In March of this year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced nonprofits to alter their operations to survive the turbulent economy. During those first few months, nonprofits had to rapidly pivot to working from home while meeting increased demands for supporter engagement. Now, it’s no longer just about survival. It’s about how we rebound and come out even stronger on the other side of the pandemic.
As the pandemic continues to alter the way we work, it’s worth considering how the smallest improvements can set your nonprofit up for future success. Whether you make slight alterations to your strategies or conduct a complete overhaul is entirely dependent on your organization’s current situation.
From marketing to raising funds, there are several areas your nonprofit should evaluate and improve to maintain momentum. This article will explore three core strategies to accomplish this:
- Replace canceled events with remote fundraisers.
- Re-evaluate your communication strategy.
- Offer new engagement opportunities.
Just because we’re facing challenging circumstances doesn’t mean your organization’s fundraising is doomed. The nonprofit sector faced times of crisis before, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that organizations will find innovative ways to sustain operations. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Ready to learn actionable tips for improving your communications, fundraisers, and engagement opportunities? Let’s get started.
Replace canceled events with remote fundraisers.
Your nonprofit likely had to shift its events and campaigns to the digital space or cancel them altogether to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Instead of letting the situation deter you, think of it as the perfect opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and experiment with new fundraising ideas to engage your audience.
To spark inspiration, check out Funds2Orgs’ unique fundraising ideas guide, filled with more than 100 engaging ideas, including several that you can do virtually. In the meantime, we’ve pulled a handful of remote fundraisers to try, starting with shoe drive fundraisers.
Remote Fundraiser #1) Shoe Drive Fundraisers
Shoe drive fundraisers provide a unique opportunity for your supporters to declutter their homes and learn a lesson in environmental responsibility—all while supporting your cause. It puts the power of fundraising in your supporters’ hands and enables them to contribute to your cause in a new way. The best part? Your supporters can donate without spending a single penny.
Not only are shoe drive fundraisers highly engaging, but they’re also incredibly easy to pull off—even remotely. Here’s how the process works in four simple steps:
- Partner with a shoe drive fundraising coordinator.
- The fundraising coordinator will provide collection materials to place around your community.
- Call on your supporters to place their gently worn, used and new shoes into the collection bins.
- Notify the fundraising coordinator, who will pick up the shoes (contact-free!) and send you a check in the mail.
It’s that simple! Be on the lookout for a fundraising coordinator who facilitates your drive at no cost and provides you with useful marketing materials to spread the word for this remote fundraiser.
Remote Fundraiser #2) Virtual Race
Races have generated plenty of revenue for the nonprofit sector over the years. Chances are, you may already host one on an annual basis since they’re incredibly engaging. Thanks to technological advancements, you can now take walkathons, 5Ks, bike-a-thons, and other sports fundraisers and races to the virtual space.
Fitness fundraisers encourage your supporters to get off their couches and get some fresh air. They’ll register online and then track their results with a fitness app or smartwatch. This way, you can award your top participants with a medal and recognition through post-event communications. Consider these two approaches when planning your virtual race:
- Participants complete the race at the same time but at their preferred location.
- Participants complete the race at their preferred location during a designated period (such as within a specific week).
Plus, you can coordinate a shoe drive fundraiser alongside your race for additional donations. Encourage participants to donate a pair of gently worn, used or new shoes in exchange for a reduced entry fee.
Remote Fundraiser #3) Online Auction
Auctions are one of the most lucrative fundraisers you can host, and thanks to dedicated software, you can now move your auction to the virtual space. As you make the transition, here are some best practices that will make your virtual auction stand out:
- Procure the right items. Your auction items can make or break your event. Procure a range of things that match your donors’ preferences, which means you’ll need to consider their interests and their budgets. Not everyone can afford luxury vacation packages or expensive jewelry, so take the time to locate a wide range of options. In turn, this will generate some healthy competition among bidders.
- Host a live stream. It can be challenging to match the same level of engagement as an in-person auction. Live streaming is a great way to combat it. Host a kickoff stream to celebrate the launch, periodic check-ins to provide updates during the event, and a celebratory stream to share results. You might even consider a live auction portion where your auctioneer presents items and attendees bid in real-time.
