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COVID-19: Recommendations for Fundraisers

COVID-19 is having an unprecedented impact on the economic and physical health of Americans. The stock market has seen its largest declines since 1987 and the threat has emptied airplanes, closed schools, and canceled major events such as the NBA season, the South by Southwest conference (SXSW), and March Madness. Our way of life has been upended, with an uncertain timeline of returning to normalcy.

For nonprofit marketers and fundraisers, how will the COVID-19 pandemic impact overall consumer behavior and their charitable giving? The good news is that Americans have historically remained charitable during even the most turbulent of times, whether it be September 11 or the Great Recession. That said, nonprofits should be prepared for a decline in overall giving, both from individuals and corporate partnerships. Following the Great Recession, total giving between 2008-2010 declined by nearly 11% (when adjusted for inflation).

Given the direct correlation between consumer confidence, the stock market, and charitable giving, the economic ramifications associated with COVID-19 pose the greatest threat to short and long-term nonprofit revenue. As the scope of the pandemic becomes more widespread, we believe that nonprofit leaders should be prepared for any scenario. 

Nonprofits are responding to social distancing recommendations by canceling peer-to-peer events. Canvassers have cleared the streets and are no longer knocking on doors in search of monthly donors. Nonprofits’ response to this crisis and how they currently engage with their supporters will no doubt influence the speed of financial recovery, post-COVID-19.

Nonprofits are seeking guidance on the most appropriate response to this unprecedented crisis – should they suspend individual giving and acquisition?

Below, are several recommendations for nonprofit fundraisers and marketers that will help maintain engagement with donors and provide continuity for fundraising programs during a period of significant uncertainty. Be vigilant and agile so you can react quickly should circumstances warrant the need.

Merkle’s Takeaways and Recommendations

  • Stay the course – continue with planned fundraising appeals and campaigns. Your work continues as does the need for support – in some cases now more than ever.
  • Think long-term – While it may be necessary to make short-term decisions, like canceling events, keep in mind that organizations that continue to invest in fundraising will see less long-term negative impact and will rebound quicker when this crisis passes.
  • Plan for a short-term hit to revenue – Over the first 10 days of March, we saw little decline in individual giving, however we expect to see that decline in the coming weeks.    
  • Acknowledge the crisis – It is important that nonprofits acknowledge the ongoing crisis. Failure to do so could be misinterpreted as a disconnect with society and the challenges supporters face. It is an opportunity to provide good advice to supporters, reinforce the value of its mission and highlight the impacts the pandemic is having on its work.
  • Talk with donors – Let donors, especially your most valuable donors, know the impact you’re seeing and how they can help. Donors are oftentimes resilient, benevolent, and care about your mission, even during challenging times. Keep your cause top of mind.
    1. Nurture donors – Reach out by phone, email, digital media, or direct mail to share updates and demonstrate that you value their contributions.  
    2. Use technology – Think creatively about how you can connect virtually with donors, such as Facebook Live, videos, and even group conference calls.
  • Modify language – Let donors know how you are helping, provide context for how it relates to your mission, and the impact you’re seeing.
  • Minimize testing Shelve any big changes to your call-to-action, and use well-performing messaging in market. Testing results you see today may not be representative of post-event performance.
  • Fluid Budgeting – Be flexible and nimble with budgets. Consider moving funding from channels that are declining in performance to other areas where you see traction.
  • Keep the lights on – Ensure your fundraising platforms, website, donation forms, and mail production house are fully operational and working without service interruptions. 
  • Be Authentic – Do what’s right for your organization and for those you serve. Don’t compromise your integrity or your brand by trying to capitalize on the COVID-19 frenzy.   

We will continually monitor this situation and provide updates as necessary.