As we navigate this time of worldwide economic uncertainty, saying these times are “challenging” in the nonprofit world is understating the reality. While the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has affected organizations in different ways, nearly every nonprofit is concerned with maintaining donor engagement and achieving fundraising results. Many institutional donors have stepped up with accelerated distributions and special grants. Between institutional giving and legislative support through the CARES Act (and other governmental action), nonprofits have been provided with liquidity during the initial crisis. However, many organizations depend on a substantial portion of support from individuals and small businesses, many of which are also feeling the stress of an uncertain future. How will you reach these donors with the right messaging?

The effects of COVID-19 are expected to be felt not only from the last few months but going forward for many months and even years. We don’t know how long a potential recession or even depression could last, or how many jobs or businesses will be casualties of these conditions.

To effectively reach donors in times of crisis, it’s important not to lead with the ask. Our nonprofit experts at TDT may not be marketing experts, but we’ve seen a large volume of fundraising letters from nonprofits over the years, which have led to my suggestions below. In times like this (and even in good times), everyone is asking for resources. Donors typically cancel out the “noise” from most solicitations they receive and focus on the important causes to them.

The steps for successful fundraising in uncertain times hinge on your mission being relevant and resonating with donors:


Give a basic overview of how the current crisis has affected your operations. This would likely include a description of your programs and how they have been affected.


Take a moment to recognize the uncertainty facing both the Organization and the prospective donor. Empathy will go a long way here and lend credibility to your ask later. This would be a good time to discuss the impact on employees (furloughs, layoffs, effects on compensation and benefits) and the Organization’s “fixed costs” that continue to require funding.


Detail the actions the Organization has taken to adapt to the situation. How have services changed, and how are you still making progress with your mission? Have you added new programs to deliver your mission in unconventional ways?


Be transparent about your commitments to the community and the need for resources to continue to deliver on your mission. Suggest that if donors are in a position to help, they consider making a gift to help your organization meet its responsibilities and continue to deliver the mission.

Establishing your situation with donors while also empathizing with their circumstances will be crucial to convincing donors to maintain giving or consider first-time gifts to your organization. If your organization helps people specifically affected by the current crisis, you have an even more convincing reason for prospective donors to give. More people need assistance than ever before, and we all need to do our best to help those who need it. Donors will step up in times of need, and your donor communication is vital in asking them to provide financial support.

To further understand the enhanced charitable giving incentives brought forward with the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) passed by Congress, check out our article here.

Ross Van Laar, CPA and Assurance Partner at TDT, discusses the steps for successful fundraising in uncertain times. With nine years of experience, Ross specializes in audits of nonprofits, small businesses, and employee benefit plans.