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Crisis Of Confidence: Your Nonprofit’s Worst Fundraising Enemy

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If you’re going dark on your donors right now out of fear – real, misplaced or some combination thereof – you’re doing everyone a disservice. Your organization, and all those who rely on your continued existence, will be left in the lurch without donor support.

I mean it!

Donors don’t want to be abandoned by you right now. They want to help. How do I know? Research shows donors are very supportive of their nonprofits through uncertain economic times. Your donors, especially, want to give to you. Folks who love you haven’t stopped loving you.

“When the current crisis ends, history will show that the most successful nonprofits continued to ask for donations, although likely in a different way. Those nonprofits who go ‘silent’ or attempt to give their donors a break will likely see the same results as others before them — and suffer or even go out of business as a result.”

— Ben Miller, chief analytic officer, DonorTrends

I’m going to implore you to trust in the power of philanthropy (i.e., ‘love of humankind’) to get you through this pandemic. You must stay calm, find the clarity of your reshaped case for support, and share it with confidence.

People want to help. It brings them joy, meaning and purpose. There’s almost nothing more important to people – save their health – during a time of existential crisis. When people ask “what’s the meaning of life?” you can answer them with an opportunity for them to be a hero. And it can be heroic to save a small theater company… sustain an animal shelter… rescue a therapeutic horse riding program… protect a river or park land… so many, many causes continue to be worth rescuing. Especially to the folks for whom these causes resonate the most.

Confident Transparent Communication is Key

You absolutely must not stop communicating! Why? Simple. “Out of sight is out of mind.”

1. Don’t act as if it’s ‘business as usual.’

It’s not, and everyone knows it. Resist magical thinking that things will be back to normal in a month. Tell the truth about your situation, and what you’re doing to pivot during this unusual time. While fundraising continues, appeals previously planned may not resonate today. Consider these questions to clarify and reshape your current case for support to fundraise with confidence:

  1. What about our vision and mission is of most value now in light of the pandemic? How does our work change/respond because of this crisis?
  2. What will we need to do more of, or pivot to do, to position our mission in light of emerging community needs because of this pandemic?
  3. How does this translate to increased funding needs we can present to donors as specific opportunities for them to help?

If you act as if it’s all status quo you’ll come across as tone-deaf and irrelevant.

2. Don’t act as if the ‘sky is falling.’

Stop panicking if that’s been your ‘go-to’ mode. Stop catastrophizing. Panicking leads to poor decision-making. Catastrophizing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your staff become upset. Your board members get anxious. Your donors begin to lose confidence.

No one wants to stay on board a sinking ship.

3. Don’t assume on behalf of your supporters.

Don’t worry about being inappropriate. There’s no rule book for fundraising in the face of a pandemic, but it’s perverse to decide on behalf of your supporters they can’t give. Or don’t want to give. You should never, ever presume to decide on other’s behalf. Especially just because you don’t want to be embarrassed. If embarrassment is the price to pay to keep your mission alive in this precarious environment, then so be it. Overcome your fear to fundraise with confidence.

Embarrassment won’t kill you; not asking will.

5 Strategies to Fundraise with Confidence in Crisis

1. Get Outside Your Own Head

There’s no one way folks respond in a crisis. Test this out for yourself. Begin by considering your own giving right now; then ask a few friends about their giving in the face of this pandemic.

Have you changed your habits? Perhaps you’ve added some front-line and emergency response charities? Terrific. Perhaps you’ve doubled down on local charities? Terrific. Perhaps you’re still giving to your favorite charities, but maybe a little less to a few? Totally fine.

What about your friends? Have they pivoted to a new giving strategy? Is their strategy the same as yours? Perhaps they’re giving more nationally to trusted organizations with large, dependable infrastructures? Or maybe they’re giving more to small, struggling arts organizations they think may fold without communal support right now?

The point is that people are giving, and it’s not for you to assume where folks prefer to give right now.

2. Consider the Ways Your Mission Relates to this Crisis

Think of the WHY behind your mission. Even if you’re not a ‘direct service’ organization (e.g., health care; shelter; food; domestic violence prevention; mental health; emergency assistance, etc.), you still have an essential role. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t exist. For example, if you’re an arts organization, your ‘why’ may be to encourage reflection… bring joy… share empathy… bring people together… instill hope… induce calm… broaden personal horizons… and so forth.

To folks who care about what you do, your ‘essence’ is likely something they consider more important than ever during this crisis.

