Nonprofit Fundraising in the Age of Uncertainty

This article was originally published on TechSoup.org on June 25, 2020.

Much has been written over the years about how nonprofits can fundraise in tough times. Fundraising pioneer Mal Warwick famously advised nonprofits during the 2008 – 2009 recession to reassess the whole ball of wax. At the time, that seemed like good advice to cope with an unprecedented economic collapse and how it was impacting the day-to-day business of nonprofit fundraising.

Our situation in 2020 feels similar and yet more complex as we cope with the triple challenge of the coronavirus, economic hardship across communities and nonprofit institutions, and severe disruptions in donor activity brought on by high unemployment and quarantines.

We’ve been here before, and now is a good time to reach back to what we’ve learned with past crises, while also adapting to our newer challenges. The bottom line is that your donor community cares about your mission and can be an active partner through this time of uncertainty. Here are five ways that nonprofit fundraisers can survive these tough times and emerge with positive approaches to donor engagement and fundraising.

Focus on Cultivation and Stewardship

While giving is down due to economic hardship, and face-to-face supporter engagement is more limited during quarantine, now is the time for nonprofits to redouble their efforts to stay connected with their supporters. This new cultivational mode of communications will bring you closer together and allow you to showcase your role and value to your community. In these uncertain times, people are yearning for deeper connections with neighbors, local businesses, and civic leaders. Your role is to be there with them and to help lead the way forward.

Even when you’re not directly asking for financial support, you can do several things:

  • Thank your donors
  • Provide updates about your budget and needs
  • Tell compelling stories about your work

Engage all your storytelling skills through testimonials, photos, videos, social media dialogue, and more. Get your supporters’ voices involved in telling their stories, which are connected to your story as a community organization.

Strengthen Your Case for Giving

Consider how you’re positioning your nonprofit’s mission, values, and programs during these uncertain times. How can you sharpen your messaging to address high unemployment, economic hardship, public health risks, a growing anti-racism movement, an election year, and other societal challenges? Whether you’re updating your website, posting on your social media channels, or writing a fundraising appeal, make sure your donors understand both the more urgent need for your services during these times and the many concrete steps you’re taking to increase your effectiveness for the beneficiaries you’re serving in the community.

Alan Cantor captures the essence of this idea in his recent article in Harvard Business Review when he writes: “In the coming weeks and months, successful requests for charitable donations will need to be embedded in a larger expression of mutual support, empathy, and solidarity.”

Embrace Contact-Free Fundraising Events

Perhaps nothing has stressed out nonprofit leaders more than the reality of having to cancel fundraising events due to coronavirus quarantines. A huge amount of annual nonprofit revenue depends on face-to-face fundraising events. Necessity being the mother of invention, nonprofits have adapted quickly by converting many in-person fundraising events into alternative activities.

Even though quarantine and lockdown rules are now lifting, many people feel like they need to avoid social gatherings to insure their health, which will impact event organizations well into the fall.

High on nonprofit priority lists has been learning how to produce virtual fundraising events, using video meeting platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, and many others. Nonprofits are also turning to social media platforms such as Facebook Live to hold real-time events. In-person activities have been replaced by keynote videos, speaker panels, breakout chat rooms, and more, all with the goal of creating an interactive group experience. While not as personal as in-person events, these virtual events can integrate fundraising appeals, auctions, raffles, video contests, virtual concerts, and much more. Check out these two recent TechSoup articles on Producing a Virtual Nonprofit Event and Raising Money Using Zoom for additional tips and resources.

In addition to virtual events, many nonprofits are organizing local contact-free events for their supporters to raise money. These can include walk/run-a-thons, where participants collect pledges and complete the physical challenge at home. Or they could be non-run challenges, talent competitions, art contests, photo competitions, or essay challenges. Now is the perfect time to tap into the creativity and at-home engagement of your supporter community.

Get Your Digital House in Order

The coronavirus quarantine has been a wake-up call for many nonprofits to get their digital house in order, since so many people have turned to the web, social media, and mobile phones to stay connected.

