Adapting Virtual Fundraising during the Pandemic

The following Q&A’s are from THRIVE IMPACT’s weekly Crisis Conversation Series with nonprofit executives. Grab your spot for the next one!

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:

Answers to Your Virtual Fundraising Questions

How can my nonprofit ask for money at a time like this?
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.

What are some of the best ways to make up that lost revenue from cancelled events?
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.

My nonprofit is facing staffing cuts or furloughs. How can we continue our fundraising efforts in a more efficient, less staff-intensive way?

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.

How can we broaden our fundraising efforts to reach new sources we haven't found yet?

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.

Do we need to cultivate and educate our audience before asking them for donations?

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.

What fundraising tactics can we use immediately, even without knowing what next year's budget is going to look like?

The tactics that worked before continue to work. Just make sure you are extra sensitive to the current situation and make sure any appeal you make is as relevant as possible to your donors. Part of our new normal is “wait and see”, but in the meantime there are some important and straightforward steps you can take to prepare your organization for future challenges. Using this time to tackle some of the bigger undertakings you’ve put off (comprehensive impact evaluations, program assessments, risk mitigation, strategic planning, etc.) can give you a much clearer picture of your fundraising imperatives, goals, and subsequent approach.

How can we continue to fundraise, or pivot our funding model entirely, to stay relevant?
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.
Our nonprofit isn't on the front lines of the crisis. Should we relate our own mission to the crisis?

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.

You can also check out these additional fundraising resource pages here.

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Marchelle Sellers

CEO, Artists for Peace and Justice, NYC

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CEO, DCTV, Washington D.C.

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Board Chair, RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association

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Senior Pastor, St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans