As the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic unfolds with no end in sight, many nonprofits are being squeezed between increased demand for services and a drop in fundraising revenue due to canceled fundraising events and increasing economic uncertainty. Organizations like museums and theaters have been forced to close their doors, losing essential revenue in the process.
Some nonprofits have resorted to pithy, short-form emergency appeals that position them as somehow uniquely affected by the pandemic — in effect, stating:
COVID-19 has hurt us financially.
Please give money.
While the core of this statement may be true for many organizations, it’s not good fundraising messaging. It is painfully shortsighted and fails to recognize that donors are investors and partners in your work. They deserve a sincere, thoughtful, inspired update and call-to-action in light of these historic times.
The fact is, COVID-19 has impacted countless worthy organizations. Many donors themselves are experiencing financial hardship. Given this context, your fundraising appeals can’t be all about you.
So, instead of generic emergency appeal messaging, consider putting the emphasis on your unique donor value proposition. Double down on the importance of cultivating a meaningful relationship with your donors. Emphasize what you provide to donors rather than what you need from them. Relay how your nonprofit is helping people in the community during this difficult time. Highlight why your work is so essential right now and develop your fundraising message from there.
Need more ideas? Here are 8 essential messaging elements to consider for your next fundraising appeal.
1. Express authentic concern about the well-being and safety of your donors.
Your donors are actual people. Many are experiencing profound changes in their lives right now and have deep uncertainty about the future. Some may have even lost friends and/or family to this pandemic or have fallen ill themselves. They need to know you truly care about their well-being — not as a communications tactic but as a genuine sentiment of compassion.
Hi <Donor_Name>, I’m writing first and foremost because I wanted to check in with you. As a supporter of <Org_Name>, you are a part of our donor family and we want to make sure you’re safe and healthy. If there’s something you need, please let us know and we’ll do our best to help.
2. Thank your donors.
Showing appreciation for your donors’ past generosity is the foundation of a healthy, long-term relationship. They want to feel like valued partners in your work.
Your support is the reason we exist. Thank you for everything you’ve done to help us fulfill our mission. We couldn’t do this important work without you.
3. Describe how you’re addressing the current situation.
Inform the donor of steps you’re taking to ensure that your nonprofit continues to serve beneficiaries. Assure them that their investment in you is safe, sound and vitally important.
I wanted to share with you how we’ve adapted to some of the changes brought by this pandemic. We’ve switched to video calls to keep our staff safe. We have promised to cover healthcare for all employees for the duration of this crisis. We’re continuing to provide essential services to those in greatest need while taking extra precautions and social distancing. And our board members are finding responsible ways to cut expenses while stepping up to accelerate their own contributions and give even more if they can.
4. Acknowledge the real financial impact.
If COVID-19 has impacted your nonprofit’s revenue, be honest and transparent. However, note that this information should follow an explanation of how you’re addressing the current situation. That sequence is important because you want to frame financial challenges in the context of a solution-focused organization. You should make it clear that you have a leadership team that is facing issues head-on and taking thoughtful steps to address them. Again, the key message is: “Your philanthropic investment in us is safe, sound and vitally important.”
While we remain optimistic about the future and have a strong plan in place, we acknowledge that there are very real challenges in front of us. Since the order to close nonessential businesses, we’ve seen a significant drop in revenue from events and ______. On top of that, critical funding we rely on has been delayed or cut entirely. For this calendar year, we expect a financial loss of more than $______.
5. Convey your philanthropic worthiness.
Even if your mission is not focused on healthcare or other COVID-19-related essential services, show donors how you are stepping up to serve your community. Don’t force a connection between your work and this pandemic. Instead, ask: “What are we doing to serve the community right now in whatever way(s) we can?” Maybe you are partnering with another nonprofit that’s providing vital services. Perhaps you are using your brand awareness and platforms to help promote other organizations “on the front lines” in your community.
Despite these challenges, there’s good news. We don’t have any debt, so every dollar we raise keeps this organization running and provides essential services. In addition, our team has rallied to come up with new ideas for how we can help our community through these uncertain times. For example, we’re partnering with ________ to _____________ .
6. Invite donors to contribute.
After you’ve (a.) checked in on the donor’s well-being, (b.) assured them that your organization has a plan for the future, and (c.) demonstrated that your mission is still relevant, you can ask for a contribution. But remember: the way you ask is important! Your ask should be an invitation to join a determined and optimistic team effort. On top of that, you want to make sure there’s no implied shame if the donor is unable to give right now. Consider offering alternate ways for donors to meaningfully engage apart from giving money.
If you have the ability to do so, we invite you to join us once again in our important work with your tax-deductible donation of <$Ask>. If you are unable to donate right now, we understand and invite you to consider becoming a “virtual volunteer.” (For more info email _____ or call ______.)
7. Reaffirm your donor value proposition.
Following the ask, take a moment to remind the donor why they chose to support you in the first place and why your mission is still important now.
Your past generosity shows how much you care about our work. We remain the only organization in the region that provides ______________ in our community. The COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified that need. Those we serve continue to reach out for help — requests for our services have nearly doubled since March — and your ongoing support is what allows us to respond.
8. Conclude with a sincere statement of solidarity.
Make explicit the previously implicit assumption that the donor is a valued member of your team and a true partner in your mission. The idea here is that you are stronger together. Convey the message that together, we can overcome difficult challenges and share in the positive impact of our collective efforts.
We’re all in this together, <Donor_Name>. People need <Org_Name>. And with your help, we’ll get through this and emerge even stronger. Thank you for your support.
In summary, donor messaging during a crisis like COVID-19 requires nuance and care. Use these essential elements to emphasize how you and your donors can partner together in a mutually beneficial relationship. Your donors will appreciate sincere, thoughtful, inspired messaging — and those able to give will feel better about contributing to an organization that is actively working to make a difference in their community.