[Guest blog] Fundraising during a pandemic: no need to panic!

[Guest blog] Fundraising during a pandemic: no need to panic!

As organizations face large scale budget shortfalls as a result of the pandemic, it’s tempting to panic, but please don’t! Fundraising during coronavirus should look and feel similar to fundraising during non-pandemic times (minus the boozy live auctions).

The mechanics of relationship-based fundraising should remain the same, because they work. If you focus on growing organic donor partnerships that will be the largest return on your time – and that is incredibly important given the staff size of most small to mid-range non-profit organizations. Many organizations struggle with who to approach and how. What you may not realize is that growing breadth and depth begins with your current network. Look at a list of the top 20 individual donors already giving to your organization. They are the path to other individual donors. It isn’t buying lists and making cold calls, it is mining the network you already have. Call your donors, thank them for all they have done and continue to do for you, ask for their thoughts on expanding your reach, ask for their feedback on recent programs, ask for their advice on how to find other donors with similar philanthropic interests to theirs.

Creating that list of your top 20 (aka your pipeline) is the start of creating and tracking your organization’s fundraising activity. Why would you want to do that? Because giving comes through activity, and that activity should be goal-driven, creative, and donor-centric.

What is development activity?

First, what is development activity? Development activity is anything that moves a relationship forward. This activity should be tracked so you can analyze all sorts of interesting things. How many points of outreach does it take to get a meeting? How many meetings does it take to comfortably solicit for a gift? How many solicitations does it take before hitting a financial goal? Activity is an email, a call, an article they might find interesting, a note – anything that makes a meaningful connection between your organization and a donor or prospective donor. Maybe you know they just looove internet kittens – share in that love!


Be goal-driven

Once you define your activities, then you can create meaningful activity goals to drive revenue. Being goal-driven means creating measurable benchmarks for progress. Goal setting should be a collaborative process between development staff, executive staff, and/or members of the board. Get everyone on the same page to ensure that folks responsible for fundraising activity have partners. No one raises money alone - it is a collective effort. Guess what, “raise as much money as possible” is not a goal! You cannot measure success against it, and it hinders productivity. Create realistic and measurable goals that reflect fundraising activity because again, activity is the only way to generate revenue.

A sample goal could be: Conduct 9 video meetings by 9/30/20:

  • 3 video meetings with board members to talk through prospective donor strategies by 8/30/20
  • 3 video meetings with current individual donors by 9/30/20
  • 3 video meetings with prospective donors that were suggested by board members by 9/30/20

Get creative & take calculated risks

Next, use this (insane) time to get creative & take calculated risks with virtual event offerings. Most non-profits are relatively risk-averse. How many times have you heard, “we do this event because we have it every year, and that is just what we do!” Let’s shake off that cyclical mentality and use this opportunity to try something new. Most in-person events aren’t realistic right now so it’s the ideal time to be creative with how to “gather” donors to advance your mission. 

Work across teams to figure out your budget and create tailored, intimate, remote donor opportunities. Something to consider is, what can your organization do better than any other? Define that, and then find a way to showcase it during a virtual gathering. But don’t try and simply adapt your gala to a virtual event – really think about your programming and your donors to create a new approach to your annual fundraising event. Given the online event fatigue, this is important!

When conceiving of your virtual event, ask these questions:

  • What is the purpose of the event?
  • What is the goal of the event?
  • How will success be defined?
  • What is the ideal number of participants in the event?
  • What is the ideal format of the event?
  • Is the event a fundraiser or a cultivation event?
  • If it is a fundraiser, how will the event raise money?
  • Who needs to be involved with this event to make it a success?
  • How much time is needed to create the event?
  • What is the event follow-up plan?
  • Will shipping attendees wine in advance make them happy?


If it feels weird, don’t do it!

Lastly, this is basic, but a good time to remember - if it feels weird, don’t do it! Truncating the process of relationship management is tempting because you have to ameliorate budget shortfalls - but don’t! Properly stewarding, cultivating, and soliciting donors takes as long as it takes, and if that process isn’t properly done you risk losing good donors over awkward situations. Fundraisers have to trust their gut and if you know it just isn’t the right approach then try another solution. Work with your senior leadership, your board, and your staff to create strategies that are donor-centric and respectful of the process.

Written By

Written by
Erin Levi Blondes
Founder of 4 North, creating strategies to grow organic donor relationships.