Management and Leadership in Nonprofits


Fundraising in crisis: It’s all about stewardship and creativity

Apr 29, 2020
By: Kate Atkins

Won’t it be great to have our next in-person, one-on-one meeting with a donor? Usually one of the hardest tasks for most folks is something we look forward to now. Real connection. In-person connection.

But what do we do now? How do we engage our donors when we can’t meet with them for coffee or at our Gala?

Fundraising, as you know, is all about relationships. This crisis does not change that. We have an unprecedented opportunity to be stewards to our donors like never before. Yes, I do mean to focus on stewardship.

In general, this is not the time to recruit prospective donors. This is the time for YOU to be there FOR your donors! Ask how they are, offer assistance, be kind. Their lives have been overturned just like yours. Schedule video check-ins. Ask them what they need to stay positive during this time.

As you offer your support, don’t assume their donations will stop or diminish. We have no way of knowing their financial situation. Of course, be kind if they share that their donation amounts need to change. But don’t assume. This may be the time they need to feel like a hero the most.

As you talk with donors, be transparent. Tell them how you are functioning now, how you plan to get through this time, and tell them your pain points. Tell them where they can help the most. This may be the best time to get money for operational funds. People know you are hurting and know you need help just keeping your doors open. If they are a current donor and believe in your mission, they don’t need you to explain that times are hard.

Many of you are seeing an increase for your services during this time. Make that known. What are your new monthly expenses? Do you have a monthly giving program? If you do, great! Let them know how important they are, especially now. If you don’t have one, start one. Connect the increase in monthly need to the increase in the need of monthly donations. This is a way some of your donors can increase their yearly giving and help with immediate operational needs now.

Events are a great way to steward your donors. This is NOT the time to cancel giving events. Cancel (or postpone) them if they were in person, of course. but be creative and hold them anyway.

  • Hold your event online and have food delivered to each of your attendees at their home; or send them a gift card so they can order themselves.
  • Have them log in to an online event to learn some truth about what is going on in your organization, to hear inspiring stories, to hear from an important speaker, or to play an online game. There are many games becoming available for online groups.
  • Hold a contest where people must pay to vote for their favorite.
  • Hold a trivia game once a week or month. Pay to play with some basic prizes. People are longing for interaction. Warn them you will make them turn their webcam on!

When all this is over, and we discover what the new normal looks like, donors will remember the organizations who kept in touch, care about them and were transparent. They will remember organizations that gave them connection and interaction during this time.


Kate Atkins, MS
Client Development Advisor
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Management and Leadership in Nonprofits blog
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