Fundraising During COVID-19 Crisis: Tips to Keep Donors Informed and Engaged

Many of you are asking us this week for advice related to the COVID-19 situation and your planned fundraising initiatives. Here’s what we are hearing and what we recommend.

Based on personal interviews with local philanthropists and national experts over the past week, we are told that giving will continue—but it will change course. Your tone, messaging, and engagement strategies deserve your strategic attention and should be appropriate for this time.

This week, a local philanthropist and corporate sponsor of nonprofit events told me he is not concerned about the long-term economy and that those who are well established will find ways to continue their philanthropy to support causes about which they care. However, regional and national experts shared with O’Connor Connective this week their predictions that basic needs will likely get more immediate support from donors than education and the arts.

So, how you communicate and what you communicate right now matters. Here are five quick tips we suggest for you to keep your donors informed and engaged amid the COVID-19 noise:


  1. Tone and messaging are critical.

Your story of relevance to society is critical. Share your thanks and share your story. Keep it positive and clear. Now is not the time for the-sky-is-falling emergency mass appeals, but rather reminding your audiences of what you do for the community in good times and bad. You can invite their support to help fulfill your mission but be mindful that the tone is sensitive and mission-based.

Once you’ve defined the messaging you feel is right for a time like this, don’t forget to train your board on the words you’ve selected. Also, give them assignments on how they can share these messages in their circles.


  1. Use this time to say, “Thank you!”

I had a major gifts officer visit our office early last week. He shared that his message to donors right now is to thank them for helping their organization be here so that they can serve those in need in hard times. Isn’t that beautiful? How can you let your donors know how much you appreciate their being there for you before so that you can be there for the community now?

This is a time when you can pick up the phone or schedule a video chat to build upon relationships. Send handwritten letters. Call to check in with donors. Let them know you appreciate what they have allowed you to do for the community in the past and your ongoing commitment for the future.


  1. During social distancing, leverage social media to build connections.

While events and gatherings are not able to be held at this time, focus on other ways of engaging your audiences. Maybe you …

  • feature a person, family, or program with an engaging story to share with your followers.
  • create infographics to showcase your impact on the community.
  • post a video message from your executive director to update your audiences.
  • host a web event through a video-chat platform such as Zoom.


  1. Consider targeted sustainability asks.

We do NOT recommend an all-call to every donor you’ve ever had for emergency funding right now. Instead, we suggest you look at your list of top donors who have been there for you time and again. Call them. Let them know what you need. Ask them if this is something they can help you with right now to get through the worst of it. Keep these calls targeted to your closest supporters. Be sure that you can share your financial plan for future sustainability and clarify your strategic plan for moving in the right direction.


  1. Talk to your community foundation.

Engage with community foundations or other granting organizations for potential options for emergency funding. We are thrilled to see the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation and the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region have both created a COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund with granting opportunities for nonprofits. These funds are proof that our community cares about you and your continued success. Apply today!

None of us knows how long we will deal with the economic effects of COVID-19. But we do know that meaningful connections and communication will go a long way in engaging donors who will help you ensure that you’ll continue to live your mission for years to come.


Bridget Krage O’Connor is owner and founder of O’Connor Connective, a strategic communication firm committed to helping non-profits and for-profit organizations reach their intended results.

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