  • Take a deep look at your website to assess what needs to be refreshed, whether with basic messaging or with answers to questions people might have about your services during the quarantine.
  • If you need help tuning up your website, learn about TechSoup’s Website Services to help you freshen up your design, attract supporters, amplify fundraising, and accelerate impact.
  • Review the donation pages on your website and make sure they’re making the strongest case for giving. Are the giving levels properly aligned for a time of economic hardship? Could you add some lower giving levels? Is the monthly giving option clearly visible?
  • Review your social media management practices to determine how best to stay current through those channels. Should you change the frequency and content of your posts? Many nonprofits have found social media the most efficient means to stay connected with their stakeholder communities.
  • Review your email messaging practices to determine what needs a refresh.

Once you have a better handle on your digital communication capacity, you’ll be in a better position for donor engagement.

Empower Your Supporters to Help You

During these uncertain times, consider how you can be most strategic as you communicate and fundraise with your different donor groups. For example, schedule your outreach to your mid-level and major donors, who often have more capacity to give. Consider what messaging and value proposition will most inspire this unique group of donors.

Encourage your supporters and donors to set up Facebook Fundraising campaigns, so they can help raise money for you. Many of your supporters will already be familiar with giving on Facebook. To help your supporters get started, you should provide sample content and images they can use to promote their campaigns.

Times of crisis are also a time when new supporters emerge who want to make a difference in their community. In our current time when people are feeling out of control, supporting a nonprofit provides a unique source of inspiration and empowerment. Invite in new supporters, even at low gift levels, to be part of changing the world through your mission and programs. Reaching new supporters might involve outreach to your volunteer network, trading mailing lists with other like-minded organizations, increasing your activity on social media, reaching back out to your lapsed donors, or spending money on a social media advertising campaign.

Further Reading

6 Best Practices for Engaging Your Donors Year-Round

Building strong relationships with your various audiences requires a year-round communications plan so you can connect meaningfully and encourage deeper engagement.

Here are six best practices for engaging your donors year-round:

1. Thank your donors

Start the new year right by thanking your donors who made year-end gifts. If you can, try to personalize the thank you to acknowledge repeat donors, donors who have upgraded their gifts, first time donors, and new monthly donors. Of course, thanking your donors applies all year round.

2. Create an email welcome series for new email subscribers

New subscribers to your email list should receive a series of three or four automated emails to welcome them. Let your creativity flow and create something truly special to inspire and engage. Your email welcome series could include a series of emails from key stakeholders in your organizations, including a Board member or a long-time committed volunteer.

3. Create balanced communications with your donors

Strive to achieve balance in your communications of fundraising, cultivation, and engagement. Do a communications audit to assess what your audiences receive. Donors, supporters, and volunteers have different interests and levels of commitment. Create a communications plan that matches with audience interests.

4. Map out your seasonal cornerstone fundraising campaigns

Cornerstone campaigns are repeated every year and will allow you to map out your fundraising appeals and your anticipated revenue. Examples include yearly renewal and membership drives, monthly giving recruitment efforts, matching gift campaigns, and the ubiquitous year-end giving season.

5. Rethink your newsletter as a donor engagement tool

Your newsletter is the most dangerous tool in your communications toolbox. The danger comes in underestimating its potential and wasting it with casual monthly “news” content. The true power of this monthly or quarterly opportunity is to rethink your newsletter as a donor, supporter, and volunteer engagement tool. By refocusing your message on how donors are making a difference, you can better utilize your newsletter for deepening donor engagement.

6. Invest in connecting with donors through your social media channels

Your donors are very interesting people and you should be keeping tabs on them via any social media channels where they are active. Consider your donors as a special class of “social media influencers” and be sure to retweet their content and engage in direct messaging with them. This sort of cross-channel communication will allow you to deepen relationships with donors and open new doors to collaboration.

How to Build and Sustain a Successful Monthly Giving Program

Monthly giving is the fastest growing segment of digital fundraising, offering benefits for both donors and nonprofits. Nonprofits can rely on monthly giving for consistent revenue to the organization. Plus, monthly donors are more likely to donate larger total gifts and to give over a longer time period. Smaller monthly amounts are a good entry point for donors, and donors can feel like they are providing support throughout the entire year.

