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Fundraising During Tough Times: 5 Nonprofit Strategies

Fundraising, Guest Blog

Silent Auction Bidding Technology News

This post was contributed by Salsa Labs.

There’s no doubt that society is facing unprecedented challenges in its current state. COVID-19 has disrupted every individual’s way of life in some way. You may find yourself working from home, wearing a mask in public, or financially pressed as employment everywhere is put on pause.

Nonprofits are feeling the impact of COVID-19 just like everyone else. This is especially true for mid-sized organizations who may already have tight budgets. These organizations are experiencing further difficulties as they face the challenge of raising funds from their supporters during the economic downturn. Plus, they’re trying to stretch their budgets to cover all operating expenses.

Fundraising during tough times is a challenge, to say the least. However, with the right approach, your nonprofit will get to the other side of this crisis and, maybe, come out of it even stronger. When it comes to fundraising right now, here are the strategies we recommend:

  1. Don’t Stop Fundraising!
  2. Host Virtual Events
  3. Personalize Engagements
  4. Fully Utilize Resources
  5. Emphasize Impact

Ready to get started with your organization’s updated fundraising strategy? Let’s dive deeper.

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1. Don’t Stop Fundraising!

During difficult times, many nonprofits make the mistake of pressing pause on their fundraising strategy. They’re afraid of pressing donors during already difficult financial times. These organizations may only rely on grants, government relief (e.g PPP), or unsolicited contributions during this time.

However, there are a few fatal flaws with this plan:

  1. Stopping fundraising often means halting all communications with donors. .
  2. It is really difficult to “catch back up” after a season of no fundraising, resulting in funding shortages.
  3. Nonprofits are denying their donors the opportunity to help. Sure, some donors will not be in a position to provide support, but many others will be able to and are expecting to be asked.

Therefore, it’s important for your organization to continue fundraising, but don’t take the “business as usual” approach. Instead, be conscientious of how the economic downturn impacts supporters and leave the door open for the future.

In order to do this, we recommend the following:

  • Start by asking how they are doing. Prioritize their well-being in the conversation to nurture your relationship with them.

  • Express the organization’s needs. Tell them about the immediate challenges your nonprofit is facing and remind them of the long-term objectives of your organization. Most importantly, detail the plans you have to address those challenges and needs.

  • Ask if they’re able to contribute. You may consider lowering your fundraising asks slightly or leaving it open-ended for supporters to contribute what they’re able. Give them a next-step to give with your online fundraising software or via mail.

  • Show gratitude either way. Always show gratitude for gifts to your organization. If a supporter is unable to donate right now, you should still show them gratitude for their time and past support for your organization.

You never know whether supporters are able to give during these times. Don’t make the assumption that they can’t, or you might miss out on vital funds. For those who really cannot give, keep them involved with your organization in other ways, like with unique online event ideas or frequent updates in communications.

 

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2. Host Virtual Events

The biggest disruptions you’ve probably encountered regarding your 2020 fundraising plan has been the cancellation or postponement of your fundraising events. Events often act almost as benchmarks throughout the year, providing a regular engagement activity for supporters and bringing in substantial revenue for your organization.

Now, you’ve heard about all sorts of fundraising events going virtual, and maybe you’ve considered hosting one of these online activities yourself. Virtual fundraising events provide an incredible opportunity to engage supporters even as they sit in their living rooms.

While not every event can be converted into a virtual opportunity, here are some of our favorites:

  • Online silent auctions. With the right tools, you can host a revenue-generating silent auction entirely online. From the item procurement process to the bidding itself, you can plan a fully functioning online silent auction to raise funds. Either way, there are creative and simple ways to find items for your online auction that do not involve you asking local businesses (who are obviously challenged and not likely to donate). For step-by-step planning advice, check out this webinar presented by Handbid!

  • Virtual game nights. Game nights are the perfect stewardship events to host with your supporters. With so many emerging gaming options, your organization can play board game classics or something that will be new for everyone at a virtual game night. Consider making it a tournament and offering a small prize for the winner!

  • Creative contests. Host contests that your supporters can engage with. For instance, you might charge a small entrance fee and send your supporters a cake mix, frosting, and decorating tools to see who can design the prettiest cupcake. Ask supporters to vote for the winner and send them a small prize after the contest. Don’t forget to post pictures too!

  • Virtual races. Many people are using these challenging times as an opportunity to get into shape. Encourage them by hosting a virtual 5K race. Everyone runs on their own course and submits their time to the organization to be ranked among their competitors.

