Urgently Asked Questions

These “Urgently Asked Questions” are starting points for dealing with how COVID-19 is affecting your organization. We can be helpful thought partners and assist you in crafting a broader strategy. Email us to schedule a complimentary initial consultation.
Bookmark this page and check back weekly for more resources and tips. 

Is it still worthwhile to send fundraising appeals via mail?

If you usually receive a healthy amount of funds through mailed fundraising appeals, there’s no good reason to stop now. This is a time for you to be in touch with your supporters, whether through snail mail, email, or any other form of communication. Organizations that use rented lists may want continue doing so, but we would not recommend launching a direct mail campaign right now.

What’s more important is the story that you’re telling. Your story has to be timely and relevant. You must acknowledge the challenging circumstances — how COVID-19 has impacted your organization and what it means to support you. Try to be specific as possible about your needs.

If you need to be more budget-conscious, consider carefully filtering your mailing list. You may choose to only include donors who have given above a certain amount or only donors who have given in the last 2-3 years.

My school had to cancel graduation. I’m afraid this will affect long-term alumni engagement. Is there anything I can do now to help prevent this?

As graduations are cancelled, there is a fear that the graduating senior class will lose their connections with their alma mater. Students will not feel that same sense of attachment to their school in 10-20 years, which is typically when alumni start to give back. 

Consider asking your current alumni to:

  • Reach out and welcome new people into the association (individual emails, social media, etc.)
  • Conduct online mock interviews to prepare the graduating class for the workforce
  • Become mentors to graduates and ask them to set up occasional phone sessions to talk about their aspirations, transition into the next step of their lives, etc.


Important note: Today’s graduates are tomorrow’s alumni. Track your alumni aggressively from day one. Make sure you have contact information for each graduate before they leave. Stay in contact with your alumni with a semi-annual newsletter, perhaps highlighting one or two alumni per newsletter. Be sure to follow them on LinkedIn and ask them to add their high school to their profile to keep track of them.

How can I keep my alumni engaged if I can’t bring them together?

The most straight-forward way would be to host a Zoom reunion. Your alumni are surely curious now about how things are going at school and now is the time to keep them in the loop.

Other ideas might involve nostalgia evenings, class by class competitions, spirit days, etc. Have your current students speak about their experiences and what they’re going through. Attach this narrative with an opportunity to give to a scholarship fund (and highlight why giving in this way is more important now).

Can we talk about planned giving at this time?

It is not the right time to start a conversation about gifts related to “end of life” plans. However, if you are already in the middle of a conversation with a donor about estate planning, you can check-in on where they are in the process.

In your conversations with donors (which you should be having frequently), you can plant a seed by mentioning that “gifts that you received from earlier generations have helped you weather the storm in this uncertain time.”

It seems the topic of wills and estate planning is very top of mind for people at this time (which makes sense!). It could be a good time to offer planned giving or financial planning seminars for your constituents. Professionals in this space are used to these speaking engagements and can provide your group with instruments that might be generally useful. This group will remember your organization when it comes to this topic, as they are considering their own planned giving.

FreeWill, a free and simple service that allows you to write your legal will online, is a great resource to share with your constituents.

Should we pause our fundraising efforts to avoid being tone-deaf and inappropriate?

You should be increasingly in touch with your donors and stakeholders at this time. Check-in personally with each of them, see how they are feeling and fairing. This way you can better understand what your potential is to raise funds in this climate.

Do not underestimate the various motivations for giving at a time like this. Crisis does bring people together. You never know how someone is feeling, especially if they have given to you in the past. You would be surprised!

Your organization is likely affected in one way or another, so pivot your messaging. Be transparent about the impact of COVID-19 on your organization – what are your needs now?

Asking for money during a sensitive time is all about finding the right balance.

Note: look out for upcoming newsletters where we discuss the ways to approach the impact COVID-19 has on your organization.

Do donors really want to hear from me? Don’t they have enough on their minds and plates?

It’s too dangerous NOT to be in touch with all of your stakeholders at this time – board members, donors and potential donors. If you call them now to check-in on their well-being, they will remember that you treated them like a human during a time of crisis. They won’t just feel like a cash register to your organization. When you do go back to them and ask them for a gift or a favor, they will be more open to a conversation. People are connecting on more intimate levels at the moment, don’t pass up this opportunity.

Who should be calling my stakeholders?

This is a great time for your board members to reach out to your donors and stakeholders. Hearing from a peer is more meaningful than hearing from a professional. Ask each board member to take on 2-4 phone calls each. Make sure you are a constant support system during this process, providing scripts, data, etc.

Pro tip: If you’re sending out emails or letters, and you can’t send the correspondence individually, write as if you are talking to ONE person, using the second person: How are YOU? 

What do I say when I call to check in with donors?

  • Do not intend to ask for a gift, at first. Go into the conversation intending to hear how they’re feeling.
  • Do not persist or prolong the conversation if the donor seems preoccupied with their own major difficulty. Offer to be there and wish them well.
  • Do have a potential ask in your back pocket. You must be ready to respond if they ask you “what can I do to help you in this time?” You must know of your specific financial needs and your non-financial needs.
  • If you end up asking for a gift, try to be very transparent. Talk about how you’re using your funding: how you’re allotting it and telling them what you need money for. Be more specific about your ask. If you don’t have everything figured out yet, that’s fair to communicate. Everyone is doing the best they can under the circumstances.
  • In EVERY conversation, regardless of a solicitation or not, remind everyone why you exist. Every non-profit is here to support systems that are broken or void of certain community needs. That’s why our organization exists and needs to continue to do what it does.

How do you respond when donors say, “My investments have tanked?”

  • Be an active listener – if you want the person on the other end of the phone to care about what your organization is going through, you need to show them that you care about them as a person first.
  • There’s likely nothing you can do – unfortunately, you can’t solve their financial woes nor do you have a crystal ball to be able to tell the donor when things might turnaround. Be someone’s virtual shoulder and feel good about it!
  • What else can they do for you? People will feel good if they can help in other ways. Are there other non-monetary ways the person you’re speaking with can help? Are there safe volunteer opportunities (a great way to keep engaging them)? Can their broader network help your recently laid-off employees find work? Can they help you with your organization’s financial assessment or strategy crisis-planning?
  • Continue to check-in with them even if they can’t contribute financially. They will appreciate it and remember it once circumstances become more stable

This week’s newest resources, April 6

For organizations in the arts: Americans for the Arts – CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) RESOURCE AND RESPONSE CENTER

Vetted COVID-19 relief funds: Coronavirus and COVID-19 Funds from GivingCompass

International peer support group for nonprofit (non-governmental organization) workers and professionals: A Nonprofit Happy Hour (Facebook)

Care for Your Coronavirus Anxiety – Resources for anxiety and your mental health in a global climate of uncertainty: Virus Anxiety from Shine

An interactive map with response and recovery funds by city: COVID-19 Response and Recovery Funds from the National Center for Family Philanthropy

What We’re Hearing from the Field – March 30-April 3” – eJewish Philanthropy

Should we pause our fundraising efforts to avoid being tone-deaf and inappropriate?

You should be increasingly in touch with your donors and stakeholders at this time. Check-in personally with each of them, see how they are feeling and fairing. This way you can better understand what your potential is to raise funds in this climate.

Do not underestimate the various motivations for giving at a time like this. Crisis does bring people together. You never know how someone is feeling, especially if they have given to you in the past. You would be surprised!

Your organization is likely affected in one way or another, so pivot your messaging. Be transparent about the impact of COVID on your organization – what are your needs now? Asking for money during a sensitive time is all about finding the right balance.