COVID-19 has provided new, unprecedented challenges for nonprofits — and left some unsure if participating in a giving event is the right move right now. We’ll walk through the issues involved in giving event fundraising and ways forward in this post.
Participating in a giving event is normally a fantastic opportunity to engage your donors and your community, acquire new donors, raise money, and get a boost in visibility. But nothing about the current situation in the United States and abroad is normal. COVID-19 has upended much of our daily lives, with many states under shelter-in-place orders, business operations pared down to just the essentials, and record numbers of people filing for unemployment. So, even if your nonprofit is able to continue operating, you may be facing some big questions about participating in that Spring giving event right now.
In this post, we’ll explore these questions: whether it’s okay to fundraise, when it’s okay to bow out, how your nonprofit can leverage a giving event to keep your lights on during a crisis, and how to make it work if your time and resources are limited right now.
“Is this the right time to fundraise?!”
This is an unprecedented time, so we don’t have peer-reviewed studies or large sets of data to draw from here. But this is what we do know: people are giving to nonprofits.
Simply put, giving to nonprofits is one of the ways people gain some degree of feeling in control during or in the aftermath of a disaster. This is one thing there is a lot of data to draw from. When a disaster hits, charitable giving goes up. We can easily predict this, and we’re seeing that happen now. And while this pandemic is very different from a hurricane or earthquake, it certainly qualifies as a disaster. People are giving to nonprofits, starting peer-to-peer fundraisers, crowdfunding for individuals and starting relief funds for retail workers, healthcare workers, restaurants, artists, and more. People are actively looking for ways to help.
So, in short, yes! This is the right time to fundraise. However, how each nonprofit goes about it depends a lot on how (or whether) they’re involved in COVID-19 relief and what their capacity is right now.
Pivoting to COVID-19
If your nonprofit is providing direct service and/or relief to those in your community affected by COVID-19, you’ll want to adjust your campaign to focus on those efforts. This should be a relatively easy shift. Here are a few ways you can shift your message to your work on COVID-19 relief:
- Update your Mightycause profile. This is an easy win! Add some information to your profile explaining how COVID-19 has affected the population(s) your nonprofit serves and what you’re doing to help. Make it a multimedia experience by adding photos and videos (if you have any) of your organization working on the front lines, behind the scenes, or elsewhere to help with COVID-19 relief. Updating your banner image and even altering your logo to be specific to COVID-19 relief can help make your profile more tuned in to what you’re doing and help tell the story of how you’re helping in this crisis.
- Create a fundraiser. Fundraisers on Mightycause are connected to your nonprofit profile, but built for time-sensitive campaigning. Starting a COVID-19 specific fundraiser gives you a space to talk about the work your nonprofit is doing, set a campaign goal, and still reserve your nonprofit profile as an evergreen space where people can learn more about your mission.
- Focus on recurring giving. On Mightycause, any donation can be set up as a monthly donation by simply checking a box during the donation process. Focusing on the need for sustaining support and reliable revenue that enables you to respond quickly during a crisis can be a powerful message that resonates with donors. And if you present smaller, approachable amounts (the minimum donation on Mightycause is $5), that can feel much more doable to people who might be hesitant to make a large one-time donation, allowing them to mete out their giving over the course of a year.
If you’re not providing direct aid right now…
It’s okay! You can still talk about your mission, work in the community, and how your operations have been affected by COVID-19. Not every nonprofit is going to be on the front lines, and with social distancing protocol, it’s impossible for some nonprofits to do what they do under normal circumstances. Mission trip-focused nonprofits, for instance, are not going to be able to travel right now or for the foreseeable future. Many nonprofits whose work is about gathering and directly serving the public might find themselves unable to operate at full capacity, or at all, right now. So, what do you do?
- Talk honestly about how COVID-19 is affecting operations. People who support your mission aren’t going to stop supporting you just because you’re not providing direct COVID-19 aid, or have had to scale back operations during a public health crisis. They’re going to continue to support you and want to learn how they can help your nonprofit get through this. So, be honest about how this pandemic has impacted your work, and tell your supporters what you need to see you through so you can hit the ground running for your cause when things are back to normal. (Or a new normal, anyway.) Don’t be shy about asking for donations — people want to know how they can support your work!
- Start a relief fund… for your nonprofit. Look, it’s no secret that this pandemic is affecting a lot of areas of our economy, and the nonprofit sector is part of that. Do you need to ensure that your rent is paid, your payroll needs are met, and your work stays funded? You can start a relief fund to help see your nonprofit through these turbulent months.
- Look to the future. What are you going to do once this is over? What do you have planned? How are you going to get back to work? People are looking for hope, and hearing about your nonprofit’s plans when quarantine is over can inspire people to support you. Talk about that amazing new program you want to start in 2020, that exciting new project you’re going to tackle, or what your goals are for 2020, to deliver a message of hope and ensure your work stays funded.
- Focus on recurring giving. We’re going to keep repeating this one, because it’s important! Asking for recurring gifts, investing in the future of your nonprofit, can be an excellent campaign message during this unprecedented time.
Do you need an in-person component?
Giving events are usually all about encouraging online giving, but some nonprofits rely on an in-person component to make their giving event campaign interesting. Sometimes that means inviting people to your headquarters for a leaderboard watch party, or hosting a get together with food and beverages, or just having a location where donors can drop off cash and check contributions.
