Fundraising During the COVID-19 Outbreak: 4 Best Practices

Fundraising during a pandemic can be a challenge. Check out our top four strategies for maintaining revenue and morale at your nonprofit during COVID-19.

By Leigh Kessler 

Nonprofits all across the globe have been met with substantial and unprecedented financial challenges so far this year.

As a result of widespread unemployment and economic hardships, many generous donors have had to press pause on their financial support of charitable causes. Therefore, organizations that depend highly on individual donations have seen significant drops in fundraising revenue. 

Additionally, the seamless flow of day-to-day operations has been disrupted as some of the most powerful and profitable fundraising events had to be canceled or postponed.

While you may have some doubts about continuing fundraising practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s crucial that you don’t quit altogether. Instead, here are some best practices to consider as you rework your fundraising strategy to meet the shifting demands you’re encountering.

  1. Use data-driven fundraising strategies.
  2. Implement a multi-channel approach.
  3. Consider a virtual fundraising event.
  4. Make the most of matching gifts.

Even if you chose to scale back your fundraising outreach at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s crucial that you continue to implement strategic donor retention practices. This way, you can engage supporters for the long haul and your post-pandemic fundraising will be off to a great start. Are you ready to learn more about keeping your nonprofit afloat in a season of financial uncertainty? Let’s jump in!

1. Use data-driven fundraising strategies.

Ensuring effective fundraising strategies is one of the most important processes involved in successfully running any organization. That being said, it’s essential that you don’t leave your fundraising plans up to chance. Instead, use previously collected fundraising data to inform your future strategy.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What is your average donation size? Has it increased or decreased recently?
  • What is your average frequency of donations? Has it changed recently?
  • How many new donors have you acquired during the pandemic?
  • Which types of campaigns have brought in the highest revenue in the past?

Thankfully, with the right nonprofit CRM software, this information (and much more) can be waiting right at your fingertips. Now, you can craft your fundraising plan based on this data to better refine your tactics to target your ideal audience.

Once you’ve established your data-driven fundraising goals, it’s time to get the word out about your upcoming campaign. 

According to AccuData’s handy guide to effective data marketing, data-driven strategies aren’t limited to just setting goals. It’s also best employed for your outreach plan to ensure you have an informed communication plan as well. For instance, using this data to set up a multi-channel fundraising strategy will result in your messages getting across to more supporters.

In other words, make note of which communication strategies have seen the most success in your previous marketing strategies and go from there.

2. Implement a multi-channel approach.

As you begin supporter outreach to solicit donations, diversify your communication strategy so your reach stretches further across channels, networks, and communities. 

Keep in mind that your donors want to hear from you — and the most effective way to do that will often require a combination of tactics. After all, in a world so saturated with marketing materials, a single-channel approach can be too easily drowned out and lead to substantial missed opportunities. That’s where multi-channel fundraising comes in.

A powerful multi-channel fundraising campaign can include the following communication channels:

  • Email: Email is a popular method of donor communication and fundraising requests for many reasons. For one thing, your team can quickly and easily send messages to thousands of recipients at once, even while automating content customization for each recipient. After all, personalized emails are known to generate a median ROI of 122% as compared to their generic counterparts. Use marketing software to automatically put the individual’s name in the salutation, personalize ask amounts, and to craft messages specifically for certain donor segments. 
  • Direct mail: While more costly than email, direct mail can be a great way to gain supporter attention and really make your organization (and your fundraising appeals) stand out. That’s because a direct mailing provides a physical reminder of your cause that can keep you at top of mind for longer periods of time. Plus, studies show that the human mind is able to better retain information on paper as compared to on a screen.
  • Phone: Encompassing both text and voice calls, phone communication is an effective way to grab your desired audience’s attention. Besides face-to-face interactions (which are significantly limited right now), phone and video calls are the most personal fundraising approach possible. That can be extremely worthwhile when targeting your mid-to high-range donors.
  • Social media: Your social media platforms are a fantastic way to engage with new and potential donors who you may not already have on your email or mailing lists. Plus, you can encourage dedicated supporters to interact with and share your posts with their own networks, effectively expanding your reach in seconds.

