Will COVID-19 Impact Your Fundraising Efforts?

The only thing scarier than the local supermarket being out of paper products is the worry of how the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, will impact fundraising. We all knew that 2020, an election year, would bring new challenges. The COVID-19 virus wasn’t on the map, but by definition, it fits the bill for the unpredictability and volatility that have become more commonplace.

The Current Impact

The impact to the economy through early March has been swift — the stock market has been on a roller coaster ride of uncertainty, with headlines regularly reporting historic milestone drops. This is troubling for fundraisers, as we know that giving is correlated to the economy, including GDP, personal income, and the stock market. The stock market impacts perceptions and realities of wealth, which is a large factor of individual giving. 

Regardless of what’s happening on the outside, there are ways to improve the strength of your fundraising program in precarious times like these. Here are a few short-term and long-term considerations for your program as we navigate this pandemic.

What to Do Right Now

First and foremost, now is not the time for a “wait and see” approach when it comes to your fundraising program. You will most likely need to pivot on communications, but don’t go dark. If you haven’t already, we recommend that you evaluate what your immediate needs are, including:

  • Creating alternatives to planned events, e.g. shifting fundraising online to a virtual event
  • Fundraising for increases in operating costs due to precautionary or containment demands, or increase in demand for services
  • Securing volunteers to either replace cancellations or to cover for an increase in demand 

Natural disasters generate an outpouring of support through donations from donors wanting to help. The COVID-19 outbreak has multiple foundations and charities pledging large-scale support, led by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has already committed over $100 million toward detection, isolation, and treatment efforts for the coronavirus. 

The government is also discussing a stimulus package to address the economic effects of the outbeak. These actions may signal to the public at large that financial help is already at hand. 

It remains to be seen how these large-scale gifts and government action may dampen individual giving or affect expenditures toward the crisis, in ways that don’t involve purchasing household supplies. 

To make your organizations’ fundraising needs visible, design digital communications rooted in content strategies that help translate what the impact of the coronavirus means to your organization and how the community can help. Tactics may include:

  • Temporary updates to your website
  • Digital media campaigns (social, search, SEM) that highlight how supporters can meet specific, tangible needs
  • Campaign-specific landing pages with tailored asks and content
  • Promotion of your most engaging social media posts for an even broader reach
  • Equipping your team with talking points in the event that local media reaches out with questions (i.e. the impact to your organization, your response to the pandemic, how people can help). You may even want to consider crafting a draft press release in advance, in the event that you’re asked to provide one

Aim For Sustainable Fundraising

To combat uncertainty, we’ve been advising our clients on six factors to focus on to provide a layer of future-proofing for fundraising programs. Two of the top proven methods are growing the digital program and increasing the quantity of monthly sustaining donors. 

Growing sustaining donors is particularly relevant for working against instability and donor distraction. Organizations that will weather this storm best are those that have a strong subscription-based model in place and are seeing a greater proportion of their revenue as sustaining revenue. In terms of what’s “typical,” there’s a wide range of proportion of direct response revenue coming from sustaining gifts. It can range from just a few percentage points to 20% or more for organizations that have grown their sustainer acquisition and conversion programs very intentionally over the years.

As the saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”