5 Tips to Adapt Your Nonprofit Fundraising During COVID-19

This is a guest post from Andrew Goldsworthy, Director of Client Success & Growth at Rootid

adapt fundraising during covid-19


If nothing else, 2020 has been a test of our resilience and adaptability both at a personal level and for nonprofit organizations.

The challenges are huge.

Fundraising in this environment can feel overwhelming. 

But, as nonprofit professionals, we’re used to adapting and thriving in adversity!

We see firsthand that the services we provide are more critical than ever and in each challenge lies an opportunity.

To navigate these challenges, we must adapt our fundraising messaging and communications approach. Here are 5 critical elements to delivering the right message to the right audience at the right time.


1. Get To Know Your Community

It’s easy to gloss over this. You interact with your donors, volunteers, partners and community members every day, right?  But, do you really know why they were attracted to your work in the first place?  Why do they continue to support you?

Are they looking for story-based information about you or impact statistics?

As fund development and communications professionals, we need to match the right message with the right person and deliver it with the right tools. How can we do that?

To make meaningful connections, create nonprofit personas using stakeholder interviews and surveys

If you haven’t heard of personas before, they are semi-fictional characters that represent ideal donors. The process of creating personas allows you to segment your communications approach and as a result get a better response rate.

The core element of personas is understanding their motivation. Are they individuals looking to make systemic change, or are they connecting with your organization because they think you do great work efficiently with donor dollars?

You can see that based on these two very different motivations, you’d approach your fundraising appeal very differently. As an example, check out the graphic below.




Once you know whom you’re trying to convince, it’s a lot easier to frame your message.

Learn More: How to Better Engage Millennials & Gen Z in Your Fundraising Plan


2. Structure Your Message Around This

Your community does not support you because of what you do. They support you because of why you do it. Your core values align with their core values.

The now-famous TedTalk from Simon Sinek explains what he calls the “Golden Circle.” Sinek goes on to explain how as humans we are hardwired biologically to connect with the “why.” 

Golden Circle

Using this concept is crucial to developing messaging that motivates individuals to act. Make it clear how you are uniquely positioned to thrive during this time. 

Sinek suggests that you:

  1. Lead with purpose. Why do you do what you do? 

Reflect on the very heart of your mission. For what reason does your organization exist?

  1. Follow up with what sets you apart. How are you uniquely positioned to do the most good?

This isn’t the time to be humble. Donors want to see how your values are being put to work and how that work is shaping the future. 

  1. Finish with your standard pitch. What do you do? 

Be sure to emphasize the measurable impact you’re having.

For example, if you’re a dog rescue center, here’s the type of pitch you might write:

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, more dogs have been abandoned or abused than ever before. We believe that every dog deserves a safe and loving home. We provide an environment where all dogs can recover, heal and thrive by providing veterinary care, shelter and adoption services to stray dogs.

If you’re looking for a clear step-by-step process for building effective nonprofit messaging that connects with your audiences and addresses Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, take a look at this guide.


3. Connect the Dots

Studies show that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on vulnerable communities, intensifying existing inequities.

That fact may seem obvious to those in the nonprofit industry, but your potential donors might not realize just how badly your audience has been affected. Your job, in this circumstance, is to convey that disparity by connecting the dots for your audience. How has the pandemic specifically affected those you serve?

The ACLU lays it out for visitors before they even make it to the main content of their website. 



The World Wildlife Federation informs via a video presentation.

World Wildlife Federation

How can you convey the relevancy of your work?

Depending on the persona you’re trying to reach, you may be better off creating an infographic or sharing an impact story. Don’t be afraid to experiment.


4. Inspire Action

So many of us are stuck at home, frustrated with our inability to make a difference. The problem seems so large, many of us are paralyzed by the scale. 

Your organization has a unique opportunity to harness that energy.

Think beyond donations. What are some outlets you can provide to help the people in your community feel like they’re making an impact? How can you motivate them to take part?

Habitat for Humanity does a good job of this. If you take a look at their homepage, you’ll see an advocacy box imploring supporters to “Act now!” and tell Congress they support housing stability and Habitat during COVID-19. This is done via a simple form that, once filled out, generates an email to their local representative.


Habitat for Humanity


By essentially automating the task, Habitat bypasses the typical excuses people give for not reaching out to their elected officials, i.e. figuring out what to say or researching where to send it.

When coming up with your own actions, consider what barriers to completion you can eliminate on your end.


5. Pivot!

Did you do your first virtual event this year? Or are you planning one? You’re not alone. Many are trying fundraising in completely new ways.

While doing so may feel like an extra obstacle in your already packed workload, try thinking of it as an opportunity to be creative and garner more attention.

Take this event, for example:

run with billy


In August, Running Strong for American Indian Youth, founded by Olympic gold medal winner Billy Mills, hosted a virtual 10K and 5K Run/Walk

  • Participants donated $28.24 (Billy’s winning race time) for registration, received an autographed racing bib, and were then invited to participate in whatever safe manner best suited them, i.e. treadmill, local track, measured trail, etc. 

  • Those who didn’t want to run were asked to sponsor children from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation who wanted to participate. 

  • The event was backed by a social campaign, encouraging updates and selfies throughout. 

Needless to say, it was a great success! 

If you’re feeling inspired, don’t forget you have plenty of resources available to you, right here on Wild Apricot. Check out 20 Online Fundraising Ideas Perfect for Any Cause (Social Distancing Approved).


You can do it!


With these 5 tips in mind, your next fundraising campaign may be your best yet — pandemic or not. Just remember:

Deliver the right message… 

Lead with why you do what you do, follow with how you do it, and then go into what you do.

to the right person…

What motivates the audience you’re speaking to? Work on those personas.

at the right time…

Stay relevant. Connect the dots between your mission and what’s happening in the world right now.

using the right methods. 

Online auctions, text-to-give campaigns, birthday fundraisers, corporate matches, livestream challenges, etc. If it can be done in-person, chances are, there’s a virtual alternative!


Andrew GoldsworthyAs Director of Client Success & Growth at Rootid, Andrew has over 20 years experience in user interface and digital marketing and fundraising strategies for social entrepreneurs and nonprofits. He is passionate about co-designing strategies to leverage technology and communications to build capacity and impact with mission-driven organizations. He’s also an avid outdoorsman, frequently camping, skiing, fishing and fending off mosquitos.

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