The Trusty Oak Blog

Be a Beekeeper: How Non-Profits Can Fundraise During Covid-19

Bee and flowers

Over the past couple of months during the Covid-19 emergency, your emotions may very well have run the gamut from confusion, to indignation, to hope, to resignation—and back again. As a nonprofit professional, you’re probably used to swinging right back to hope because your mission depends on it.

But what about your donor base? How do you make an ask when a supporter might not even be sure how she’s going to buy dog food next week? 

First off, the important thing is to step back, breathe (woosah!), and remember: not only do your donors provide you with the funds needed to drive your mission, but you provide your donors something valuable as well—the opportunity to do good.  

Related: Download our free donor marketing guide

Priorities May Change; Values Do Not

Yes, giving capacities have shifted and they will continue to do so as this situation continues to play out. But just because some donors’ financial priorities have had to change doesn’t mean their values have flown out the window. If anything, crisis allows us to solidify our commitments to the causes we really care about. 

Fidelity Charitable recently surveyed philanthropic individuals and found that 54% of donors plan to maintain their charitable giving, while 25% plan to increase their donations in direct response to Covid-19. While a quarter of donors plan to shift their focus to supporting organizations in health and human services fields most acutely hit by the pandemic, a full 43% are also committed to maintaining their giving across sectors, understanding how the arts, animal rights, environmental groups, and all sorts of organizations stand to be affected. 

This kind of deliberate foresight and consideration of the big picture is exactly why we think donors, volunteers, and supporters are the bees’ knees! I don’t even need to remind you but here it is anyway: fundraising is nothing without relationship-building. 

Think of yourself as the beekeeper: all the bees want to stay safe, connected, and productive. Right now, the best thing you can do to maintain your hive is tend to those bees, check in on them, and make sure they have the resources they need to help keep that honey flowin’. 

What Can You Offer to Keep Your Donors Engaged?

Many nonprofits rely on annual spring/early summer fundraising events to kick off the new season. As you might have already experienced yourself, those events have by and large had to be postponed or outright cancelled. While there’s no substitute for good old fashioned schmoozing, the main feature of any charitable event should be—you know—the charitable part! Shifting your focus to what you can do to keep your giving community cohesive right now will ensure that your future fundraising efforts don’t go to waste. 

Assess Your Website and Social Media Presence

Nonprofits spend an enormous amount of energy on crafting messages that appeal to the generosity of donors. While I’m not advocating that anyone toss the mission aside, I do think that traditional nonprofits stand to benefit from adopting a more inbound marketing approach. It can help to have an objective evaluation from someone outside of your organization. 

Case in point: a certain hotel chain recently released its cookie recipe to the relief of millions of quarantined travelers/cookie connoisseurs. I see you, DoubleTree by Hilton! In the face of plummeting hospitality sales, the company gave away something free, useful, and delightful. 

So, what’s your organization’s signature cookie recipe?  

Related: Austin Kids Can! Founder, Donna Raskin: Trusty Oak Client Case Study

Personally Reach Out To Donors

If you haven’t already done so, mobilize your staff and board members to personally reach out to individual donors, offering virtual cocktail/coffee hours, phone calls, or whatever mode of communication the donor prefers. Just make sure you know where your donors stand. Some donors aren’t comfortable with using Zoom, for example, so you’ll want to touch base with everyone via a thoughtful email, survey, or phone call. From there, consider hosting a virtual auction, guest speaker event, walkathon, trivia game…your creativity is the limit once you know you have your donors’ interest. Best of all, virtual is pretty darn accessible—hello, new friends!

Revisit Alternative Fundraising Strategies

Recent years have seen a surge in peer-to-peer fundraising, and with that many nonprofits have understandably eschewed the practice for being oversaturated and inefficient. I get it. But right now, look at P2P as primarily an opportunity to engage your existing donor base, and secondarily as a potential source of funding. 

  • Do you have infographics, short videos, email templates, ‘canned’ social media posts, or other easily shareable content? If so, you have the makings of a basic P2P toolkit. 
  • Do you have a passionate giving community, perhaps stuck at home and looking for new ways to feel connected and useful right now? If so, you have the makings of a robust P2P team. 

This doesn’t need to be a significant strain on resources: recycle old content and call on those board members and volunteers to take the lead and coach interested P2P campaigners through a responsive, perhaps temporary (perhaps not!) Covid-19 effort.

Don’t base your ROI on monetary donations, but on relationships cultivated and sustained: this is you playing the long game, and the long game is exactly what will help you weather the next crisis (because yes, there will be one). 

Speaking of the long game, if you don’t already have a sustained giving program in place, now is the time to reassess why, and arguably, to begin the steps of putting one into place. Sure, you may not be poised to roll out the red carpet for an elite group of monthly givers next week, but you should by all means be aware of the potential costs of not offering a sustained giving option. 

According to a major study of donor behavior data conducted by Classy, sustained, monthly recurring donors give 440 percent more over their lifetimes compared to one-time donors. 

Couple that startling number with the prospects of reliability, consistency, improved cash flow, and the basis for meaningful long term relationships with your recurring donors, what’s not to love?

Audit Your Fundraising Calendar

Finally, implementing an emergency response audit is a wise use of time and resources for pretty much any organization, across the board. While it’s common practice in the nonprofit world to conduct end of year/EOY fundraising audits, consider bumping up your audit this year. It doesn’t need to be (and obviously can’t be) a comprehensive overview of each fundraising campaign and its associated metrics. Instead, focus on your outstanding fundraising calendar with a few priorities in mind:

  • How many events do you have scheduled? Rescheduled? Postponed? Canceled?
  • How many events can you possibly create contingency plans for, such as virtual fundraisers in lieu of live events? Sketch in virtual substitutes for each event, I dare you!
  • What are the costs and deadlines associated with canceling events? Break down each individual event’s contract, reservations, rentals, vendors, and invites.

Obviously this list isn’t comprehensive, but tailoring your own calendar audit just might reveal opportunities to save money and reach new prospects while conducting virtual events in the interim. Most importantly, it allows you to take back some control and be prepared (as much as possible!) for the uncertainty of the future. 

Embrace Contingency Planning

Not to be a negative Nancy/Ned, but 50% of recently surveyed nonprofits had no alternative fundraising plans in place for their Covid-19 related event cancellations. 

We can do better than that, and at the very least, we have to try. No, fundraising events won’t need to be virtual for eternity, but this crisis has shown us that increasingly, virtual is here to stay. And we’re lucky to have it! While it may seem daunting to prepare for even more unknown unknowns than ever, the nonprofit crowd is a scrappy bunch. I know that you know you’re in it for the long game. 

Want to reach your donors but not sure where to start? 

We have a free guide for that! Download our free guide to understanding donor psychographics and how to align your marketing efforts. 

Download Your Free Donor Marketing Guide

Sara Church

Sara has a Master’s degree in Art History, Methods and Theory and more than a decade of experience serving museums, galleries, NGOs, educational institutions, and public health clinics in the nonprofit sector. In the true spirit of nonprofit arts professionals, Sara is adept at wearing many hats, frequently serving several organizations at once while also freelance writing and editing for a range of international companies and institutions. She also enjoys pursuing independent research projects on contemporary East Asian arts in her spare time.