11 Ideas for Fundraising in a Pandemic

  • Published April 16, 2020
  • / By Gail Grimes

Social distancing may feel like the worst thing that could happen to any development program, but it’s also a a unique opportunity to strengthen the bond between your organization and its supporters.

Below are 11 ideas for keeping your organization in the conversation, helping donors feel engaged and valued, and, yes, inspiring them to give, even at a time like this — maybe especially at a time like this.

  1. Communicate more often, not less. People want to know what’s happening out there. Until things ease up, consider a brief email as often as twice a week, maybe even more often for board members and major donors. Be sure to make the content meaningful, crisp, and brief. When communication is frequent, three well-chosen sentences are often enough.
  2. Be specific. Generalities stoke anxiety while details reassure by putting boundaries around the chaos. Tell supporters how the pandemic is affecting your organization. Talk sincerely about the challenges and the measures being taken.
  3. Share some good news. Even now something positive is happening at your organization. Find it and tell your donors about it. We could all use a lift.
  4. Host webinars. You’ve got experts. Your donors have time.
  5. Call a widow or widower. Someone on your board or in your donor family is home alone with little or no support. Find out what they’re missing and offer to help. End the conversation with a question: “May I call again soon just to check in?”
  6. Lend your Zoom room. A lot of families are holding virtual Sunday dinners and birthday parties via video conference, but not everyone has the technology or the know-how. If you do, offer to host an online get-together for a donor’s family.
  7. Share snapshots and home videos. Your CEO in his kitchen making French toast. Your foundation board chair doing a jigsaw puzzle with her grandkids. The cherry blossoms out of your home office window. Make it personal and keep it light!
  8. Share staff picks. Ask your organization’s brightest stars to recommend books and films your donors might enjoy while at home. Ideally, focus on stories that relate to your mission. Share the list and invite your donors to suggest their own hidden gems.
  9. Hold that big event anyway. Just do it by video conference, with activities adapted to distance and a mix of creative content and conversation. Send an email invitation posting the date and time. Send two reminders, one the day before and one that morning. Suggest appropriate dress. As always, invite donors to give. End the event by showing a link to an online silent auction. If people want to linger, that’s great, but be sure to post an official end time and announce when it has arrived; nothing deflates impact like an event that just peters out.
    • People are hungry for fun. If Jimmy Fallon can host the Tonight Show from his kitchen table, you can do this!
      • Virtual Tennis Tournament. Everybody put on your best whites and meet online for an hour of tennis-focused fun. Launch the event with upbeat music behind video or photos from last year’s tournament. Get a popular local player to talk (three minutes max) about the time she went to Wimbledon. Play clips from famous volleys (Tennis Bloopers?). Ask a local pro to do 15 minutes of Q&A and maybe demonstrate his backhand for the camera. And for competition? Tennis trivia!
      • Virtual Gala Ball. Hire a pianist or even a band to play dance music from their homes. Invite guests to roll back the carpet and place the laptop so the camera can capture their smooth moves. Use the chat window to hold a dance trivia quiz. End the evening with a video clip of Fred and Ginger doing what they do best.
  10. Invite your donors to help. Yes, ask. We’re all feeling helpless these days. Giving is a way for donors to take back their personal power and make a difference. Stick to your stated funding priorities — or make the case for a new gift opportunity that will help your organization address the impact of the pandemic.
  11. Stay sane. Aside from the obvious (breathe, etc.), take advice from the space station astronauts. Set small objectives — for the next 10 minutes, the next hour, the rest of the day. And be easy on yourself; bite off only what you can chew. Now more than ever, the world needs the skills and commitment you bring to every challenge.