3 Strategies to Successfully Fundraise Mid-Pandemic

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by Claire Axelrad

All the best strategies you’re innovating now, and having success with, should be continued as you fundraise mid-pandemic. This is your pandemic silver lining! It’s taken this quarantine crisis for some nonprofits to do what they should have done before.

Stop looking for bad news and reasons to not fundraise mid-pandemic. The best strategy to assure your short and long-term survival – crisis or not – is simply to ask for the philanthropy you need to stay afloat.

  • With clarity
  • With specificity
  • With relevancy – to the current time and to the targeted constituent

In between asks, connect with donors like they’re your family. Nothing else really matters.

I’ve zero doubt if you combine the following common-sense approaches to your fundraising and donor communications strategies you’ll be successful as you fundraise mid-pandemic.

1. Keep Connecting

Do this a lot. Be proactive. Nothing will happen if you don’t put yourself and your mission out there. Repeatedly. You can’t count on folks finding you or supporting you just because your cause is a good one. Nor can you count on just a few emails and appeals doing the trick. There’s just too much competition for attention. The early bird catches the worm. The squawking bird causes folks to listen. The quiet bird doesn’t bother anyone, but is easily ignored.

Think of connecting as a donor service. And think of it as a kindness. A way to give people a reason to feel good. One of the things this virus does is remind us what it means to be human. It’s about coming together. Helping each other. Giving. Receiving. Finding meaning. Acting with purpose. Helping others act with purpose. Don’t go silent on your supporters now when they need you most.

People don’t give to organizations but to people. If another organization comes along with the same or similar mission, and does a better job of making the donor feel connected to their best self, that organization will reap the donor’s future philanthropy. If you’ve been taking care of your supporters all along, you’re probably in pretty good shape right now. You’ve got supporters who feel like connected members of your family. They care about you. They don’t want to see you hurting. They want to take care of you. If you haven’t been doing this, now is your opportunity to do the right thing. Work on building your family.

“Donors aren’t revenue centers, they’re people who give out of a sense of caring and connection. Relationships have to start, develop, change, and eventually end. When you realize this about fundraising, you get a lot smarter about how to spend on it.”

Jeff Brooks, Future Fundraising Now


  1. Send brief, regular updates to keep donors abreast of the impact of today’s news and events on your clients, programs and services. Though it may seem counter intuitive, the smaller you are the more you should reach out. Why? Because you’re often like ‘family’ to your supporters. Family wants ongoing communication or they feel neglected. They want to know what you’re up to! And if you need help, they really want to be there for you.
  2. Call donors to thank them. This is not just a nicety; it actually improves donor retention and upgrades future giving! While you’re at it, take the opportunity to express gratitude more frequently, in a variety of formats (e.g., personal videos; social media; text; acknowledgment and recognition events, and token gifts). Think from your donor’s perspective and be honest: Have you ever tired of being thanked?
  3. Pivot to digital ways to connect with donors, such as online events, social media, Zoom get-togethers, social media forums, etc.
  4. Send donor surveys to engage constituents and learn more about them (and recording this information in the database so it can be used for subsequent communications, cultivation and future solicitation).
  5. Lead with an attitude of gratitude. When you make this philosophical shift it forces you to think very specifically about what you’re grateful for. It takes your focus away from thinking of donors as ATMs and moves you towards treating them as people Ask “What’s in this for the donor?” But don’t stop there. Keep asking. “What else could be in this for the donor?” Do it again and again. The more meaningful you can make engaging with your cause, the better your chances for sustaining your donor’s giving over time.

2. Keep Asking

Let’s face it. Lots of folks are squeamish about asking on a good day. You don’t have permission to simply use this crisis as an excuse to not do what you never wanted to do. You’re not doing folks any favors by not inviting them to make a difference. Nor are you doing your organization any favors.

If you’re not asking, you’re not giving folks opportunities to feel good about themselves. You can’t build a relationship with folks who don’t feel good about their association with you. Nor can you count on winning the game if you never take a shot. Since other nonprofits are asking, your constituents may switch their loyalties to those who gave them a ‘feel good’ pay-off at a time they really needed one.

Don’t say “no” on others’ behalf. People who have lost jobs and income don’t have to give. They can say “no,” and you can be understanding. Please don’t be embarrassed about asking to keep your mission alive in this precarious environment. Embarrassment is a small price to pay. As long as you come from a place of empathy, and lead with checking in with folks, you’re good. Plenty of folks are giving. In fact, many are taking the money they used to spend on lattes, parking meters, commuting expenses, restaurant meals and so forth and allocating that money for philanthropic purposes.

“By severely reducing it or eliminating the fundraising program all together, you are ensuring that your organization will lose fundraising revenue not just now — but well into the future. The spigot of cash flow is turned off. Money doesn’t just walk in the door – someone has to make it happen.

Gail Perry, Fired Up Fundraising


  1. Send donor-centered appeals with clear, singular calls to action that make donors feel like heroes – or at least very, very good people.
  2. Set up one-to-one meetings with major donors (albeit virtual ones) to ask them for special support.
  3. Be personal. The most successful fundraising is built on human relationships. People give to people, not institutions.
  4. Take time to research and qualify formerly back-burnered major donor prospects.
  5. Ramp up monthly giving programs to upgrade and retain more donors.
  6. Engage in P2P fundraising campaigns to leverage existing supporter networks.
  7. Clean up the donor database to avoid errors and inconsistencies such as bad addresses, deceased, duplicates, and incorrect salutations and purge folks who no longer want to hear from you.

3. Ask Online Too

It’s a bit of a boom time. Online fundraising is experiencing great success because people are home and spending more time online. Their inboxes are less crowded, and they’ve got more time to read and respond to your emails. Of course, ‘Email Fundraising 101‘ rules still apply. People won’t respond unless you craft your subject line, preview pane and email copy with care.

There’s less mail. One reason is less work email. Another reason is less advertising and promotional email as many businesses are closed. And, alas, a third reason is too many nonprofits are not sending their usual amount of emails. This is a huge mistake, but you can take advantage by showing up when others are begging off.

In the coming weeks and months, successful requests for charitable donations will need to be embedded in a larger expression of mutual support, empathy, and solidarity. And this approach should not be temporary: As the country deals with ever-greater personal loss and stress, charitable organizations can no longer do business as usual. The line between supporters and the supported will grow ever hazier. All of us will need help, and all of us will need to do our best to provide help to others.

Alan Cantor, Harvard Business Review


  1. Clean up your donor database to avoid bad addresses, deceased, duplicates, incorrect salutations and other errors and inconsistencies. Online appeals sent to poor lists won’t raise a lot of revenue.
  2. Segment your lists to better connect with the ways donors are affiliated with you, including frequency and recency of giving, reasons for giving, interests and other demographic information.
  3. Make website and donation landing pages more donor-centered and user-friendly. Nothing will kill an online campaign quicker than a tone-deaf landing page that seems unrelated to the appeal. Or a donation button that’s hard to find. Or a form that asks for too much information or is otherwise difficult to complete.
  4. Spiff up donation thank you landing pages so they make your donor feel really good. This is the first step – and an essential one – to improve donor retention. Don’t waste all your previous effort by whiffing on this element of your strategy.

What other strategies do you use to successfully fundraise mid-pandemic?

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