AccuList’s nonprofit fundraising clients are facing a novel crisis as the novel coronavirus pandemic shuts down business-as-usual across America and threatens recession. Humanitarian causes such as food banks, homeless shelters and senior-care services are feeling the pinch as food donations from panic-buying-hit grocery stores and dollars from corporations drop, and self-quarantines eliminate volunteers. At the same time, rising numbers of people, especially the old and the poor, are becoming food and shelter insecure. Meanwhile, nonprofits that rely on events for fundraising are especially hard-hit.
Stay the Course on Fundraising Efforts
Based on fundraising experience in previous crises, such as 9/11 and the 2008 recession, AccuList joins other experts in urging nonprofits not to cut back on fundraising efforts during this critical period. Indeed, since event fundraising is likely to be cancelled or postponed, now may be the time to shift resources into high-response workhorses like direct mail. And for some causes directly impacted by pandemic issues (food banks, homeless shelters, elder care, emergency health and medical supplies), fundraising messages may be especially resonant and effective now. Yes, philanthropy has trended at 1.5% to 2.5% of GDP annually since 1978, and it’s pretty clear GDP (and thus fundraising) is going to take a hit in 2020. But as a NonProfit Pro magazine article by Craig Depole, president of direct-response fundraising agency Newport ONE, warns, organizations that pulled back and stopped soliciting after 9/11 and the 2008 recession took years to recover from their losses, “while organizations that continued to solicit their donors with messages of need and impact emerged stronger and healthier.”
Take Steps That Will Bolster Fundraising Appeals
Depole’s NonProfitPro article goes on to outline a number of steps to make fundraising outreach more successful during a national crisis: 1) Double-down on stewardship of donors (more thank-you phone calls, impact reporting, staff engagement); 2) Keep talking with donors and share compelling stories, with humanitarian charities especially able to cite the transformational impact of donations; 3) Acknowledge the fears of donors who are watching stock portfolios decline and engage with them as partners rather than ATMs; 4) Review messaging for relevance, clarity and appropriate tone; and 5) Have alternative plans ready to go, say in case your mail shop or creative team is quarantined, or you need to substitute for promotional supplies from China.
Focus Retention & Prospecting on Weathering the Crisis
As a Network for Good blog post by Kimberly O’Donnell stresses, “In uncertain times, one thing is certain with fundraising—the more you plan, the better off you will be. Successful fundraising during a recession is two-pronged: 1) Focus hard on donor engagement and retention, and 2) Use intelligent prospecting techniques to recruit new followers and supporters…. When you work to retain your donors while broadening your reach, you hit the nirvana needed to withstand hard times.” A poll of fundraising agencies by The Nonprofit Alliance similarly offers two cogent responses to how agencies are preparing nonprofit clients for the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. One respondent advises, “As this unfolds, my advice will likely be the same as to every other major disruption, including 9/11: 1) Acknowledge the crisis and state how the organization is helping solve it; 2) Stay the course, (and) don’t cut back on acquisition and renewal efforts.” Another adds, “Election fundraising, along with a huge drop in retirement savings, will create a terrible environment for suggesting a donor should consider an upgraded level of giving this year. Focus on mission, and focus on renewing their support at any level. You need to fear 2020 donor attrition like never before and prevent it to the best of your abilities. Focus on how many active donors you will have to begin calendar 2021.”