One thing’s certain about COVID-19: It has touched every facet of our working and private lives — including how we give back to our favorite charities. Yet those organizations still need contributions, perhaps now more than ever. Plenty of nonprofits are getting creative by engaging and building their bases with innovative charity campaigns, but they still face some major (yet surmountable) barriers.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is that previously effective fundraising strategies and events have been shelved for right now. Picnics, galas, and chili cook-offs: Events like these have been delayed or canceled as wise safety measures at a time when COVID-19’s spread still remains a concern. A secondary challenge is the economic instability affecting many donors. Families and individuals dealing with layoffs or lowered paychecks have tightened the belts across their budgets, including the donation amounts they earmark for nonprofits.

Sound dire? If you play a leadership role for a charity, you might feel that way initially — but the sky isn’t falling. I work with a number of charities, and I’ve seen something that’s really going to surprise you: Everybody wants to help.

It’s the human nature factor coming into play. When the chips are down, people rally.

What Giving Looks Like Today

This rallying doesn’t mean that everyone is reaching deep into their pocketbooks, of course. As reporting from The Chronicle of Philanthropy noted, personal giving declined by 11% in March after quarantine measures took hold. Yet the same article notes that smaller donations of under $250 actually gained momentum in the first quarter of the year.

In other words, consumers are doing what they can. Case in point: LendingTree research revealed that more than one-third of buyers said they had increased their tipping, and 12% gifted money to an unemployed relative or friend.

These are positive indicators that though your charity might be in a tough spot, you shouldn’t give up. Others aren’t: CCS Fundraising indicates that less than 1% of the nonprofits it recently polled were canceling upcoming campaigns entirely. Instead, they decided to revamp their core fundraising strategies to encourage philanthropic gestures.

Innovative Fundraising Ideas for Nonprofits

Right now, you can’t expect your typical donor pool to behave in the usual ways — but donors are probably more open to showing their support than you might assume. Instead of relying on what worked before to raise funds, I encourage you to try different fundraising methods to stay relevant and top of mind:

1. Stress that even small dollar amounts help. Many of your regular supporters have historically given you a specific amount monthly or annually. If they can’t give at that level right now, they might choose not to give anything because they’re trapped in all-or-nothing thinking. Help them get out of that mindset: When you make your next appeal, explain that every little bit helps. It’s like the biblical parable about the widow’s mite: Just give what you can. Countless small donations will inevitably turn into a substantial sum of money.

2. Embrace the virtual fundraiser. No surprise here: Many formal and informal events have relied heavily on online fundraising ideas these past few months. Live charity streaming events have taken over social media, allowing charities to connect with donors in secure, fun ways. Before launching any virtual drive, think about your participants’ needs. Provide them with the opportunity to speak with a celebrity via chat or watch an exclusive athletic event from their device. You could even conduct a live telethon-style event so audience members can see pledges adding up in real time. Online fundraising challenges and events work beautifully, and no masks or hand sanitizer are required!

3. Switch up your language. Now is not the time to make a big, bold ask in an email. Your recipients know you’re wrestling with finances, and they are, too. Rather than talk about your organization’s immediate needs only, convey a sense of “we’re in this together” in all outbound materials. Discuss what you’re doing with the funds you have. Spotlight an amazing volunteer or two. Crowdsource virtual fundraising ideas. Be emotional and real. Then, end with a more subtle request for audience members to give what they can — even if it’s just a shoutout on social media.

4. Host an online auction. Local businesses around you might be hurting, but they might also be willing to partner with your charity to help increase donations while getting some brand marketing in return. Ask smaller companies (such as restaurants and retail stores) to donate gift cards for an online auction. Give lots of runway to ramp up excitement around your auction and encourage bidders from out of town to participate if gift cards can be redeemed online or through a national chain. The gift cards will cost you nothing, and you’ll receive all the profit from the proceeds after paying your minimal expenses.

I’m an optimist. I believe that people want to help charities during COVID-19 — they’re just not sure how. Educate your supporters on the many ways they can show their support. You might be surprised at how well a unique fundraising strategy performs.



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