Adapting Virtual Fundraising During The Pandemic

FAQs on how nonprofit leaders can pivot to virtual fundraising during the coronavirus
The following Q&A’s are from THRIVE IMPACT’s weekly Crisis Conversation Series with nonprofit executives.

These discussions are a place for nonprofit executives to learn, ask questions, and share insights on what’s working for their nonprofits.

On April 28th, Brady Josephson, Managing Director of NextAfter, and Nate Andorsky, CEO of digital fundraising firm Creative Science, answered these questions:


If there were ever a time to ask for support, it would be now! Understanding that everyone might be feeling the squeeze, acknowledge the world we’re in and tie in your message as best you can to the crisis and its impact on your nonprofit.
Approach it like you normally would with any good offer:
  • Present a human-sized problem
  • Show the easily-understood solution that your nonprofit makes possible
  • Suggest a price point that seems like a good deal to see the impact
  • Give them a reason to act today (goal, deadline, match, crisis urgency, etc.)

*Credit above to Steven Screen’s “components of a fundraising offer”

And above all, it’s important to simply ask. If you’re struggling with it, remember that people want to feel helpful. Lots of us may feel helpless right now — so reframe your ask as actually giving people an opportunity to help. People who support nonprofits are motivated by mission and empathy, and now is a great time to tap into both.

The quickest way to make up revenue is making personal asks to larger donors. If that’s not possible, virtual events can raise lots of money if they spread through people’s connected networks. Ask donors to share with a friend every time they give. Also, consider expanding your geographical boundary beyond your normal reach — the virtual environment has eliminated the usual necessity of going local.

It may be hard to compensate enough for a big money maker like a gala, but a remote donation campaign or online experience can be powerful if it’s set up with the same level of care you’d show an in-person event. Nonprofit organizations have recently seen success in asking supporters to donate the same cost of a plate or a table (that they otherwise would have, or already had, committed to) and hosting a virtual event instead.

Nonprofits are facing really hard choices right now. Fundraising should be one of the last cuts you make — especially when the other business functions rely so much on money coming in.

Start by focusing your strategies on those most likely to give, such as recent past givers, people over 45 years old, your close supporters, etc. Then, try to automate your effort as much as possible. Think about ways to create a welcome series, follow-up emails, and appeals that go out automatically through your email marketing provider (MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.) You can even use “thank you” voicemails that are pre-recorded.

You may just have to make the time to do some of it yourself, too. Call or set up quick Zoom appointments with your larger donors to engage with them regularly. Even if you don’t make an ask, connecting with them personally will strengthen your relationships and give them a visceral picture of your urgent needs.

Think about it like any good outreach campaign, albeit with an especially urgent focus right now. You need:

  • Compelling content to leverage for email acquisition
  • A compelling ask to move subscribers into donors

Simply, that’s what works in general and what seems to be working right now as well. Boil everything down to its essence: If you had to explain your urgent need for funding in 150 words or less, what would you say? A good cause is the most attractive offer you can make.

Educating your audience doesn’t raise money — asking for it does. Of course you want to start by setting up context, or even informing potential donors that you exist in the first place. Ideally though, each email should have one audience with one focus and one call to action. Let your your cultivation be cultivation and your asks be asks. It’s better to send multiple emails that are readable than sending one email that loses your audience.
Lots of folks want to help right now, as the crisis has reignited a lot of altruistic natures. Even though we are all more stressed than ever, many people actually have more time on their hands, or can use their time more flexibly than usual. Executives may not know of a specific “big picture” way to be helpful; membership on your board could be exactly what they’re looking for. Give them an opportunity to pitch in and make a difference, not only for you and your organization but for all of the people you serve (or are struggling to serve considering the situation). Describe the role as a practical and immediate way to get involved – you need help, right now, in specific ways (fill in the blank!). Think about how they can give you their expertise, time, money, and energy in a way that will make the most immediate impact for your organization.
Thousands of nonprofits across the country are feeling the same pain, and the most successful ones who are those who are taking decisive action to reinvigorate their current model, hone their efforts to a slim but effective fundamental premise, or pivot to something new. Be careful in riding the tides, though; pivoting entirely based on funding (or lack thereof) can leave you high and dry later on. In any event, continue to fundraise but focus it on what really drives revenue with the programs and initiatives you can still run.

Answer these questions:

  • Present a human-sized problem
  • Show the easily-understood solution that your nonprofit makes possible
  • Suggest a price point that seems like a good deal to see the impact
  • Give them a reason to act today (goal, deadline, match, crisis urgency, etc.)

Make that case for urgency, connect the dots to your mission, and make a direct and empathetic ask.

No one had a section in their strategic plan on dealing with a pandemic.

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