By Chris Carter and Kyla Winchester, published April 2020

We held a webinar recently, with Alex Tom of UNHCR and Claire Kerr of Care 2, on what fundraisers should be doing in response to COVID-19. There were a lot of questions from engaged attendees,  resulting in a fruitful discussion.

One of the things we took away from the discussion was a need to remember best practice. While COVID-19 is upending so many things, fundraising principles remain the same: people who support you will still believe in your cause when things are rough; people give how they like to give; asks should be donor-focused and about the mission; and “if you don’t ask, you won’t’ get.”

With these best practices in mind, here are questions to ask when planning your new fundraising campaign, to ensure you stay on track, don’t get distracted and don’t let panic lead your planning.

Who are our donors?

By now, you should know your donors, and if not, this is a good time to learn. Who is your average donor, what is important to them, and why do they give? This informs your messaging and helps you craft the ask, for example knowing your donor demographics and what their interests are. Surveys are a wonderful resource to find out more about your donors, even as a check-in to see what they are most impressed with about your organization, and honestly just to know what makes them tick and the best ways to keep them engaged. They can also be an affordable way to keep your supporters engaged, while boosting your knowledge to support more informed asks.

How do your donors give?

Look at all the ways your donors gave last year: it was probably a combination of mail and online, with some further division. Online could include your own email asks, with some third-party fundraising, and possibly an event (even a large, signature event). Mail could include overlap a bit with this, with most being a response to a mailing and some tribute giving. Depending on your organization, it could include memberships too.

This is mostly about method of giving, but also what ask they’re responding to. Has one of these reasons for giving gone away, and can you afford to lose that slice of your revenue pie? Consider what your revenue will look like without membership renewals, or without signature event revenue. What if you stop doing a mailing: will those people give online, unprompted? Figure out how to continue those revenue streams and keep those donors engaged.

One of the things we at Candela discuss often is the concept of being “Campaign First.” More and more nonprofits and corporations are leaning towards digital right now as it seems to be a low-cost solution, but keep in mind that despite its growth, it still only represents 15% of total giving. The key really is about being donor-centric, understanding who they are, what messaging they respond to, and how they like to give. Integration is fundamental, and it’s about all channels firing. That direct mail piece may well drive someone to your webpage but if it wasn’t sent the integration would shut down and the donation would be lost.

What do you ask/what do they respond to?

One of the perennial principles of fundraising is, “The right ask at the right time.” The right time is now, because your mission is still important, and your programs still need funding. The right ask has changed slightly: firstly, if you’re in health care, you have everything you need to make an urgent ask. (Just be sure to make it timely and about front-line support: now isn’t the time to be asking for endowment funding.) If you’re not in health care, can you frame your need around increased COVID-19 urgency? Many nonprofits are affected by the current situation, with an increased need for food banks as well as for organizations focused on domestic violence, animal rescue, education and many others as the effects of social distancing ripple outward. If your org is not affected by the crisis, be sure to craft your ask with sensitivity, knowing that big changes are taking place but your mission is still important and your supporters still believe in your cause.  Knowing what your donors respond to, how can you appropriately frame your ask?

Where are we asking?

Overlapping a bit with the above, where are you communicating with supporters? People give how they like to give, and if you stop doing telemarketing and mailings, there’s no guarantee those supporters are paying attention to their email. We recommend keeping your mix of channels as close to a typical campaign as possible, to ensure you’re not missing out on supporters. If you haven’t integrated your fundraising before, this is a great time to diversify: since you will likely only have one campaign on the go right now, you can boost it on all your channels without conflict, and maximize its effectiveness for great value.

Additionally, there are new opportunities right now: people are at home, with the same people they’ve been seeing (or not seeing) for weeks, with the same streaming and reading they’ve been doing for weeks. A virtual event, a virtual membership benefit, a TV ad from an org they support, a phone call, or a piece of mail could be just the thing to perk up their day. Since so many organizations including corporations are reducing their communications and outreach right now, you can be the only one in their mailbox, on their phone, or inviting them to a virtual event.