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How should nonprofits handle fundraising during coronavirus pandemic?

All of us are concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. On a personal level, we’re worried about the health and safety of our families and friends. On a professional level, we’re worried about the impact on our organization and industry.

This novel coronavirus has generated a great deal of uncertainty in our everyday lives. However, as many health officials have advised, this is not a time to panic. It’s a time for prudent strategies like social distancing to mitigate the effects of the virus.

This same advice – implementing smart strategies – should be applied to your nonprofit’s direct-response fundraising and marketing. Yes, this is a turbulent time, but it’s no time to panic.

Many of our clients have come to us for guidance. They want to know what they should do about their multichannel fundraising programs.

We’re receiving questions like:

  • Should we pause our direct mail campaigns?
  • What can we do to act quickly on the digital side?
  • How can we talk to donors without looking like we’re exploiting the virus?
  • When will fundraising return to normal?

These are difficult questions during a difficult time.

Below is some of the guidance we have provided to our clients.  Please note that our perspective is limited to online and direct mail fundraising and marketing, not special events, face-to-face, nonprofit human resource initiatives, and the like.

But let’s also discuss how nonprofits can adapt as this impact trickles down to mission delivery and connection with donors.


In past national crises, such as the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, some nonprofits simply stopped their direct mail programs. Those who did lost revenue. Those who didn’t sustained revenue, albeit with a temporary dip, but then returned to normal levels within a relatively short time.

This crisis is different, but donors’ loyalty to the causes they love and support hasn’t changed. They still have a need and desire to give, and nonprofits have a need to receive in order to fund your programs.

Cutting acquisition may seem like an easy decision on the surface when you're facing budget woes. But research has shown time and again that it's a terrible idea in the long run.

So stay engaged with your donors and prospective donors through the mail. Continue your donor acquisition efforts.


This is a good time to take a fresh look at your digital strategies. With the fast-moving nature of the news around COVID-19, digital channels like social media and email give nonprofits fast-moving options to keep donors informed.

This may be a good time to increase your online touchpoints and opportunities. Doing so will allow you to engage your donors during a period when in-person events have been canceled.

This will help ease your organization’s financial pressures so you can sustain your mission. We've already seen tremendous digital results for many food banks, rescue missions and hospitals that find themselves on the front lines of this pandemic.


Now is the time to show you care.

Do whatever you can to increase your engagement with your donors. Consider wellness calls to your mid-to-high-level contributors. Tell them you’re thinking about them, ask if they’re OK, and make sure they know how much you appreciate them especially during challenging times.

For volunteers who continue to help, thank them. Then, thank them again. They could easily stay at home, but they’re choosing to risk their health for your cause.

Your staff will also be under extra pressure to pick up the slack wherever it appears. Be intentional about finding ways to show your love and appreciation for everything they do.


Revenue will almost certainly temporarily decline, but it will eventually rebound. When? It is impossible to know when life will return to normal, but it will happen.

In the meantime, follow steps 1-3.

Finally, on the bright side: The nonprofit community is pulling together to face this challenge. During this unprecedented strain on resources, nonprofit organizations continue to hold the front lines in providing the help that is needed worldwide.

This should be an inspiration to all of us.


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When will life return to normal for nonprofits?

Why nonprofits should jump into virtual events now

FAQ: Digital fundraising during COVID-19

COVID-19 Fundraising + Marketing Resources


Tim Kersten

Widely regarded as one of the nation’s top direct response fundraising, strategic and creative talents, Tim Kersten brings more than 40 years of experience to his role as Chairman of RKD Group. Prior to joining RKD, he served as Chief Creative Officer and Executive Creative Director at two national advertising agencies and ran his own successful direct response fundraising consultancy for nearly 25 years.

Some of the nation’s largest and most respected nonprofit organizations that have benefited from Tim’s insightful and persuasive communication strategies include the Smithsonian Institution, American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, National Park Foundation, Covenant House, and dozens of others. Tim’s work has been recognized by his receipt of four Direct Marketing Association Echo Awards (gold, leader and two silver from 1986 to 2010) and a prestigious International Caples Award (2010).

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