What Do Donors Do In Times of Crisis, COVID-19

  • Published March 12, 2020
  • / By Kate Harris

a message from Kate Harris, Senior Consultant, Aging Services
March 12, 2020

First, to all of you who are dealing with COVID-19 in your respective communities, we are thinking of you during this difficult and uncertain time.

Whether you’re putting emergency response plans in place or standing by for more information, you may be wondering what you can or should be doing,   especially for those of us who are fundraisers and not health professionals.

Our team has been fielding an influx of questions about fundraising best practices in a time of crisis, everything from whether or not to cancel fundraising events to how to best communicate with donors, if at all. Below are some frequently asked questions and our take on a response. However, we simply hope to begin a conversation to tap into the collective wisdom of this group. We’d love to hear what advice you have to these questions, how you’re handling it, and what other challenges you’re dealing with right now. We certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers but wanted to share with you some of the top concerns we have been hearing from colleagues in the field.

Should I communicate with my donors? If so, what do I say?
In any difficult time, it is critically important that you continue contact with donors, keep all stakeholders engaged, share the importance of your mission, and adjust your fundraising strategies in the context of the current reality. Consider crafting a thoughtful message to your supporters or reach out to your closest relationships personally to see how they are doing and reassure them of your organization’s continued vigilance and commitment to your mission. If your organization has issued any kind of formal statement on COVID-19, consider forwarding that to donors and letting them know about the special measures you are taking to keep staff and residents safe and that you continue to be grateful for their support.

I’m worried donations will stop/I’m in the middle of a major campaign/I was planning a big ask this month, what do I do?
This is not the first time we have experienced a crisis like COVID-19. There are some predictable ways that donors react during times like this and knowing how to appropriately respond now can help you weather the storm. Some donors will want to suspend gift conversations, which should be respected. But don’t be vague about when you can reach out again. Make concrete plans by asking, “When would be a good time to reach back out? A month from now? Great, I’ll be in touch then to continue the conversation.” And then mark your calendar! Others will be motivated by a call to action – they may want to help but don’t know how. We have learned a great deal about the giving habits of donors during natural disasters and other such emergencies. If you have a staff emergency fund, for example, you might be putting that money to good use to help staff with one off requests for funds or special equipment. Sharing that with donors will settle their nerves, reassuring them that the work goes on, and might even spur some first time contributors to give generously to funds that are helping you stay on top of urgent and immediate needs. Finally, we know philanthropy is affected by downturns in the economy and while it is too early to say how markets will be affected overall, philanthropy tends to be a lagging indicator – meaning many donors will honor their commitments in the year of a downturn but not so the following year, so do not ignore them. No downturn lasts forever, so if you’re just starting a 3-5 year campaign, take heart, you may need to lower your goal for now but could far exceed it in the end when things recover.

Should we cancel our event/gala/golf outing? We’ve already paid all our vendors!
You’ve noticed many canceled events across the country and you’re wondering if you should do the same. Consider postponing (not just canceling) an event. You might even ask vendors if they will honor your contracts on a future date. Depending on the event, you might also evaluate the efficacy of meeting virtually. If it was a presentation, consider hosting a webinar – there are many interactive tools nowadays that can help you continue relationship building. A donor appreciation event? Use the time you set aside for event prep and clean up to make thank you phone calls.



Together, We Will Weather the Storm
a message to clients from Phil Hills, President & CEO, Senior Consultant & Principal
March 12, 2020

In times of crisis and upheaval, it is most important that we work together to help each other weather the storm. Our entire Marts & Lundy team hopes that your families, at home and at work, are well.

The impact of COVID-19 and the rapid downturn in the stock market have caused a critical shift in all aspects of your work and of ours. All members of the Marts & Lundy team are keenly focused on the continued wellbeing of the institutions we serve. On behalf of our team, I am reaching out to you to share thoughts on philanthropy during this tumultuous period.

As efforts intensify to contain COVID-19, the workforce is rapidly becoming virtual. Many of our clients are expressing concern over the disruption this could cause in their fundraising work. Marts & Lundy has operated as a virtual firm for decades. We know how to maintain effective communication and move complex initiatives forward with precision and timeliness within a virtual workplace structure. We stand ready to help you understand how to quickly and strategically adapt to the new reality of a virtual fundraising team.

We, too, are adapting our service model to ensure we can help you maintain the momentum that is critical to the long-term strength of your institution. While nobody has seen anything like the confluence of economic and pandemic turmoil, we do know and have learned how to help you pragmatically address issues of virtual fundraising, virtual consulting, and dramatic change. We already are working with several clients to adjust services around planning and implementation by using tools that bring people together to achieve goals – both old and new.

Our team stands ready to serve you in person when possible and virtually when needed.

In any difficult time, it is critically important that you continue contact with donors, keep all stakeholders engaged, share the importance of your mission, and adjust your fundraising strategies in the context of the current reality.

Finally, certainly the Great Recession affected the cadence of campaigns. However, campaigns and overall fundraising can still be successful even when enduring a period of recession.