The way COVID-19 WILL destroy your fundraising — if you let it

The Corona Virus — which as of this writing looks like it’s on its way to being a pandemic — is going to devastate the fundraising results of nonprofits around the world in the coming months.

But here’s the good news: You don’t have to be one of them.

Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On
Because the most damaging impact of the virus is what fundraisers do out of fear of it. They are going to hurt themselves far worse than the virus will hurt them.

If you refuse to act on your fear, you will get through this.

So here’s the most important fundraising advice for the Corona Virus Crisis:

Don’t cancel any of your fundraising activities!

Cancelling is the 100% sure way to seriously damage your fundraising revenue.

Other damage is possible. Not certain. And in most cases, likely to be minor.

Now I don’t want to be unrealistically optimistic about this. It is serious, and it will hurt some organizations beyond what would happen if they cancel fundraising activities. In ways like these:

  • If you or your colleagues contract the virus, you could be out of commission for a period. This could cause real problems. So please take precautions!
  • If you have fundraising efforts that depend on items manufactured in China (some direct mail premiums and other things like that), you will see disruptions in supply. And supply-chain problems could spread.
  • Fundraising events could be cancelled or have much lower attendance than expected.
  • If you rely on face-to-face (street) fundraising, you may see disruptions.
  • You may need to postpone visits to major donors.
  • If you rely on income from ticket-buyers or other visitors, you may see a serious drop.

These things are real problems that could hurt revenue. Don’t add to them by cancelling fundraising!

Fundraising you don’t do is guaranteed zero revenue. It’s also lost opportunity that you can never get back.

One of the larger and more scary possible impacts of this virus are the economic recession it might cause. How bad? How long will it last? How widespread will it be?

Scary questions. Past recessions have hurt fundraising results. But it’s not clear whether it was the recession itself or the fundraising industry’s reaction to it that have caused the damage.

During the Financial Crisis of 2008, fundraising results dropped for the first time in decades. But here’s the thing: Many organizations had great fundraising success during the recession. Some grew rapidly during that time.

The difference between those who did well and the many who suffered?

Those who did well kept on raising funds.

Those who suffered — they cancelled all kinds of fundraising activities.

You have the choice which kind of organization you are going to be during this crisis.

The other side of the crisis is how it will impact your programs and those you serve. For some organization, this may be extremely important. Especially for organizations like these:

  • Social service and poverty-fighting organizations. Poor and vulnerable people are likely to suffer most from the virus itself as it spreads. You may need to adjust or expand programs. Delivering your services could become more difficult and expensive.
  • Medical and health organizations. Whether you directly serve on the COVID-19 front lines, or serve people with medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, you also may need to make changes to your programs.
  • Arts and culture organizations. You may face serious drops in income because people can’t or won’t attend public events.

(Let me know if you are in a different sector from these and face other virus-related challenges.)

If you face increased program costs and/or drops in revenue, let your donors be heroes and help you get through it. Do fundraising about it. This is one of those moments where you can help your donors really feel good about making a difference when times are hard.

But whatever you do don’t cancel fundraising!

You can find more information on your response to the virus, see this short video over at the Moceanic Blog: COVID-19 and Your Cause.


Comments

18 responses to “The way COVID-19 WILL destroy your fundraising — if you let it”

  1. Gwen Colwell Avatar
    Gwen Colwell

    I’d urge you to re-think your main headline in this post “Don’t cancel any of your fundraising activities”. The best science is telling us that COVID-19 infection numbers doubles every 5-7 days. It is likely that if non-profit groups can shift their fundraising efforts from in-person events to other forms of fundraising (in areas with infections) nonprofits can be an active part of slowing the spread by embracing public health recommendations. To ignore that opportunity is to value fundraising results above the health of their communities.

  2. Gwen Colwell Avatar
    Gwen Colwell

    I’d urge you to re-think your main headline in this post “Don’t cancel any of your fundraising activities”. The best science is telling us that COVID-19 infection numbers doubles every 5-7 days. It is likely that if non-profit groups can shift their fundraising efforts from in-person events to other forms of fundraising (in areas with infections) nonprofits can be an active part of slowing the spread by embracing public health recommendations. To ignore that opportunity is to value fundraising results above the health of their communities.

  3. Wow. Irresponsible much?

  4. Wow. Irresponsible much?

  5. I agree, irresponsible. Always love consultants telling those in the field what to do. Know it all…not!

  6. I agree, irresponsible. Always love consultants telling those in the field what to do. Know it all…not!

  7. I should make it clear(er) that the fundraising I’m talking about is the kind where you and the donor aren’t in the same place at the same time: direct mail, digital, telephone, etc. Events, personal visits, etc. should be postponed. In a growing list of places, these things may not be possible at all. Some of them can be switched to virtual/digital platforms.

  8. I should make it clear(er) that the fundraising I’m talking about is the kind where you and the donor aren’t in the same place at the same time: direct mail, digital, telephone, etc. Events, personal visits, etc. should be postponed. In a growing list of places, these things may not be possible at all. Some of them can be switched to virtual/digital platforms.

  9. When it comes to direct mail and email appeals, if your charity’s services aren’t related to the current pandemic should the situation still be acknowledged in your writing? Or just focus on the appeal like normal?

  10. When it comes to direct mail and email appeals, if your charity’s services aren’t related to the current pandemic should the situation still be acknowledged in your writing? Or just focus on the appeal like normal?

  11. Would like to hear more on this. For charity’s NOT related to covid-19 response, but who are feeling the financial impact of it already – how do we best continue our appeals? It’s going to be hard enough to get people to look at our charity when they are thinking of other things – but how do we convince them to keep OUR CHARITY going when they will likely either want to hoard any money and / or give it to a covid-19 relief fund?

  12. Would like to hear more on this. For charity’s NOT related to covid-19 response, but who are feeling the financial impact of it already – how do we best continue our appeals? It’s going to be hard enough to get people to look at our charity when they are thinking of other things – but how do we convince them to keep OUR CHARITY going when they will likely either want to hoard any money and / or give it to a covid-19 relief fund?

  13. I’d recommend you acknowledge the situation. You know it’s on their minds. Saying something like “I know this is a difficult time for all of us, but if you could please remember our cause … the need is just as great as ever.” This may not be critical to success, but it’s human.

  14. I’d recommend you acknowledge the situation. You know it’s on their minds. Saying something like “I know this is a difficult time for all of us, but if you could please remember our cause … the need is just as great as ever.” This may not be critical to success, but it’s human.

  15. Don’t assume that donors will be unwilling to give or decide to re-route their giving to COVID-19 causes. That’s their choice, and some may do that. But not all of them. The worst thing you can do is decide for them that they aren’t going to give. Keep doing your fundraising, adjusting as necessary for the conditions we’re in. But don’t go silent!

  16. Don’t assume that donors will be unwilling to give or decide to re-route their giving to COVID-19 causes. That’s their choice, and some may do that. But not all of them. The worst thing you can do is decide for them that they aren’t going to give. Keep doing your fundraising, adjusting as necessary for the conditions we’re in. But don’t go silent!

  17. Thank you, Jeff.

  18. Thank you, Jeff.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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