Don’t forget that other online fundraising activities are welcome during the lead-up to these events. In fact, peer-to-peer fundraising is the perfect type of campaign to host at this time! This campaign is held completely online, gets people excited about your event, and naturally spreads the word about your event opportunity.

 

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3. Personalize Engagements

Personalizing your outreach to supporters is vital to make connections in the best of times, but in a more challenging climate, it becomes even more important. This is because people are paying more attention to your outreach right now.

As people are staying at home and finding fewer reasons to leave, they’re less distracted with day-to-day activities and have the time to dedicate toward reading emails, letters, and social media messages. Therefore, personalized messaging will go a long way in better communication right now.

You can personalize your communications by incorporating elements such as:

  • Supporters’ preferred names. Address supporters by their preferred names when you send them messages. These show a connection and commitment you have to them more than a generic “to whom it may concern” salutation.

  • Engagement details. Within the message you send, be sure to include details that pertain to the engagement that supporter has had with your organization. For example, you might thank them for the exact donation amount they contributed or mention the last event they attended with your nonprofit.

  • Use preferred platforms. Keep track of the platforms your supporters respond well to. For instance, if some prefer social media outreach, send them direct messages. Others may prefer email, so be sure to set up automated email outreach.

Donors respond more positively to personalized messages, which results in higher engagement and more effective fundraising strategies. Therefore, be sure to track notes about your supporters in your CRM, segment your supporters based on commonalities, and use your data in your marketing plan.

 

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4. Fully Utilize Resources

Tough times require your nonprofit to take inventory of the resources you have available to you. What can you do to help ensure your fundraising dollars go further for your organization? Using your resources to their fullest potential helps your nonprofit take revenue further to advance your mission and maintain (or grow) your operations.

First, you should make sure you’re making full use of the fundraising resources available to you. Take a look at the different solutions in your organization’s arsenal and consider their uses in your fundraising strategy. For example, Salsa’s article on online fundraising platforms explains the uses of some popular fundraising tools in an organization’s strategy.

In addition to the resources you already have access to, consider making use of external resources as well. Some have emerged as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis. Effective use of these resources helps take the pressure off of fundraising or take advantage of opportunities to further benefit your campaigns. For example:

  • Government loans. The Paycheck Protection Program or Economic Injury Disaster Loans can help your organization cover operational expenses during the crisis. This way, the funds you raise through fundraising initiatives can be directed to continued programming expenses.

  • Matching gifts. Some companies are expanding their matching gift programs during this time. Be sure to tell supporters to check their eligibility with their employers to see if they can receive a match on their gift. This article lists some of the companies expanding their corporate philanthropy programs in response to the crisis.

Make sure you’re taking your fundraising to the next level during these difficult times. You should be making the most of the resources available to you and working to help take funding further.

 

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5. Emphasize Impact

Even if supporters are finding it more financially difficult to give to your organization, one driving factor behind them contributing even small donations is the notion of impact. When supporters can directly see the impact that they’ll have on the nonprofit, they’ll be more compelled to give.

Some classic ways that you can show a direct impact of charitable giving include:

  • Making wish lists. Instead of asking for monetary donations, put together a wish list and ask your supporters to purchase items that your organization needs to successfully conduct programming. This allows supporters to immediately know where their donation is going and how it will impact the cause.

  • Including fundraising thermometers. Fundraising thermometers show the immediate impact that supporters make toward your organization’s overall goal. They can see the little notch of the thermometer move as they give and immediately feel accomplished in their donation.

  • Following up after contributions. After the project is completed, follow up with your donors to thank them again for their contribution. Tell them about what you’ve accomplished and how their gift made it possible. If you’re at a loss for how to communicate these things, check out thank-you letter templates, such as those from Fundraising Letters.

Showing supporters the impact that they’ve made on your organization’s initiatives is a great way to convince them to give, but also to make them feel good about their donation so that they’ll give again. It can be a very powerful tool during difficult times.


Fundraising can be difficult in the best of times. When the economy is harsh and there’s a global pandemic, it gets even more challenging for organizations to raise the funds they need to keep going. However, by changing up your strategy and incorporating these best practices, you’ll be well on your way to making it out of these tough days.

 

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Author: Gerard Tonti

Gerard Tonti is the Senior Creative Developer at Salsa Labs, the premier fundraising software company for growth-focused nonprofits. 

Gerard's marketing focus on content creation, conversion optimization and modern marketing technology helps him coach nonprofit development teams on digital fundraising best practices.

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