Help Your Monthly Donors Find You

Most of the monthly donors that your organization will recruit will be folks who will come to you on their own. Make sure your monthly donor program stands out by placing it prominently on your organization’s website, such as on both your home page and your dedicated donation page. Perhaps you want to add a dedicated monthly giving page. And be sure to promote your monthly donation program as strongly as your campaigns for one-time gifts.

When working to reach new participants in your monthly giving program, it’s also important to know which portion of your audience is most likely to become monthly donors. Recent or frequent donors are often more likely to convert to monthly donors because they have already demonstrated interest in your work.

Another group to target is multichannel donors, or individuals who have donated to your organization in multiple ways (such as online, in the mail, etc.). And don’t forget about lapsed donors who have given in the last several years but who haven’t given recently. They may be excited to come back and support your cause, and a lower monthly giving level may be an encouragement.

Welcome emails sent to new subscribers tend to get high open and click-through rates and are an excellent way to recruit new monthly donors.

Set Up Seasonal Campaigns to Ramp Up Participation

Seasonal campaigns are an excellent way to attract a larger number of donors to your monthly giving program in a shorter amount of time. These campaigns increase the visibility of the program. Plus, they are a chance to show how the monthly giving program connects to your organization’s mission. By spreading out the initiative over a period of time, seasonal campaigns offer you a unique opportunity to demonstrate how your donors’ giving boosts your organization’s mission and its goals.

When using a seasonal campaign, it’s important to have clear goals and a tracking system to measure success. Establishing a deadline can be a good tactic. You might also add a thermometer to your website to show supporters how much you’ve raised, while encouraging them to donate.

If you already have a monthly giving program and want to improve it, consider offering a gift to donors who sign up during the campaign. Gifts are an excellent way both to thank donors for their participation and to motivate them to continue giving.

Use Impact and Show Appreciation to Retain Monthly Donors

Monthly donors are of high value to your organization, so it’s important to create a retention plan to both acknowledge and encourage them to continue giving. Plan to send your monthly donors regular emails thanking them for their contributions, as well as progress reports that allow them to understand the impact of their donation. You can also invite them to increase their monthly gift amount, because people tend to respond positively to this.

Although it’s important to show gratitude and update monthly donors regularly, don’t overwhelm participants with a large amount of communication from your organization. (Don’t send them every appeal that you send to the rest of your list, because they are already giving monthly.)

A key strategy to retain donors is to ensure that monthly donors’ credit card information is always up to date. One way to avoid a decrease in donations as a result of expired credit cards is to create a management system for credit card information. Then, send donors a friendly notice when their card is nearing its expiration date.

Measure the Impact of Your Program

As with any fundraising effort that your nonprofit undertakes, it’s important to have a plan in place to measure the success of your monthly giving program. Here are some key metrics to understand your monthly giving program and its contribution to your organization’s bottom line.

  • “Sustainers,” or number of monthly donors
  • Total revenue raised from monthly gifts
  • Money raised from upgrades
  • Average monthly gift
  • Lifetime value and duration on file
  • Performance by audience segment and channel

Tapping into monthly giving is an excellent way to secure consistent funds for your nonprofit, and, with a proper strategy, it can be incredibly beneficial to your organization and donors.


330+ nonprofits are accepting voice donations via Amazon Alexa devices

330+ nonprofits are accepting voice donations via Amazon Alexa devices. Chris Strub writes about the issue on Forbes.com and asks the question: Should more nonprofits make it a focus in 2020?

Read the article on Forbes.com

TechSoup’s Nonprofit Tech Trends for 2020

Every January, the venerable Jim Lynch from TechSoup Global scours the nonprofit landscape in order to share his collection of nonprofit tech trends for the year. This year, he reports on GoFundMe Charity, smart speakers, the ImpactMatters rating system, new proposed federal legislation that would incentivize charitable giving by individuals, how podcasting will be a thing for nonprofits this year, and a new online nonprofit operating system called StratusLIVE.

