How to Stay the Course During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Jeffrey Byrne and Lisa Pelofsky, Co-Founders and CEOs at Byrne Pelofsky

In light of recent developments regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, some of you have asked about giving and your fundraising prospects during this uncertain time. The impact of the coronavirus on the economy and philanthropy will have many effects on both donors and charities. And, given the unprecedented nature of this virus, we all need to take a moment and think about how we approach this new reality.

We have seen recessions before, and we know how to get through them as a nation. After September 11 and the Great Recession of 2008, we had to do things differently. We don’t know how long COVID-19 will last, but one thing is for sure, we must stick together and remain close to our family and friends. And for nonprofits, that includes your donors.

Our carefully considered advice to you is: Stay the course. All thinking on fundraising says that you do not pull back on your efforts during hard economic times, but should underscore your need and your project’s importance to your donors as your closest allies.

So, what strategies can you deploy to support your nonprofit and ride out the economic slump? How have you positioned your organization to weather the storm? Here are our current thoughts and recommendations:

  • Engage Authentically with your “Top 25.” Put more emphasis on donor cultivation, donor communication and articulating your mission and purpose than on asking for the dollar right now. Reach out to your top 25 donors and have a reassuring conversation. Engage authentically by first, inquiring about their own well-being and concerns during this uncertain time. Then, let them know how your organization is responding to the health crisis. This is a time when nonprofit services are needed the most, so remind your donors that you aren’t going anywhere.

    “Charities need to think about how to remain connected to their donors remotely and to respectfully solicit gifts, while being sensitive to the effects of the losses of income, wealth, and possibly health in an era of uncertainty.”
    Dr. Patrick Rooney, Executive Associate Dean for Academic Programs, The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

  • Be Optimistic. Easier said than done, right? But it’s true. The best fundraisers in the world are optimistic, creative individuals that are always willing to try new approaches to fundraising. It sounds cliché, but nonprofits ARE needed now more than ever. Infuse this urgency into your fundraising and view this as an opportunity to make lasting, impactful changes. Don’t stop asking, just ask differently. It may take twice as many attempts to close a major gift, but giving donors their space is not what you (or they) need right now. The world needs your organization!
  • Practice Creative Communication. In order to keep your fundraising moving forward, consider changing the format of your fundraising conversations – perhaps through more frequent telephone contact, e-mail updates or meeting virtually through various tech platforms. Technology is being harnessed in creative ways to keep the economy moving. Being creative about HOW you meet signals to your donors that you’re keeping the momentum up no matter what. Reassure them that when they are ready to make a commitment, you will be there to work it out.
  • Think about your competitors. Smart organizations look for partners to help them in an economic downturn. Share your story with other organizations that do similar work. Strengthen your program and message by forging collaborations. See if you both can’t become better organizations by outlasting the economic downturn.
  • Set a Good Example. Taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the virus? Asking your employees to work from home? Switching to video conferencing instead of meeting in person? Let your donors and contacts know what’s going on in your organization – perhaps by sending out a letter or email blast. Not only is it an excuse to reach out, it lets them know you are being proactive and taking this rapidly evolving public health threat seriously within your own four walls.

COVID-19 is unlike anything we have ever seen before. It is difficult to predict what will happen next, but the worst thing we can do is nothing at all. So we hope that by following some of these strategies, you will strengthen your fundraising to help you outlast the downturn and speed into the recovery.