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Fundraising in the Time of COVID-19
Rise to the challenge

Updated March 1, 2021

Thanks for contributions from: Copley Raff team members; Sharon Stanczak, VP for Development at the Whitehead Institute, President of the Friday Forum; Nelson Checkoway at Rising Tide Direct, many Copley Raff client organizations, and various sources on the web.


This is the time for advancement officers and offices to change some of the ways we have historically conducted business and to consider the new limitations by which we must abide. Here are some strategies to consider moving forward. This page will be updated regularly. Please share some of your suggestions with us at


1.Staff meetings will need to be by held by video conference or conference call. And if your institution’s firewall security does not allow for this, get the IT people to change it and get you a webcam if needed. Check to see if your computer needs to be enabled for VPN access.

2.New protocol for meetings includes sensitivity to home situations including family members present and potential ongoing family responsibilities.

3.Gift officer metrics need to be adjusted with emphasis on donor and prospect contacts vs. fundraising performance. However, keep emphasis around meeting individual and institutional goals as much as possible.

4.Maintain morale in creative ways.

5.Learn from mistakes or misjudgments that seem obvious, now, and focus on now and what’s ahead.

6.If you need to furlough staff, suggest all the available financial support programs that might help them and encourage them to hold out hope that they may return to their position as soon as possible.


1.Board engagement: Continue to work closely with institutional leadership to keep board members engaged during this challenging time.

2.Continue to hold board and committee meetings remotely if members are willing. If a board member does not know how to do video conferencing or does not have a webcam, get one for them and teach them how to communicate this way.

3.Support board members in their efforts to fundraising and communicate with the institution as much as possible.

4.Keep them in the loop with all communications to stakeholders.

5.Monitor federal and state stimulus funding as they may apply to your organization.


1.Will need to adjust fundraising timelines and milestones, just like after 911.

2.Inform leadership of strategy changes.

3.Suggest to donors with outstanding pledges that if they have some level of hardship they can extend payment another year.

4.Inform leadership of anticipated cash flow changes due to changing pledge payment timeline.

5.Emphasize fundraising from foundations, including COVID-19 related initiatives. Many are changing their priorities to crisis related needs.

6.Donors with outstanding pledges should be asked to accelerate their payment.

7.Keep in touch with your donors.

8.Step up conversations and communications around planned and estate giving.

9.Remain optimistic. Find the silver lining in all of this and make asks with confidence and understanding.

10. Use a rigorous decision process before resuming campaign activities.


1.Great time to reach donors by phone. They are likely home.

2.Keep setting up appointments with your donors.

3.Continue to engage, cultivate, solicit and steward your donors.

4.Handshakes are out. Elbow bump and hands-together bow will soon be the norm even after the pandemic.

5.Air travel to see donors. Bad idea.

6.Don’t assume high capacity donors are feeling the pinch.

7.Enlist your top executives to communicate with donors.


1.Stay the course! Organizations that cut back appealing to donors in past crises (e.g., post-9/11) have more often done worse than those that continued to appeal.

2.Stay with your control (standard) approach and avoid risky testing. Not the time to launch a new acquisition package. Even successful test outcomes may not be valid in a “new normal” future.

3.Be authentic. Talk about your mission and core values—that what your donors support and what they expect! (And if you have a direct connection to the crisis, stress it!)

4.Express your concern for your constituents’ health in your copy, so your donors know you care.

5.Review/Rework copy to make sure it won’t seem inappropriate or out of touch.

6.Review Automated Messaging! Make sure your automated “thank you” emails and your inbound voicemail messages are appropriate to these times.

7.Be sensitive to donors’ economic concerns. Consider lower “ask” amounts, negotiate a “pause” if monthly donors call to cancel, and have a plan to answer economic concerns.

8.Capitalize on good will for relevant organizations such as health care and biomedical research institutions. Donor gratitude will be strong and will come through.

9.Mail smarter. Tighten your audience to the most responsive donors for best ROI. But also try to re-engage lapsed donors: your “now more than ever” appeal will resonate even more.

10.Ask every donor for a gift. Those who can give are more generous than ever before.


The folks who bring you #GivingTuesday every November have organized #GivingTuesdayNow. This global day of giving and unity is set for Tuesday May 5, 2020 and your strategies might include:

1.Use a multichannel approach – website, embedded video, customized banners, emai.

2.Use Social Media – fundraisers Facebook/Instagram!

3.Use Direct Mail – send a postcard or even a mail appeal with a link to your #GivingTuesdayNow URL.

4.Use a matching gift offer – people are three times (3X) more likely to donate with a match.

5.Use a reminder – Send a calendar invite for May 5th to all of your contacts!


1.Galas – forget it. Do a non-event via mail or email with a nice invitation and a request for a contribution so your would-be attendee can remain healthy and safe and they can continue to support your mission.

2.Donor recognition events – now do it virtually. Create a video about the honoree and send everyone a link to it (perhaps through the nice gala invitation above) with language that you are of the health and wellbeing of our stakeholders.

3. Holding full-blown virtual events employing a firm that specializes in this.

4. If you need to cancel an event or stage production, ask ticket buyers to donate the cost of the ticket to help your organization through this crisis, and that it is fully deductible.


1.Stay relevant to your stakeholders.

2.Reminders of service and event cancellations is a good touch opportunity.

3.Centralize communications with consistent messaging and have a comprehensive communications plan that includes advancement.

3.Communicate your organization’s opportunities and challenges to donors, and how you are considering staff and constituents – little by little as to not overwhelm them.

4. Communicate how your organization’s services are changing or adjusting to meet today’s challenges and what you are learning during the process.

5.Do brief weekly updates. Determine the best channels for your best donors. (text, email, snail mail etc.)

6.Avoid obvious attempts to connect your organization to causes that don’t relate to your mission.

7.Think up cabin fever humor; share with donors. USE HUMOR TO SET YOU APART FROM OTHER ORGANIZATIONS. Keep it tasteful and funny. Solicit cabin fever jokes and links to other related humor.

8.Set up Zoom focus groups with your donors to ask them in small groups about issues facing your organization. Benefit from their wisdom and give them the authentic feeling that they are helping.


1.Adjust your short term (3 months) tactical plan.

2.Reconsider your annual outcome objectives and annual fundraising goals by method.

3.Monitor and adjust annual operating budget quarterly.

4.Explore collaborating with other organizations for economy of scale, shared resources and joint requests to donors.

5.When there is time, prepare for the time when this storm passes.


1.Be flexible and decisive. The fluidity of the circumstances requires that you continuously reassess the situation. Make your decisions based on the best information you have at the time, without second-guessing.

2.Monitor sources of federal financial grant and loan programs.

3. Have conversations with peers in other organizations to discuss survival and growth strategies.

4.Find the silver linings in this mess and be sure to communicate them.