10 Things Fundraisers Can Do to Adapt During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

Since first writing about what we can all do from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have gone through many adjustments. Many things have changed in the last couple of months, from how we meet with donors to what we are asking them to help with. At the same time, very little has happened. While there are some who have excelled and some amazing donors who have stepped up, many of us are left wondering, “what’s next?” Some of us may even be wondering if our jobs will still be here when the social distancing measures have lifted.

Back in March, I naively thought that we would be home for a couple of weeks, perhaps a month. It is very clear now that this pandemic is likely to affect our work for the foreseeable future. Taking this into consideration, below are ten ways to adapt to the current climate. This list comes after a myriad of conversations with both donors and fundraisers who have helped me see a path forward.

Ten ways to adapt your fundraising efforts right now:

  1. More meetings will still produce more support. If you are feeling uncertain about your future, your donors are too. We have gotten over the initial shock of social distancing, but it is still unclear what the next year will look like. We still don’t know what will happen to the stock market, housing market, and even the job market for ourselves and our loved ones. We all likely have people in our portfolio who have been lucky enough to feel minimal financial effect from the pandemic; therefore it’s still important to reach out to a broad group of donors. What’s true in good times is true in difficult times: the more donors you meet with the more support you will secure for your organization.
  2. Challenge yourself to be more flexible and creative when helping your donor see how they will fulfill a pledge. A rental house that your donor has never lived in and must pay capital gains on will feel like less of a loss than writing a check out for a quarter of a million dollars. Though they could sell the house and have that money in the bank, it just doesn’t feel the same. We have to do our due diligence on these sorts of deals and while some of them just aren’t worth it to our organizations, now is not the time to shy away from assets other than cash. Though getting a check is easier, you’re leaving money on the table by not exploring other possibilities with donors.
  3. We have the answer, not just a problem. This has been said many times in many ways by fundraising professionals but it’s important to remember now. We shouldn’t just go to our donors with a problem and expect them to fix it with money. We are the organization that has the answer to the problem, and we need their help to make that solution a reality.
  4. Embrace new ideas. One of the innovations that came out of the last major economic downturn is a concept that has transformed many of our organizations: giving days. While there are certainly some that don’t like the concept, it’s hard to deny that #GivingTuesday and individual giving days have made a huge impact on the world of fundraising. This idea came from organizations trying to rebound from a massive loss of donor numbers nearly a decade ago. Big problems will need innovative solutions and there’s nothing like the pressure of a pandemic and many days in isolation
  1. Be wary of cutting support staff. While it’s highly unlikely that we will make it through this pandemic and resulting recession without cuts, it’s so important to be strategic and not too reactionary. If you have a researcher on the team and they are cut, this means that fundraisers, who are likely paid at a higher rate, will be spending double or triple the same amount of time learning new methods and likely coming up with sub-par results. There may come a point when we have little choice, but it’s imperative that we think of how these decisions will affect our level of support going forward.
  2. Work with mid-level donors. I’ve taken a good look at my portfolio over the last month to identify those donors who I can approach for a five-figure gift that may want to pivot and help with pressing needs due to COVID-19. These mid-level donors may be younger and know that their investments will recover. I am also cognizant that asking someone with million-dollar capacity for a smaller, perhaps six figure gift to ensure that production continues could undercut a much larger gift in the future. If you are working with a donor at this major-gift level at the moment, it may be wise to ask for a three to four figure gift and then focus a great deal of energy on showing them the impact of this gift. This could set you up to make a larger gift ask. We always run the risk of undercutting ourselves with this tactic, so proceed carefully.
  3. Strategize with this economic downturn in mind, not the 2008 recession. We are currently planning for a year ahead, but we have far more questions than answers. We don’t know what the fall will bring, and we don’t know what the stock market will do throughout next year as we all get back to work. While it’s natural to look back at the recession of 2008, this is a very different economic disaster. We don’t know that this will have the same sorts of impacts on donor dollars. There are certainly some strategies to glean from that time, but we must be cognizant of the issues facing us today.
  4. If they can’t (or won’t) give now, don’t write them off. Perhaps they can help in finding jobs for graduating seniors if you’re working at a university, or maybe they can host a virtual tour of your museum for their contacts. It’s common knowledge that those who volunteer with your organization are more likely to give to your organization.
  5. Annual giving departments should certainly be looking at revenue streams that may not come back after distancing measures have lifted. How will you make up for the revenue from the call center if it’s deemed too expensive and must be cut? Luckily, this is a great time to strategize and be creative.
  6. Maintain a positive outlook, especially when meeting with donors. Remember that there are many folks who are still doing very well financially. Depending on where they have invested their money, they may even see a bit of a boost.

I have found these tactics helpful as I look toward the next several months of my work. I’ve also tried to find ways to connect with other fundraisers and to engage as a mentor. I’m currently working with a student group to help them overcome challenges they are facing, and it’s helped to remind me of the purpose of my position and our mission. You may even find that doing some online volunteering could help you expand your professional contacts, which is never a bad idea in uncertain times like these.