To say that fundraising in 2020 has been a challenge is a massive understatement! Nevertheless, this is true. When social distancing regulations went into effect this past spring, it sent many leaders like you scrambling to reset spring event plans. Some organizations chose to postpone events until fall (remember when we thought normal would return by now?!), others chose a quick pivot to virtual fundraising.
Either way, nonprofits are now facing down a growing need for funds using newfound strategies for the pandemic era. Donors welcome these efforts, as they continue to look for ways to engage even though they are hesitant to congregate in large groups (even if gathering is permissible). Finding creative ways to connect with donors starts with the right mindset. “I’m not social distancing… I’m virtually socializing,” says Erica Helphand, co-founder and managing partner of Ellementary. Inviting your donors to socialize virtually—and make a difference for your cause while doing so—is a way to keep those funds flowing for your mission. Using a variety of creative touchpoints will be key for all nonprofits, which is detailed in Blackbaud’s recent guide, “Reimagining Your Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Programs.”
Blackbaud research shows that June’s fundraising and now-virtual event registration performance was down 74% and 71%, respectively. Donor excitement for virtual gatherings may be waning due to technological overload. When every aspect of life has moved to a screen, a virtual fundraiser isn’t as appealing! Your participants are emotionally tapped. COVID-19 is traumatic in and of itself. But it brings the added burdens of unpredictable social activities, the disarray in the federal treatment plan, and scary financial impact or uncertainty. And it isn’t just COVID-19 that is taxing people right now. This summer has seen an inspiring uprising led by the Black Lives Matter movement, despite the frequent and violent resistance from police and federal agents. And people are both fighting and immobilized by fear of a second Trump term.
This entire mix is an emotionally heavy load for your donors to bear. Which is why Blackbaud cautions that “the 100% virtual event model will not be sufficient to attract participants and motivate them to fundraise for your cause.”
But this caution does not mean donors are unwilling to give or even participate in safe creative gatherings. Fundraisers actually have a tremendous opportunity to inspire donors to action. Proper messaging will be key—you’ll need to strike the right balance of urgency, inspiration, and hope. When executed properly, the stats show donors give—and give more generously, as seen in Blackbaud’s research:
- Average gift amount increased 63% to $109 in Spring 2020
- Participant solicited gifts also increased $11.71 YOY (current $118.99)
So donor dollars are available. Now it’s up to funding leaders like you to find a winning strategy. Here are a few things to get you started.
Engagement: Safety First
Creativity is going to be king this year and next year. Some nonprofits will move to 100% virtual fundraising—events, social campaigns, digital communications, and so on. Other nonprofits will create some sort of hybrid model. If you operate in an area where some people can safely gather under CDC guidelines, you might want to consider some of these for a hybrid event:
- Community Driven: host smaller, outside events like car parades or neighborhood gatherings.
- Organizationally Driven: distribute pinwheels, candles, or ribbons for entire neighborhoods or towns to place at the end of driveways on a specific date as an in-memory activity, or create a living memorial (stationary or a flat truck that drives through town).
- Virtually Driven: host a fundraising event but pre-record most of the content (like sponsor thank yous, welcome message, etc.) and only do the most engaging portion live.
Here are Firefly Partners, we’re hesitant to encourage in-person get togethers beyond a participant’s container. However, many of the hybrid ideas can fit safely within CDC COVID-19 guidelines.
Now, if a hybrid event isn’t appealing or possible for you, a 100% virtual event is your best option. Your staff will want to think of similarly creative ways to make the experience unique and impactful. Some of Blackbaud’s ideas:
- Form fundraising teams that will “adopt” someone affected by the mission
- Personal gifts delivered (outdoor, masked) by a staff member
- Pairing up team captains that live close together to rally support toward a team goal
Here’s a great example of a hybrid event:
Embrace DIY Fundraising
One way to give your virtual fundraising strategy a boost is to rally your mission champions for peer-to-peer fundraising. By empowering your constituents to create a fundraiser and invite friends and family to give, you multiply the movement beyond your own staff efforts. Here are a few examples Blackbaud cited in their report:
- Kate streamed live conversations on May 31 to raise $13k for The Bail Project.
- John played video games for 24-hours to support the Black Lives Matter Foundation.
- James ran a marathon in his backyard, exceeding his fundraising goal and tiring out his legs for a good cause.
If you don’t have a peer-to-peer program, consider launching it now or even reimagining your current DIY fundraising program as a supporter-driven program. Paint the picture for your constituents that while the future feels unclear and hazy, here is a concrete way they can have impact on lives right now. Blackbaud recommends that you “give your volunteers, event participants, team captains the tools, ideas and freedoms to engage their local community on their own terms.”
A New Way Forward
Whether you host hybrid events or empower peer-to-peer campaigns, your nonprofit will continue to depend upon virtual components for raising funds. You’ll have to do some things you’ve never done in this new era. Some efforts will work, some will likely fall flat. But the key is to keep pressing forward. Keep connecting your constituents to the mission and the impact they can make through your organization. If you’d like help crafting a strategy, Firefly Partners is ready to walk with you on this very new, unknown path!