The pandemic’s silver lining on fundraising

by Sara Lundenberger, director of nonprofit consulting | Jul 22, 2021 |

Fundraising, Small Business |


The last 16 months has forced many of us out of our comfort zones. We’ve all had to adjust in order to do our jobs. Now, everyone keeps talking about returning to “normal”, but what does “normal” mean anyway? As fundraisers, we tend to have a hard time changing something if it’s working. What if we change the way we solicit our donors at the end of the year, and it isn’t successful? A campaign that raises less than expected can have huge implications on your organization’s budget and ability to fulfill its mission the next year. That’s a scary thought and can hamper fundraisers’ abilities to think outside the box. Enter 2020. Everything we thought we knew about our donors and how best to fundraise flew out the window.

According to Fidelity Charitable, 25% of donors planned to increase their donations throughout 2020. But did they? WealthEngine reported nonprofits saw a 7.2% increase in total donors in the second quarter of 2020 and an increase of 19.2% in donations less than $250. Some nonprofits, like those on the frontlines of COVID-19, probably saw a bigger increase than those who weren’t as affected by the pandemic, according to WealthEngine.

Clearly, fundraising looked different last year. So, what did we learn last year that will help us raise more money?

Communication is key

Phone calls, mass emails, individual emails, Zoom meetings, text messages, handwritten letters, printed letters, smoke signals and more were used last year to stay in touch with donors. Pre-COVID-19, you probably never texted your donors or maybe didn’t even have their email addresses. Now? You can use all those channels to reach your donors and they (usually) won’t even think twice about getting something from you in a non-traditional way. I really hope you added all of your donors’ contact info into your database system, too.

Event fundraising can be more creative

I think the days of galas, long dinner ceremonies and evening events may be a thing of the past. Throughout last year, nonprofits really stepped it up and got creative. Keep going! Please don’t go back to doing the same old event as you did in the past just because you can. Before you revert to that model, be sure it is something your donors want to attend again. And even if you do, add an online or virtual component so that everyone can participate. Online auctions and pre-taped segments were a great way to get people involved and most of us enjoyed participating on our own time.

You HAVE to tell your story

I hope by now you know that my number one recommendation to almost every nonprofit is to TELL YOUR STORY! Donors honestly don’t care that you were founded in 1998 by a group of concerned citizens to (insert your mission here). They want to know what you do on a daily basis to effect change. Tell them who you serve, how you do it and how it makes life better. Last year, your story is all you had, and nonprofits did a great job of getting their message to their supporters. Now that your donors are used to seeing your outcomes, they are going to want to keep seeing it. Tell them what you can do with their donations and how that money changes lives. I guarantee that’s what they want to read.

Fundraising happens all year

There are still a lot of organizations that hold a big gala in the spring, send a solicitation letter at the end of the year and check their fundraising as complete. Last year, fundraisers realized funding is needed every month and some donors would rather give in July than in December. You have to meet your donors where they are. An annual fund means a year of fundraising and that’s what it should be. Using a mix of mail, email, social media and event fundraising all year can show huge returns. There has been a huge shift in the last few years to monthly giving, mostly because it spreads out a donor’s gift over the entire year and they usually end up giving more. People like recurring gifts because they can set them up and then don’t have to think about them. Additionally, when most of the world shut down and many people were concerned about if they were going to have a job, giving smaller amounts more often seemed like a safer choice. Building out a fundraising plan that covers a year instead of a few moments in a year is essential.

2020 was a year none of us will forget. Life as we know it was turned upside down and we all quickly had to adapt to a new daily routine. However, as some people want to return to life before COVID-19, I want to merge some of the lessons learned from 2020 with what I think 2022 will look like to create a new “normal”. Think outside the box, be grateful, roll with the punches and don’t take anything for granted. Take a look at some of the changes you were forced to make and try to make them part of your plan moving forward. Or, if they didn’t work, go back to a revised way of how it was always done. Either way, take some time to reflect on how you pivoted, what worked (and what didn’t) and use what you learned last year to build an adaptable fundraising plan for the future.


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