Check-Up Clinic: Advice

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How to Avoid Overwhelm and Focus on What Specifically Works for Your Organization’s Fundraising

by Sara Hoshooley

Since the pandemic began, many organizations have been overwhelmed with helpful documents, think pieces, webinars, Zoom calls, well meaning volunteers, Boards and friends all who want to weigh in on what should or shouldn’t be done to reach your fundraising goals. Some say now is not the time to fundraise, some say there is no better time to fundraise.

Fundraising events and organizational programs are being cancelled or shifted and organizations have either been able to easily pivot and adjust messaging and activities to fit within a COVID19 impacted world, or are still looking for which strategies will work best for them. The fact is, we are in a situation no one could have predicted and the way each organization chooses to navigate through it – and how they come out the other side – is as unique as each organization itself.

It can be overwhelming to know what you should do when faced with declining revenues or fundraising plans that have been significantly changed, especially for smaller organization’s or those with limited fundraising resources. As we begin to return to a new ‘normal’, there is an opportunity to reflect on what was working, what wasn’t working and what opportunities lie ahead for raising funds and gaining support for your organization. Here are a few suggestions and easy to implement strategies to avoid overwhelm and focus on a few key activities that are proven to boost fundraising.

The first strategies have NOTHING to do with asking for money and are easy to action donor stewardship actions that can bring your supporters closer to your cause.

The good news is that supporters and donors who believed in your mission and vision before the pandemic are most likely the same donors and supporters who will support you during and after this strange time in our history. Their ability to give may have changed; what is important is keeping connected with them, providing opportunities for them to contribute and ensuring they feel part of your organization’s story and successes.

Call/Text/Email/Send a letter to your supporters who have given to you in the last 12 months. This includes all individual donors, corporate funders, foundations, peer to peer fundraisers and their donors. Write out a script for calls if that feels easier than winging it and ask staff, Board and volunteers to help as needed.

  1. Thank them for giving to your organization – note their most recent gift, history of giving, volunteer contributions or any other detail that lets them know you appreciate their specific contributions.
  2. Ask them how they are doing, genuinely listen.
  3. Let them know what your organization has been up to and what you are working on or planning to do in the next 3-6 months. Ask them how they would like to be kept up to date and make sure you have their contact details on file correctly.
  4. Ask them what they would say to a friend about why they donate to you? Hearing them explain your work in their own words and why it matters can uncover some great stories and content for future communications.
  5. Ask them if they have any messages they want to share with your organizations’ beneficiaries, volunteers or staff.
  6. Ask them if they have any suggestions, note their feedback and any details they have provided and thank them for their time and support.

Set up a conference call or Zoom call with your strongest supporters:

  • In addition to directly thanking your donors, this provides an opportunity to meaningfully engage with them.
  • Offer them a behind the scenes tour, an open conversation with your Executive Director or some other exclusive opportunity to engage with your organization.
  • Ask them what inspired them to give.

Next, take a look at your communications to ensure you are communicating your message effectively.

Written Communications

  • Make sure your communications are written in easy to understand language and don’t contain sector jargon. Ask someone outside your organization to give your message a quick read through – is it easy for them to understand?
  • The focus of your communication should always put the Donor at the heart of your message. Try to remove your organization’s name as much as possible and shift to the vital role that the donor plays in making your work possible. What action can a donor take that makes them feel good and connected to the organization?
  • If there is a fundraising ask, make sure you can answer a donor’s questions of “Why me?” Why now? How will my support make a difference?”
  • Include a PS that restates what you are asking for and why it is critical.
  • Personalize written materials – quick handwritten note, bolded, underlined or highlighted sections. Not everyone will read the full ask, try to draw the eye to important details.


  • Make sure your “Donate” button is easy to find. Design research suggests this should be in a different colour and in the upper right of your webpage as that is where reader’s eyes typically go.
  • Your donation form should be easy to fill out and only contain content that is required.
  • Ensure donors receive a timely notification of their gift, a thank you and details on when they will receive their tax receipt.

These are some easy to implement ideas that can boost your fundraising potential quickly.


  • People give to people – tell your story and show why your organization matters.
  • Those who have been supporting you for 5+ years are your strongest supporters, how can you meaningfully engage with them?

Sara Hoshooley is Founder of the Vancouver-based fundraising consulting company Charity Shift. Using best practices and proven fundraising strategies, Charity Shift provides a customized approach to help your organization shift from where you are today, to where you want to be tomorrow.

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