nonprofit covid-19 impact, nonprofit digital fundraising alternatives to cancelled eventsCOVID-19 has forced nonprofit organizations to cancel all-important spring fundraising events. In addition, donors worried about their own financial predicaments have reduced contributions. Fundraising shortfalls this year may approach, or possibly even exceed, the depths of the 2008 financial crisis. Meanwhile, nonprofit services, especially in health and education, are in greater need during the coronavirus-induced economic calamity.

Resourceful nonprofits are turning to digital promotions and creativity to close the fundraising gap. Here’s advice from nonprofit leaders and PR and marketing experts on how to accomplish that task.

An Online Marketing Alternative

A renewed emphasis on online marketing can help accelerate fundraising. With the fast-moving nature of the news around COVID-19, digital channels like social media and email give nonprofits fast-moving options to keep donors informed, says Tim Kersten, CEO at RKD Group, a fundraising and marketing agency. “This may be a good time to increase your online touchpoints and opportunities,” Kersten advises. “Doing so will allow you to engage your donors during a period when in-person events are being canceled.”

Don’t stop mailing campaigns, he adds. In past national crises, such as the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, some nonprofits stopped direct mail programs, Kersten says. Those who did lost revenue. Those who didn’t sustained revenue, albeit with a temporary dip, but then returned to normal levels within a relatively short time.

What to do when Fundraisers are Canceled

If a fundraising event is cancelled, ask ticket holders to donate the price of their ticket, recommends Kimberly O’Donnell at Network for Good. Do not offer to refund their money upfront. Consider telling them to complete a simple form or contact for a refund. Recruit volunteers to wear black-tie formal wear and deliver meals to local ticket holders if they cannot attend or if the event is cancelled.

Be sure to show the impact that COVID-19 or a recession will have on your organization, O’Donnell stresses. Will demand for your services increase? Gain empathy by being authentic and consistent in your messaging, especially if you are serving affected populations.

It’s more important than ever to show appreciation for donors and other supporters. Embrace new ways to communicate and engage with supporters: video acknowledgements, hand-written thank you notes, text updates and phone calls

How to Run a Successful Virtual Fundraiser

Upaya, a nonprofit in Seattle, WA, was looking forward to its annual gala, its largest event of the year, with a fundraising goal of $200,000. But the coronavirus forced the nonprofit to replace the gala with a virtual event just days before it was scheduled to be held, says Upaya CEO Kate Cochran. The organization worried how the virtual event would fare, but it raised $295,000 and online donations continue to arrive.

Being well-organized, frequent communications with its community and strong relationships with its network were other major factors in its success.

The nonprofit sent emails daily during the campaign. The emails included updates on the campaign but also something new and interesting each day: key videos, announcement of the match, opening the online auction. Calling key donors was also critical.

The team began each day with a project management call to review what had happened the day before and what they needed to accomplish that day.

Connect through Video

Almost all of the 2,600 YMCAs across the country have closed, but Ys continue to provide food for needy children, virtual youth programs, and emergency childcare, housing and health services, Valerie Barker Waller, chief marketing officer and senior vice president for Y-USA, told PR Daily. To maintain contact with its community, the YMCA is greatly expanding its video content. It launched YMCA360 that features video libraries of exercise instruction and other health topics.

“We find it most important for our communities to stay together and stay connected through these times of uncertainty, so we hope that no matter how connected someone is with their local Y, that they stay with and support the Y now and in the future,” Waller said.

Communicate with Email

Email offers an invaluable tool for connecting with donors, says Will Schmidt at Classy. Nonprofits can use email to communicate:

  • expected timelines for future communications,
  • changes to fundraising events,
  • thanks to supporters,
  • how people will be impacted by the nonprofit’s services (or the lack of its services),
  • the reason of the nonprofit’s existence,
  • inspirational messages.

“It’s important now, more than ever, to send well-crafted emails that not only keep your supporters informed, but also keep your nonprofit top of mind during the tumult of a global event,” Schmidt asserts.

Using email to ask for donations in lieu of attending a function makes a lot of sense. Done well and combined with other digital approaches, it can fill the fundraising gap.

Bottom Line: COVID-19 has deprived nonprofits of a major fundraising strategy by forcing them to cancel in-person events. Resourceful nonprofits are turning to virtual events, online video and email marketing in an attempt to make up the difference and remain in contact with their communities.

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