3. Let Constituents Know Your Elephant in the Room

What about your ‘why’ is threatened or compromised right now? Don’t keep this to yourself. Your constituents want to know. In fact, they need to know. They care about you. Maybe they even rely on you. It’s not fair to subject them to a world where you don’t exist, just because you were too shy to tell them what’s really going on. Give them a chance to come to your rescue!

If you have a budget shortfall, it’s not because you’re incompetent. It’s because of this crisis. You want to come back strong, and not have to lay off all your staff. Your mission will be just as important after this crisis as it was before. If you’re a front-line responder, and can’t meet increased demand, your case for support just became stronger than ever. If your mission is totally unrelated to this crisis (e.g., finding a cure for a disease other than COVID-19; responding to a desperate environmental crisis; improving literacy, etc.), your case for support is just as important as it ever was – and there’s no reason for you to stop fundraising.

4. Keep your Message Super Simple

You don’t have to elaborate and tell a lot of stories right now. People know the general story. It’s a CRISIS. Explain how this crisis impacts you. Your clients. Your staff. Your community. Be specific. Adhere to the SMIT (single most important thing) rule. Here’s another way to think of ‘SMIT’ to write your basic message right now to fundraise with confidence.

  1. Shortfall in your budget (generally because of income you’re losing).
  2. More demand (if apropos).
  3. If you don’t fill the gap (describe the bad things that will ensue; can be service to beneficiaries but can also include furloughs, lay-offs, and an uncertain future).
  4. Tell the donor how to be a hero.

5. Develop Campaigns to Take Advantage of Current Favorite Mediums

People are communicating with one another more than ever before. Don’t use ‘social distancing’ as justification for distancing period. Your options may be limited due to your current level of staffing, but options abound.

  • Zoom calls are replacing in-person meetings. You can virtually meet with major donors one-to-one, or in small to medium to large-sized groups. Maybe it’s time for a call with your giving societies? Or your monthly donors? (You can also use Facebook Live, Google Hangout, YouTube, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Got to Meeting, Go to Webinar … whatever you and your peeps may be most comfortable with).
  • Print shops and mail houses have been declared ‘essential businesses’ (at least in the U.S. and Canada) – so you can still reach donors just as you always have via mail.
  • Online giving is soaring – so you can still reach donors, even if you don’t use direct mail. And there are multiple channels available to you (e.g., email, social media, text and even telephone).
  • Virtual events are working, and raising and/or exceeding their fundraising goals – so you don’t have to accept your projected contribution income will be a total loss.
  • Completed phone call rates have risen dramatically – you can reach people you wouldn’t have reached previously, because people are at home and a bit isolated and lonely.
  • Texting and social media, if they worked for you before, will work for you today.

6. Be Bold with Asking

You have to ASK donors to give!!! Now is not the time to be subtle. Now is not the time to be passive. Jeff Brooks has been sharing the same advice today he shared in the recession of 2008:

“Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful”

– Warren Buffet

Jeff suggests substituting the word “bold” for “greedy.”

As long as you don’t simply say “give us money,” and are specific about the need, your plan to address the need, and how your donor can help, no one will think you’re greedy right now.

Be bold!!!

If You Don’t Ask NOW…

If you don’t ask now, you’ll miss your opportunity. You’ll still have a hole in your budget, but people will no longer be looking at that hole. They’ll be climbing out of it and moving on. The spike in giving, and interest in helping you respond to crisis, is happening now.

If you fail to fundraise with confidence and connect meaningfully with your constituents today you will lose them tomorrow. Out of sight is out of mind. Most people really do want to hear from you. They love you and want to know what’s going on. They’ve invested in you and want to protect their investment. If you forsake them now, some will turn elsewhere. To organizations who showed up.


  • Show up by continuing to communicate and demonstrating your relevance – yesterday, today and tomorrow.
  • Check in with supporters; show you’re there for them when they need you, just as they’ve always been there for you when you need them.
  • Tell people how they can find purpose by helping your cause stay strong.

Banish your fears and fundraise with confidence, especially when it comes to connecting with supporters. As long as you lead with gratitude, transparency and empathy, you have nothing to fear. Stop worrying your donors won’t give to you – today or in the future — if you ask them for help today.

If your worry leads you to withhold meaningful giving opportunities, you put your future at risk. Failure to stay strong and fundraise with confidence now will weaken you later.

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  • Clarke Kennedy

    Hi, Claire. This is an excellent and encouraging article. Thanks so much for writing this.
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