Moving to a Digital First Fundraising Strategy During a Crisis
by Mike Montalto
March 26, 2020

As fundraisers, we know how to be creative. And in today’s uncertain times, it’s important that nonprofit professionals are flexible and able to adjust on the fly. In times of crisis, you should consider moving to a digital first fundraising strategy.

As the COVID-19 outbreak has shown us, you may see your best fundraising plans go out the window. Maybe you decided to push back an important appeal. Or, perhaps you had to cancel an event that brings in a lot of money.

Either way, your nonprofit is probably scrambling for a way to make up revenue. And shifting your fundraising to a digital first strategy is the best way to do it.

Afterall, a lot of your other options are closed off right now. Each state has set its own regulations and limitations on business during the pandemic. Your print appeal could get held up if your printer was forced to close or cut staff hours to accommodate health concerns. And your chances of holding an event as planned this spring seem to shrink every day.

So, it’s important to be flexible. And shifting to a digital first fundraising strategy is the best way nonprofits can keep their fundraising going.

A Digital First Strategy

When COVID-19 first hit the United States, we published a blog post recommending you put major donor asks on hold and to expect a below average response to regular appeals. Given recent developments, it’s probably best to push your regular appeal schedule back while we get through the worst of the outbreak.

A digital appeal is probably your best bet right now. Print appeals may still have their place but probably won’t be the center of your fundraising strategy, even if you can produce, print, and mail your appeal according to schedule.

As we’ve mentioned, flexibility is key for nonprofits during this time. And digital appeals require less work ahead time and can be adjusted right up until the moment they are sent.

So, if you want to reach out for support, we highly recommend going digital. Let your supporters know that your email appeal is in place of your usual print appeal at this time of year. Tell them how moving to digital helps your organization be more current at a time when things could change drastically from one day to the next.

When you do send a print appeal, use it as a continuation of what you are doing digitally. And you should target donors who only respond via direct mail.

Special Monthly Giving Appeal

Let’s be real. Your fundraising is most likely going to take a hit during the coronavirus outbreak. Unless your organization is involved in healthcare and fighting this pandemic on the front lines, your supporters may decide it is not the best time to donate.

So, what can you do? Don’t focus as much on making it up today. Instead, plan on how the next several months can be used to make up the difference.

As you know, monthly giving helps level some of the peaks and valleys fundraisers see during a year. It  sustains your revenue so you can keep your initiatives going strong year-round.

So, send a special email appeal asking your supporters to consider enrolling in your monthly giving program. If a donor usually gives $200 in response to your spring appeal, ask them to consider a $20 monthly donation instead.

Explain to them you understand why they may not feel comfortable making their usual donation right now and ask them to spread it out over the course of the year. This way, you still secure their support and your donor won’t have to make a big investment during a critical time.

Online Events

Are you one of the countless nonprofits forced to cancel or postpone an event this spring? Whether you had to nix your event entirely, or it’s on hold until the fall, you can accommodate attendees by shifting to a digital first fundraising strategy.

You can go digital if you had to cancel a 5k run or a similar participation-based event. Platforms like My Virtual Mission make it possible for you to move these events online. The premise is simple and allows participants to continue practicing social distancing.

Instead of coming together on the big day, your supporters will go on their own, track their performance, and report their results to your organization. This allows your event to continue somewhat as planned so you can raise money while keeping your supporters safe and healthy.

You can also move galas and other events online. You won’t be serving food and cocktails. But you can still live stream a speech from a featured guest or hold your silent auction on your website. And don’t forget to feature a link to your online donation page and thank your supporters for tuning into your digital event.

Other Ways to Connect Digitally

One thing that doesn’t change for fundraisers during times of crisis is the need to be flexible and creative. And there are far more ways to connect with your supporters online than sending an email or holding an online event.

For example, COVID-19 gives everyone the opportunity to put more time and effort into social media. If you put a hold on your print appeal, consider taking the story you were going to tell and sharing it on social media. You can create a series of posts to share over a week or month-long time frame, teasing the story piece by piece to engage your followers.

This could also be a great time to launch a peer-to-peer campaign. It’s a great way to encourage your supporters to give back without a monetary commitment.

Send an email and explain that you understand it may not be the best time for them to support you financially. Then, ask them to share a pre-crafted message with their friends, family, and others they think would care about your work.

This could bring in a few more donations, but it will also help you reach new potential donors so you can raise even more once we get through this crisis.

You Need to Act Fast

If you read our blog on a regular basis, you know that we are always encouraging fundraisers to adapt their strategies and seek continuous improvement. And this is even more critical when fundraising in times of crisis.

Because now, it’s not just a matter of trying to grow and build on prior success. It could be a matter of life and death for your organization.

The world is a completely different place than it was just a month or two ago. If your approach doesn’t reflect that, you’re going to have some trouble.

Organizations that stay the course will fall behind, while those that show flexibility, adapt, and shift to a digital first fundraising strategy will keep their supporters engaged and continue to achieve their goals.

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