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Fundraising and disaster relief: Government shutdown edition

The government shutdown began December 22, 2018 and started to leave a significant impact on federal workers around the beginning of January. The shutdown, combined with the SNAP gap, created a new sense of fundraising urgency rarely seen by food banks short of disaster response.

Communities of Support

Google searches for ways to help federal workers peaked from January 20 to January 26. There was a spike in donations on GoFundMe as approximately 1,800 pages raised $400,000 for federal employees and their families. From all of this we found an evident takeaway: people wanted to help their community.


Not all organizations chose to address the government shutdown, but some did. RKD’s food bank clients implemented fundraising efforts that ranged from email marketing to earned media to shutdown-focused landing page strategies.

Giving began to spike starting January 14 as federal workers faced missing a second paycheck. This is when food banks, led by Feeding America, began in earnest a push to provide more food assistance and fundraising as they noticed food insecurity grow for a workforce living paycheck-to-paycheck. January year-over-year online giving revenue increased from 47% to as high as 204% for select food bank clients.


Here’s a look at how some RKD food banks boosted awareness in their communities during the shutdown:

Central Pennsylvania Food Bank

YOY Increase: 195%

Central Penn leveraged earned media, including various news outlets, radio, and other sources, in support of their food assistance programs. Organizational talking points urged viewers, listeners and readers to donate and stressed the importance of submitting dollar donations rather than food.

St Mary’s Food Bank

YOY Increase: 176%

St. Mary’s identified several willing donors to fund a special project, distributing 100,000 pounds of food during three mobile drives for different federal employees. They also assisted in providing food to TSA workers and gained a hefty amount of earned media for both efforts. This included pickups in the Associated Press. St. Mary’s combined the coverage with email marketing to alert people of the shutdown and the urgent need.

Food Bank for New York City

YOY Increase: 204%

Food Bank for New York City prioritized federal worker assistance in marketing and program communication. In addition to sending out multiple emails regarding the shutdown, they also conducted several pop-up food bank events, which resulted in earned media.

Other RKD food banks experienced an increase in January giving as well:

Food Bank for the Rockies: 195% YOY
North Texas Food Bank: 145% YOY
Connecticut Food Bank: 48% YOY
Three Square Food Bank: 47% YOY

What’s the point?

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. A hurricane can generate an instant outpouring from donors, but the strain of a government shutdown grows slowly over time. Listen to your community and local press for coverage. Monitor your analytics for signs of increased need or interest from donors, and then be ready to utilize digital resources such as email, landing pages, lightboxes, social media posts and ads to drive donors to the best way to help.

Jenn Thompson

As Vice President of Digital Strategy at RKD Group, Jenn brings decades of experience working alongside nonprofits to create integrated digital strategies that lead to omnichannel growth and high-value donors. She has been with RKD since 2010, and she provides the digital plan of attack for dozens of nonprofit organizations.

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