How to Create Fundraising That Resonates During the Pandemic


There are two main threats to nonprofit communications in the coming months.

This post is about how to overcome the first challenge: how to modify your fundraising so that it’s relevant to donors, while still following direct response best practices.

Here’s what’s going on in a nutshell:

  1. Your donor is living in a new, different world than she was two months ago.
  2. If your fundraising sounds the same as it did two months ago, you run the risk of sounding out of touch. Irrelevant, even.
  3. How do you modify your fundraising to stay relevant?

Because you can guess how many donations your fundraising communications are going to raise during the slump if they sound out of touch or irrelevant…


I’m not talking about a wholesale change in your message.

But I am talking about recontextualizing why your donor is needed right now, and what your donor’s gift will do.

Which is just a fancy way of saying, modify the way you describe why your donor’s gift is needed. To make it clear you’re talking about right now.

Example Time

First things first: avoid “pandemic-splaining.” You’ve seen this, I’m sure – the e-appeal you received last week where the first three boring paragraphs explained the pandemic.

You don’t need to do this. You might write those paragraphs – I know I have. But you just need to delete them before sending.

You want to acknowledge the new normal, not spend time on it.

Which brings me to a mildly effective way to make your fundraising relevant – tell your donor that her gift is important.

  • “Because now more than ever, your gift is needed to save the whales… “
  • “During this critical time, your gift to support the Arts in Topeka… “

That’s good fundraising, and it’s always important. It’s a powerful message right now because it taps into your donor’s context that the world is a different place.

However, the savvy organizations go one step further – in addition to saying that the donor’s gift is more important, you tell her why it’s more important:

  • “Due to the uncertainty all of us are experiencing, more people than ever are interested in the Gospel. Your gift to share the Word is more effective today than it was just weeks ago. Because more people are more interested in hearing it!”
  • “You’ve probably read that domestic violence has increased since we’ve been sheltering in place. Your gift to provide a night of safety for a victim of domestic abuse is doubly important right now… “
  • “Unfortunately, we’re facing increased food costs that are beyond our budget. Fresh vegetables are more expensive than they’ve ever been. Your gift will help the kids you care so much about by helping meet the increased expenses.”  

Note that the examples have nothing to do with the coronavirus or the medical response to the resulting sickness. These are examples of how organizations that are still being harmed by the current situation can share that harm with their donors.

What You Should Look For

Look for the ways the coronavirus, the economic downturn, and social changes have harmed your organization, beneficiaries, or cause. And look for how your organization’s work has been changed – for better or worse.

Use them in your fundraising in the coming months to make your fundraising relevant to your donors.

If your donors are anything like the donors of the organizations we’ve been privileged to communicate with (and they are!), your donors will respond with remarkable compassion and generosity!

The Most Important Information in Appeals and Newsletters

The Most Important Information in Appeals and Newsletters

Information hierarchy.

In a nutshell, some information is more important than others. And you want to communicate the most important information first.

When you create fundraising plans, you need to know what’s more important.

Then you need to make sure your fundraising clearly communicates the most important ideas first.

What’s most important depends on what you’re creating.

When You Are Asking

This happens in appeal letters, e-appeals, at events, and in 1-to-1 asks with major donors.

The most important pieces of information are:

  • There’s a problem right now
  • The donor can solve the problem!
  • The solution to the problem, and its cost
  • The need to respond now

Almost everything else is secondary. Absolutely, you can include other things – but the four things above are the most important elements when Asking your donors for support.

When You Are Reporting

This happens in donor newsletters, e-newsletters, and 1-to-1 reports to major donors.

The most important pieces of information to communicate are:

  • There was a problem
  • The donor solved it!

I know that seems overly simplistic. But it’s true. If your newsletter communicates those two items, your donor will know two powerful things: their gift was needed, and their gift made a difference!

When your donors know those two things, they are far more likely to give to your organization again – because they trust you.

Make It First, Make It Last

As you work on your next piece of donor communications, know what’s most important.

Then make damn sure the most important messages are the first and last messages your donor sees. Those are the portions of your fundraising that a donor is most likely to remember – they are the most important positions, so put your most important messages there.

It takes discipline. And it will feel weird at first. But it works like crazy!