including eager support, ambivalence and even sad stories. Ensure they’re ready to respond in an empathetic manner regardless of how the conversations turn.
- Recreating key communications materials. While you may have already prepared your fortified communications materials, including fundraising letters and your case for support, you should revisit these materials. It’s important that any physical materials you’re sharing with supporters acknowledge the state of current events.
- Use technology to the fullest extent. To replicate the benefits of in-person communications, implement technology to further your cause. Consider using video conferencing software and social networks to stay connected despite social distancing measures.
With these tips, your staff will be better prepared to communicate with supporters during what is still a trying time for many.
Solicit gifts with care.
Many nonprofits opted against fundraising for their causes during the outset of the crisis to fundraise for the pandemic response instead. This isn’t exactly feasible, as your organization’s cause is too important to abandon for months at a time!
So, how do you begin soliciting gifts again as the pandemic wages on? Very carefully.
Consider the following tips for soliciting gifts during a crisis:
- Check in with supporters before making an ask. Even though we’re well into a new phase of the pandemic, remember that the crisis is still in full swing for many! Begin any gift conversations with an acknowledgment of this, asking supporters first and foremost how they’re faring through it all. Further, only continue with the gift solicitation if the donor indicates they’re open to such an ask.
- Offer creative giving options. For example, offer the opportunity to make a pledged gift now with the actual donation occurring later in the year. Or, offer a recurring giving program in which donors can give a smaller amount biweekly or monthly, rather than one large gift upfront.
- Ask donors how you can best engage them. If a supporter is unable to give during this time, ask them how they’d like to be involved today and in the future. Would they be open to another gift ask a month down the line?
With these tips, you’ll be prepared to successfully secure donations to fuel your cause and continue stewarding those supporters that are unable to give at the moment. An empathetic and flexible fundraising approach will serve you well in the future, too. If fundraising during a crisis is unfamiliar for your staff, remember that you can bring in a consultant to help.
Turn to alternative methods of funding.
Donations to your organization may be less readily available than this time last year. COVID-19 kickstarted an ongoing economic downfall, with record unemployment rates that may be impacting your donors. You may encounter:
- Previously secured major gifts being canceled.
- A decrease in mid-tier and small gifts.
- A pause of recurring gifts.
As we’ve covered, you should greet these situations with empathy and understanding. However, that doesn’t mean you should stop trying to fundraise for the cause! These recent circumstances have highlighted the importance of diversifying revenue streams.
Consider alternative methods of funding you may not have used in the past. For example, this is a great time to ramp up your efforts to seek donations from donor-advised funds (DAFs), grant funding and corporate sponsorships.
Donor-advised funds are specialized holding accounts in which major donors contribute funding, receive associated tax benefits and choose beneficiaries at a later date. These accounts are very popular with major donors, and there is a decent chance that some of your major donors have contributed already!
Seek out these funds within your organization’s existing support base and externally from DAF sponsors, which include community foundations and wealth-management firms. Making allocations from a DAF is one way that supporters can give without actually donating any more during the crisis. Learn more through this DonorSearch guide.
In recent years, corporate giving has been steadily on the rise. While many industries have been negatively affected by the pandemic, others are still experiencing stability and even growth.
While you should keep the sector of the company in mind (for example, now isn’t the best time to approach a travel-focused business), look to businesses as a potential source of revenue for your mission. You can solicit corporate sponsorships or look for opportunities to secure matching gift revenue or volunteer grants through the employers of your supporters.
Many grantmaking organizations have vowed to make funding more readily available to organizations in response to COVID-19. This could mean simplifying application requirements or providing more unrestricted funds. Research existing and crisis-specific grant opportunities, and prepare your proposals.
Learn more about nonprofit grant writing through this guide, and don’t be discouraged if you need to seek fundraising consultant assistance with the process. After all, proposal writing takes a village!
While many organizations paused fundraising and forward-movement at the outset of the pandemic, it’s past time to hit “resume” on your nonprofit’s operations. Your essential cause depends on it.
Incorporate these tips into your approach, and consider hiring a nonprofit consultant for a fresh perspective and seasoned experience. By following this guide, you’ll strengthen your nonprofit’s fundamental strategies in order to handle the challenges of the current landscape and thrive in the future.
Long before Aly Sterling founded her eponymous consulting firm, she was solving the unique yet similar problems encountered by nonprofit organizations. Her decision to start her own business in 2007 was driven by her belief in leadership as the single most important factor in organizational success, and her determination to work with multiple causes at one time to scale societal change. Aly’s expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for the well-positioned nonprofit. She is regularly sought for comment by trade and mainstream media, including the Chronicle of Philanthropy and U.S. News & World Report. She has contributed to publications of BoardSource and The Governance Institute, as well as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce and The Giving Institute.