But this is a great opportunity to rethink that in-person component. Do you really need it? How does it serve your nonprofit? Can you get fundraising results that are just as good without it? This year, you don’t have a choice but to cancel your in-person event. Track your results to evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts this year. It may turn out that the in-person event you thought was a key part of your giving event campaign wasn’t essential after all.
Use this as an opportunity to push your donors to give online. For a giving event, online giving often means additional opportunities to win prizes. Focusing on online giving and keeping your event online means that you’ll need fewer staff to manage the flow of people and offline gifts, and focus on digital campaigning, which is more immediate and allows you to reach more people with less effort.
Some nonprofits may be finding it tough to dedicate much time to fundraising now, either because they’ve had to scale back their operations or are simply too busy responding to COVID-19. But the nonprofit sector has a built-in solution for that dilemma: volunteers.
We often hear that nonprofits are wary of bringing volunteers into their fundraising operations beyond having them at in-person events. But it’s a huge mistake to relegate volunteers to grunt work like landscaping, sorting in-kind donations, and answering phones! Your volunteer base is likely full of skilled people who could be major assets to your fundraising operations. And now, with many people’s work schedules reduced or moved to remote work only, there are lots of people with extra time on their hands who would love to help out! Who knows, you may even have some professional fundraisers, marketers, and social media managers in your volunteer base! You won’t know until you ask.
If you need help with your giving event campaign, put out a request for volunteers. Work with your volunteer coordinator, send out an email, post on social media, and ask for what you need. Smart use of volunteer help can make participating in a giving event when your capacity is diminished not only possible, but a huge boon to your nonprofit.
Focus on peer-to-peer
In addition to an increase in charitable giving, one thing we tend to see in response to disasters is that peer-to-peer fundraising increases too. People are motivated to help in whatever way they can, and eagerly starting fundraisers to help the causes closest to their hearts. And you can leverage that energy to raise money for your giving event, while offloading some of the legwork of fundraising onto people happy to help out. Like finding volunteer help, all you need to do is ask!
Instead of leaving your supporters to their own devices, let them know what is most helpful to you. Tell them you’re participating in a giving event, and provide a link with some basic instructions to create a peer-to-peer fundraiser in support of your organization during the event. On Mightycause, there are several simple and fast ways to start a peer-to-peer fundraiser. Sending out a request with an email and social media post is usually all that’s needed to kickstart a groundswell of peer-to-peer support.
How to scale down
So, if you take a look at your capacity right now and determine that you just can’t focus on participating in a giving event, what we recommend is trying to scale down your campaign rather than scrapping it altogether. The magic of giving events is that people will be giving to nonprofits, many people for the first time, and the hosts of the event do a lot of work to push it out to audiences. So participating even if it’s on a smaller scale can still help your nonprofit! Here’s the bare minimum you need to do if you’re registered for an event:
Customize your profile
Many parts of your profile are pre-filled for you. Here’s the least you can do to make your profile reflect your brand:
- Upload your logo. This will be used to represent your nonprofit on the giving event’s website.
- Add your mission to your About section. You can simply copy and paste your mission statement here. The minimum here is 50 words, so you can also keep it short and sweet.
- Create a Thank You page. This is in your Checkout Flow section, under Post-Checkout. Just type a simple thanks to your donors there, and call it a day. This will be sent out automatically to each donor, which automates the donor acknowledgement process for you.
- Make sure your information is correct and up-to-date. We import much of your information from the IRS database, so for many nonprofits, you’ll just need to take a quick look and make sure everything is current. If you’ve participated in this giving event in the past, just give your page a quick once-over to make sure you’ve removed any outdated dates or information.
- Set up EFT. The direct deposit option means you’ll get your donations faster, so take a moment to set up EFT in your profile’s Settings. Otherwise we’ll mail you a check, but we recommend EFT. Save yourself the effort of waiting for a check in the mail, and then depositing it at the bank by filling out the required information for direct deposit.
Plan a few promotions
You don’t need to spend a ton of time or effort marketing your giving event participation to see an effect! Plan at least one email letting your list of subscribers know that they can donate at the start of the giving event, and schedule a few social media posts with a link to your page. Those things won’t take lots of time or effort, and can help you get some donations.
If you need to pull out of a giving event…
Before we get into the reasons to pull out of a giving event you’ve registered for, we want to make it clear: people will be making donations during that giving event. If your nonprofit has already registered, we recommend sticking it out and participating, to whatever extend your organization is able. Even if you have to scale back on the campaign you had planned, just remaining in the event, posting on social media, and sending out an email can get you some donations. You don’t need to fundraise full-throttle in order to see some benefit from participating!
But there are absolutely valid reasons why your nonprofit may want to bail out of your giving event. Maybe your organization has had to temporarily shutter your operations, or you’ve been hard hit by this health crisis and need to evaluate your future. Here’s how to pull out of an event if you really need to:
- Contact the organization or community foundation hosting the giving event to let them know you can’t participate.
- If you’ve already announced that you’ll be participating in the event, make a quick, no-frills announcement and let your supporters know you’ve had to cancel your participation in the event. Let your supporters know how they can support your work during this time.
Even if you’re not at full capacity right now, or struggling to understand how to fit your mission into the current circumstances, a giving event can still be a great way to connect with your supporters and pick some new ones up along the way. And, for those nonprofits having trouble finding their fundraising footing during this public health crisis, a giving event gives you a reason to talk to your supporters and ask for their donations, making messaging simple and easy. We recommend doing all you can to make it work, to the best of your nonprofit’s abilities, to take advantage of the opportunity to get donations and some extra visibility when it matters most.