Read TechSoup’s Nonprofit Tech Trends for 2020

9 Tips to Maximize Your Giving Tuesday

Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday … Giving Tuesday! That’s how annual traditions are created, and this one is apparently here to stay. Giving Tuesday has grown into a global day of giving. It is a unique opportunity for your organization to engage with your donors, supporters, and volunteers — and raise some money! To help you get the most out of Giving Tuesday, here are nine tips to help you plan.

1. Find a Unique Campaign Theme

Although Giving Tuesday is its own theme, it’s best if you can create a direct connection with your organization. For example, funds raised could be dedicated to a special community project. If you’re working with a corporate partner or a major donor, perhaps they can match donations or enable further charitable actions. Be sure to include partner logos on photos, videos, and donation pages. To inspire your creativity, I recommend this wonderful collection of resources (PDF).

Consider setting a fundraising campaign goal or a goal to recruit a number of new donors. Offering a two-for-one challenge match is a popular strategy for Giving Tuesday. The reason why it’s popular is that nothing moves the needle quite like a match. Donors of all sizes like the idea of their gift being doubled by a supporter or board member.

2. Focus on New Donors and Small Gifts

Giving Tuesday is a great opportunity for your organization to connect with new supporters. Be sure your campaign messaging encourages new gifts, no matter what the size. Your donation page should have a gift string that starts at $5. Stay donor-centric in your messaging and be sure to acknowledge donors on your social media channels (with their permission).

3. Get the Timing Right

Giving Tuesday falls on a Tuesday, but you can start your messaging up to a week ahead of time with email and social media promotion, including on the weekend. Why not add some follow-up messaging on Wednesday or Thursday to thank your donors?

4. Inspire Millennials to Give

Giving Tuesday is a very social and hashtag-friendly day of giving, which appeals to millennials. Be sure to make all aspects of your campaign mobile-friendly, from your emails to your donation page. Also, be sure to encourage social sharing, which millennials are sure to use to tell their friends.

5. Use Social Media to Empower Your Giving Tuesday Fundraising

Donors look to others to decide when and where to give. Social media is the perfect platform to push out Giving Tuesday messaging that is centered around real-world examples, quotes from real people, and lots of photos. Tell your story at Giving Tuesday on all your social channels, and encourage social sharing whenever possible.

Think of the most creative ways you might use social media to promote giving. Recruit a social media volunteer team to create and share engaging content. Set up a tracking system so you can measure the impact on your fundraising that originates in the social channel. Also, make sure that social sharing opportunities are integrated throughout the giving process on both the donation thank-you web page and the email receipt.

6. Use Video to Inspire Giving

Create a short video to promote your Giving Tuesday campaign so you can tell your story and encourage giving. A short minute-long video created on a smartphone should do the trick. Another video approach is to schedule a Facebook Live event to connect with your followers.

7. Create Social Media Images with a Clear Call to Action

Images are vital as a promotion tool and can be posted on social media, shared with ambassadors, and offered to your donors after they make a donation. I recommend CanvaVenngage, and Piktochart as easy-to-use and affordable tools to create images for social media.

8. Think Multichannel

Even though Giving Tuesday thrives on digital platforms, don’t neglect other communication channels at your disposal, such as your print newsletter, real-world events, the lobby of your organization, your local coffee shop, and your business affiliates. Get the word out!

9. Make It Fun

Giving Tuesday is still an evolving annual tradition, so it’s an invitation to have some fun. Consider ways you can spice up this annual tradition with a unique video, some crazy hashtags, a celebrity ambassador, and a memorable theme.

Bonus: Make Monthly Giving the Default

We’ve recently reached a tipping point where most nonprofits are promoting monthly giving as the default way of giving. Monthly giving offers a more comfortable donation amount that can be broken up into small chunks ($10 per month versus a one-time donation of $120). Giving monthly is popular with people who are recent donors, frequent givers, and multichannel donors (such as those who have already made a gift in the mail).

Consider all the ways you can promote monthly giving during Giving Tuesday. Although monthly giving will reduce revenue in the short term, monthly donors will stay on your list longer, and have higher lifetime value as a donor.