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New Study: Key Takeaways from COVID-19

The world has changed and so has philanthropy. How has COVID-19 impacted fundraising for major and planned gifts? A new study just released by Crescendo shares stories and interviews of fundraisers, philanthropy consultants and donors during COVID-19. It also features some of the best practices seen during this time and examples of effective nonprofit communications for reaching out to donors moving forward. Here are a few insights from the study.

Value of Multichannel Marketing

Philanthropy consultant and Fablanthropy, LLC, founder Lisa Chmiola says that during the pandemic, direct mail communications became even more important, “especially as donors experienced an influx in their email inboxes and were spending much of their day at the computer.” While many fundraisers found email and online marketing important during this time, others used the opportunity to revisit sending print pieces to donors through the mail to stand out and supplement other marketing strategies. “In the years leading up to the pandemic, organizations were exploring more digital outreach. Digital is still important and isn’t going away, but a multichannel approach is recommended to maximize potential,” Lisa says.

Focusing on the Long Term

Another important lesson from this time is the need for long-term planning, especially for endowments. “Oftentimes it’s easy to get caught up in making a fundraising goal for the year, but long-term sustainability is critical, especially in cases like a pandemic where solicitations might be paused or reduced for a time,” Lisa says. It’s times like these when we have seen the true value of a planned giving program. While annual or current gifts may go down, planned giving continues to grow along with donors’ understanding that lasting lifetime gifts create sustainability for a nonprofit.

Convenience to the Donor

Wayne Olson, planned giving officer for Intermountain Healthcare Foundation, says his focus has shifted to what is convenient for donors. During the pandemic he met with many donors via video conference. He says that moving forward the plan is to offer donors video conferences as well as in-person visits, depending on their preferences. Wayne also anticipates that email and electronic communications will be even more important because of their easy accessibility. Wayne says his work has always been and will always be about people. Intermountain Foundation will continue to serve donors “where they are at” and “look for ways to show appreciation.”

Movement to Virtual

Philanthropy consultant Judi Smith points to how almost every nonprofit in the country had to scrap golf tournaments and galas and either lose money or figure out how to manage these events virtually. One nonprofit Judi advises had to cancel a golf tournament that has been part of their revenue picture for decades. Upon reviewing their sponsorship levels, it became apparent to Judi that the organization offered nothing below $2,500. The nonprofit quickly added lower dollar levels for Holes in One, Birdies, Eagles and Albatrosses. They then segmented their golf donors into groups according to past level of support and solicited a repeat sponsorship at the previous level but included the new options for sponsorship. The nonprofit ended up with more money for their non-golf tournament than they had received the prior year.

Stronger Than Before

Judi says the positive takeaway from this time for philanthropy is that, as a profession, we confirmed our resilience. “Yes, we may have downsized our services and unfortunately our staff. But just as in the Great Recession, we survived and are stronger now than we were before,” stated Judi. Nonprofits were forced to determine what was really important with more limited staff and resources. Looking ahead, Judi sees a leaner nonprofit sector, more focused on its mission and the donors who make that mission possible. “I trust we will take to heart the lessons we were forced to learn in the pandemic,” she says.

What will you take away from this time? The nonprofits that have embraced new ways of fulfilling their mission, communicating with supporters and motivating philanthropy have not only survived, but thrived. Download the study for insights as you consider your nonprofit’s path moving forward.

Kristen Schultz Jaarda

By Kristen Jaarda, JD, LLM, CAP®
Executive Vice President, Crescendo Interactive, Inc.

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