One common mistake made by many organizations attempting a multi-channel campaign is using the same fundraising messages and tactics across each channel. However, this does not give your team the room to accommodate for differences in mediums, and therefore risks a repetitive and unintuitive approach. Instead, adjust your strategy for each communication platform, while maintaining the same overarching campaign message.

3. Consider a virtual fundraising event.

Just because in-person events are canceled for the time being doesn’t mean you can’t find new and exciting ways to engage your audience while raising money for your cause. In fact, organizations all over the world are turning to virtual fundraising events as a powerful alternative to traditional face-to-face interactions. 

If you’re interested in pivoting an existing event to the virtual space or planning a new one from scratch, these are a few of our favorite suggestions:

  • Online auctions: Charity auctions are a favorite fundraiser for many, and with the right tools, they can be easily transitioned to a virtual fundraising event. Collect items to auction off, then upload pictures and descriptions to a detailed auction catalog. When the event begins, encourage donors to bid on their favorites from the comfort of their own homes.
  • Virtual walk-a-thons: Using a smartphone app or another tracking device, encourage supporters to take part in a virtual run or walk-a-thon. Participants can reach out to family and friends asking them to make a pledge, then the supporter completes the physical activity in a local park or another remote location.
  • Digital classes: With all this time stuck at home, many people are taking up new hobbies. You can leverage that trend with digital classes— some of our favorites include cooking classes and art workshops. Find an experienced individual willing to teach and have them explain their skill step-by-step over a live-streamed platform.

For more ideas and best practices, take a look at CharityEngine’s guide to pulling off virtual fundraising events. More than likely, your donors will jump at the chance to get involved with a fundraiser during a time when most of their favorite events are no longer possible. 

4. Make the most of matching gifts.

Matching gift programs are one aspect of corporate philanthropy that can significantly boost any organizations’ fundraising revenue without a ton of extra effort. Although corporate philanthropy is a powerful fundraising tool at any time, its potential in the current economic climate is something that you do not want to miss out on.

Here are a few reasons why a matching gift database with an easy-to-use employer search tool is one of the smartest investments any nonprofit can make, especially during a financial crisis:

  • Donors are more likely to give. Now more than ever, many of your supporters are likely on the fence about giving. They may be asking themselves things like, “is it a smart financial decision to donate right now?” Luckily, matching gift eligibility might be just the deciding factor. Studies show that more than 84% of donors are more likely to give if they’re aware that a company will match their gift.
  • Donors tend to make larger donations. In the same way, many donors tend to increase their donation size if they know it’s being matched. When an individual is aware that their gift can make double (or even triple) the impact, they’re more likely to contribute more in the first place. 
  • Donors can request a match from a previous gift. Even for your supporters who are unable to make additional donations at the moment, matching gifts provide a unique opportunity to help out and further your cause. Since most companies allow employees to request donation matches for up to a year after the initial gift, many of your past donors are likely still eligible!

Plus, many employers are even expanding their matching gift programs for the remainder of the year as a result of the pandemic and its health, economic, and social consequences. Companies are offering higher ratios or match limits to encourage their employees to help out in any way they can. Check out this list of top participating employers and their program adjustments for more information.


Regardless of the fundraising strategies you choose, it’s crucial that you don’t neglect the importance of effectively thanking your donors. Especially in a time like now, showing your appreciation is more important than ever to build donor relationships. 

With these best practices (and the right tools), you’ll be well-equipped to bring your nonprofit team out to the other side. Plus, tips like these can set you up for future success down the line. Good luck!

Leigh Kessler is VP of Marketing and Communications at donor management software platform CharityEngine and a frequent speaker on branding, fundraising, data and technology.  He is a former nationally touring headline comedian and has appeared on numerous TV shows including VH1’s “Best Week Ever”, CNN’s “Showbiz Tonight”, Discovery Channel & Sirius Radio. He has overseen and informed research and branding strategies for some of the most well known brands in America. 

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