Just make sure you have robust nonprofit auction software to make the transition to a virtual auction as seamless as possible. These solutions enable you to sell tickets, organize your guest list, automate check-in, manage auction items, and more—all within one system.
In other words, let dedicated software handle the legwork, so you can focus on what matters: engaging donors and boosting registrations.
Re-evaluate your communication strategy.
It’s understandable if you’re not as motivated to communicate online as you used to be. Working from home has proven challenging, and for many nonprofits, sharing engaging content is difficult when many events and volunteer opportunities get postponed.
However, now is not the time to let your communications falter. You’ll lose your community’s attention if you don’t actively reach out, so step up your communications game by incorporating strategies such as:
- Be transparent and communicate often. Your community wants to know what’s going on with your organization. It’s no secret that cash flow is unstable, and they still want to support a cause for which they feel strongly. However, they can’t do so if they’re not aware of your current situation. Share regular updates with supporters across social media and your email newsletter. That way, they’ll know to step up their efforts.
- Expand your marketing platforms. To connect with your community, incorporate multiple marketing channels, and pay attention to those that yield positive results. According to GivingMail’s guide to marketing for nonprofit organizations, nonprofits most often rely on direct mail and email. Still, they will produce even greater results by expanding to social media, pay-per-click advertising, and search engine optimization. All of these options are free, including pay-per-click ads, thanks to Google Grants.
- Check on your supporters. Just like your nonprofit, many of your supporters are facing tough times. Check-in on your supporters to see how they’re doing and offer your services if applicable. Some supporters may not be in a financial place to give right now, and it’s important for your team to understand. Otherwise, your donation solicitations will come off as insensitive. Reaching out will convey that your team values your supporters and help to form lifelong partnerships with them.
Remember, each cause has a unique set of supporters, and the same strategies will vary in effectiveness depending on the nonprofit. Pay attention to what works for your audience, and move forward from there.
Offer new engagement opportunities.
The pandemic has put nonprofits in a unique position to get creative with their engagement opportunities. While virtual events and online donations are a great start, there are several other ways for your donors to give back to your cause and become further invested in your work. We’ve seen many nonprofits sharing options like:
Peer-to-peer fundraising: According to this resource, peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns encourage supporters to take an extremely active role by fundraising on your behalf. Peer-to-peer fundraising serves as a powerful reminder to donors of why they support your cause, and sharing that personal connection helps to ignite that same passion in others. They’ll feel closer to your cause, and your nonprofit will gain new donors along the way.
Volunteering: For supporters who may not have the capacity to give right now, offer plenty of volunteer opportunities. It can be tricky with social distancing guidelines, so offer remote opportunities when possible (such as promoting your cause online). When offering in-person options, take additional health and safety measures: disperse gloves, set up hand sanitizer stations, stagger shifts, and fully enforce social distancing.
Make an in-kind giving wish list. Rather than ask for monetary donations, create a wish list to tell supporters exactly what your organization needs right now. Supporters will know what their money is going toward and can see their impact since they’ll contribute a tangible item. Be sure to offer options across a wide price range so supporters can give within their comfort levels.
Although times are tough, your mission won’t stop, and your team needs support in whichever ways your supporters can afford. Many donors might not give as much, or in the same ways, they normally do.
Every act of support matters, though. Even something as small as sharing your social media posts will help supporters feel like they’re contributing to your mission, even when their resources are limited.
The nonprofit sector has faced seemingly insurmountable challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. The important thing is to go the extra mile and not lose hope to maintain momentum during this turbulent time.
It’s time to push your marketing strategies and engagement tactics into overdrive. Start by shifting your fundraisers to the virtual space so that donors can continue giving to your cause at a safe social distance. Then, hone in on your communications strategy to remain fully transparent, and expand your engagement opportunities to meet your supporters’ needs. In turn, you’ll find that supporters are much more invested in your success, and you can develop committed supporter relationships that outlast the pandemic.
Wayne Elsey is the founder and CEO of Elsey Enterprises (EE) and a member of the Forbes Business Development Council. Among his various independent brands, he is also the founder and CEO of Funds2Orgs, which is a social enterprise that helps schools, churches, nonprofits, individuals and other organizations raise funds while helping to support micro-enterprise (small business) opportunities in developing nations.