Fundraising Amidst a Global Pandemic

March 12th, 2020

This past week, news of the spread of coronavirus and of turbulent financial markets has dominated the air space. As crises like these take center stage, focus on our organizations’ missions can often take a back seat.

As fundraisers, we should prepare for the impact of these current national and global events. We know, for example, that when there is uncertainty in the country, our financial markets respond negatively. We’re seeing that right now. And we know that when the markets experience fluctuation, we often see a dip or decline in philanthropy in the following months. We also know that since 1978, philanthropy has trended at 1.5% – 2.5% of GDP annually. What’s unknown right now is how much of an impact (and for how long) the coronavirus outbreak and market uncertainty will have on our 2020 GDP. If we see a decrease in GDP due to these issues, there will be a very real impact to philanthropic giving as a result.
Those of us with 20 or more years of fundraising experience have been through national and global crises like this before. We’ve learned a few things as result. With history as our guide, here’s how Newport ONE is counseling our clients:

1. Stay the course (for now). The craziness in the markets may cause donors—mostly mid and major—to pause. This will no doubt cause a revenue shortfall in the short run. Assuming the markets will stabilize, you’ll want your messages to be in your donors’ inboxes and mailboxes when that moment arrives. Now is not the time to reduce your efforts. Organizations that pulled back and stopped soliciting after 9/11 and the 2008 recession took years to recover from their losses (some are still trying to recover), while organizations that continued to solicit their donors with messages of need and impact emerged stronger and healthier.

2. Double down on stewardship. After the 2008 financial crisis, we saw that organizations that focused on enhanced donor stewardship (i.e., more thank-you phone calls, more impact reporting, more high-quality engagement from staff, board, and volunteers, etc.), tended to recover more quickly than those that didn’t focus significantly on stewardship.

3. Don’t stop talking to your donors. While nonstop news of coronavirus, unstable financial markets, and a contentious national election are on your donors’ TV and Facebook feeds, they’re not the only things they care or want to hear about. Continue to remind your donors about the transformational impact they have on your cause by sharing your most relevant and compelling stories. Don’t hesitate to share the ongoing need, while continually reminding your donors that they are the lifeblood of your organization.

4. Acknowledge their fear. Many of your organization’s donors, particularly those who are mid-level or major donors, have just seen a significant decline in their stock portfolios. This is an opportunity for you to come alongside these key donors and listen. Engage in relationship building that reminds them that they are more than an ATM for your needs. They are important partners, and you care about them as human beings first and donors second.

5. Review your messaging for relevance and clarity. Continuing to talk about your mission is critical, but also be aware that there is a lot of background noise and a new lens through which your donors are now reading your messages. Don’t be tone deaf. Be sensitive to words or phrases that take on new meanings in light of current events, such as references to things “spreading like a virus” or being “infected/infectious.” Also, rethink labeling something other than coronavirus as a “health crisis” at this time. What seemed normal and natural two weeks ago can feel terribly wrong right now. And don’t be afraid to join the conversation. It might be worthwhile to acknowledge what’s going on, while reinforcing why your mission is still important.

6. Buddy up with your CFO. Make sure your CFO has a window into the uncertainty surrounding your organization’s fundraising that lies ahead. Nobody likes surprises, least of all your CFO. Your potential warnings about revenue and expenses will allow your CFO and CEO to make choices or delay expenditures if needed.

7. Have a Plan B, Plan C and Plan D. No two crises play out the same way, so be flexible and be ready to pivot as needed. Communicate with your production team about commitment deadlines for paper orders and print runs, so you can make the best decision possible with as much information as possible. Make sure your teams have back-up plans in the event your mailshop or creative teams are quarantined. Be creative, stay calm, and stay focused.

8. Care for your people. For many organizations, the most prudent thing you can do to care for your people in this situation is to share as much information as possible, as frequently as you’re able. The more people are uncertain, the worse they’ll feel. If you don’t already have a remote work policy in place, this is a key time to craft one, and begin allowing anyone who can work from home to do so.

Your donors and prospects don’t stop caring about your mission because there is a health scare or their 401K drops. Sure, their giving may be altered temporarily, but continuing to show the need and the impact your donors can have will ensure your mission remains funded and your donors stay engaged.

If you’d like more information or to speak with an expert at Newport ONE about your fundraising program, please send me an email.


Craig DePole is President of Newport One, a leading, full-service, direct response fundraising agency serving nonprofit organizations for more than 30 years. He also serves as chairman of the Board of Directors for the Association of Direct Response Fundraising Council (ADRFCO). Craig can be reached at

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