8 lessons fundraisers can learn from COVID-19

This time of COVID-19 fundraising has been a real crucible for a lot of us. It has forced us do things faster, smarter, and more efficiently than ever.

And guess what? Most of these ways of doing things are the right way to do it all the time.

1. Keep the amateurs out of the kitchen.

I’m talking about those who know nothing about fundraising, but have strong opinions nevertheless. Board members and other authorities who bring nothing to the table other than their hunches.

During the crisis, many of us have put our fundraising on superfast track, meaning we skinny back on the approval process.

And guess what — not only do things go faster, but the quality is much better when uninformed amateurs aren’t chiming in. Surprise! Let’s make this the way we do fundraising all the time!

2. Connect with donors often.

Here’s one of those counterintuitive truths about fundraising: The donor who is most likely to give is the one who has given most recently.

Many organizations have been sending out a steady stream of fundraising — because the need just keeps going. It would be hard to keep up a fundraising pace like many are doing now, but maybe a few more of us will leave behind the myth that you have to let donors “rest” between asks.

3. Be urgent.

We’re employing urgency in fundraising these days because the situation is very urgent. We need to do that all the time. Urgency is not some kind of add-on technique in fundraising. It’s a necessity.

4. Be simple.

Nobody has time to create complicated train-the-donor communications these days. And have you noticed? Simple fundraising performs the best. It always has, and always will! Stay simple.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask.

The number-one reason people don’t give? They weren’t asked. Never assume you know someone won’t give. The truth is, most donors, most of the time, don’t respond. The one way to make sure they don’t give is not to ask.

6. Favor courage over caution.

Nonprofits tend to be risk averse, choosing no action and not spending far too often. It costs them more than they can imagine. Take action! Not every idea is a good idea, so think it through, but on the whole, action is far more likely than inaction to have positive outcomes.

7. Don’t depend on events to raise revenue.

Events are the least effective and most risky way to raise funds. COVID-19 forced the complete cancellation of thousands of fundraising events — a loss of millions of dollars in expected income, a fatal blow for some organizations. But even in normal times, events are risky, and most are far less effective at raising money than they seem — because too few organizations actually count the staff cost of events. In most cases, the same amount of time could be spent on much more sustainable, effective, and efficient ways to raise money.

8. Don’t waste your money on empty branding.

Any marketing activity that doesn’t produce specific measurable outcomes is probably something you shouldn’t be doing. This becomes strongly evident in times of crisis. But it’s true all the time.

Will these better ways of doing things stay with us after the crisis?

I sure hope so.


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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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About the blogger

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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