​It is a new – and hopefully temporary – way of doing business.

Now that COVID-19 has reached pandemic proportions, you are probably making quick, and perhaps unprecedented, decisions for your team and your organization.  You may be in the midst of rescheduling or cancelling your organization’s biggest fundraising events of the year, or you may be finalizing the details of remote working arrangements with your team.  All the while, you are asking yourself:  What does this mean for our fundraising program?  How will we make goal?  Is my staff ready for this?  Is the board?  Am I?

The short answer to your questions is: philanthropy will persist.  These are challenging and uncertain times.  There will be distractions as we all make our way through.  We are here to support you, and we have outlined 8 activities you can do now to maintain and enhance your fundraising effectiveness during a crisis.

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1. ​Approach every interaction with empathy.  Each patron, customer, patient, or client you interact with is managing their own unique circumstances in this public health crisis as best they can.  We are an industry motivated by enhancing the quality of life and standard of living.  Every day we choose to embrace compassion and empathy in our interactions with the people we serve.  And sometimes, we experience compassion fatigue.  This is a difficult time for us all, including our colleagues, our board members, and our direct reports.  Be gracious.

2. Connect with your donors early and often.  We continue to embrace the fundamental truths of philanthropy: People give to personal causes that match their values. People give when they trust the leadership of the organization. People give when they have a relationship with the person asking. People give when they have confidence in the organization. People give because they are asked.

Our older donors seem to be particularly at risk.  Call them just to see how they are.  Ask if you can do anything for them.  Most of them will say, “no,” but if they do say they could use a bag of apples, go to the store and deliver it to their porch.  Don’t go inside and risk their health or yours. 

While they are professional relationships, we care about our donors personally, and a small gesture can mean the world for your organization.

3. Give your donors the opportunity to help.  There is a myth that, “now (insert a crisis large or small) is not a good time to raise funds.”  Some periods in history may be more fortuitous for philanthropy, but never – even during the Great Recession – has giving stopped completely in the US.  Some donors delayed gifts, others did not give at all, and still others continued to give gifts to campaigns large and small.

Now is the time to listen to donors concerns about how this emergency might affect your organization.  Regardless of your position in the organization, now is the time to lead by reassuring your donors of your organization’s plan for this crisis.  Update them on how things actually are affecting your mission, and share with them how they can help.

If it’s not a good time, they will tell you.  Let them help guide you in your next steps in the relationship.

4. Increase the pace of internal and external communications.  Lack of information and lack of trust in information are the two greatest causes for uncertainty and panic.  And two-way communication is critical both internally and externally.

Internally, collect the information, make sure your team knows the chain of command, what the plan is, and what will be released to the public.  There will be questions from staff, and yet there will be different levels of “need to know.”  Be as candid as you can and make sure your communication plan is clear.

Externally, keep your donors informed.  They care about you and they want to know if activities have been cancelled and how they can help.

5. Use technology to its greatest advantage.  Now is the time to strengthen relationships with your donors.  Since this is not an ideal time to meet in person, it will be respectful to use their preferred method of communication and reach out.  You can text, email, phone, or use a video conferencing system.

6. Evaluate the strength of your development program and diversify your revenue streams.  Everyone is working to stay connected to donors, manage the needs of a suddenly remote workforce, and easing concerns of others.  It is a challenging time.  However, your organization will benefit by quickly taking stock of the diversity of your philanthropic revenue streams.  For example, if you rely heavily on events at this time, how can you begin to engage with these constituents as individual donors?  If you have relied heavily on direct response, how can you begin to identify those people who are ready to move up the donor pyramid?

7. Put systems into place that help your remote workers feel connected.  There are a range of collaboration tools that are intuitive, easy to adopt and will keep your team connected, even when they aren’t sitting right next to one another.  Try a collaboration tool like Slack, MS Teams, Monday.com or any of the many other flexible and inexpensive tools available.

8. Think creatively. Necessity is the mother of invention. It has been our firm’s experience that in addition to being kind, caring and compassionate, our clients are intelligent, strategic, resourceful, and highly creative.  It is your willingness to be inventive that will buoy your organization through turbulent times.

We are here to support you, with these 8 Activities, and others that will arrive in your inbox in the coming days and weeks.  You can count on the Skystone Partners team to provide you with prompt, thoughtful, and relevant information to support the success of your fundraising.  Please reach out to one of our team members if you would like to have a personal conversation.

COVID-19 and Your Fundraising Program:
Eight Activities You Can Do Now to Maintain and Enhance Your Fundraising Effectiveness During a Crisis

by Elizabeth Kohler Knuppel

​March 16,2010


​​​​ eknuppel@skystonepartners.com