How to Invest Limited Fundraising Resources for Your COVID-19 Response

Read Time: 6 minutes


For almost every nonprofit organization, COVID-19 has placed a strain on essential resources in one way or another. Some are fighting to remain viable in the face of a total shutdown of their operating model. Others are experiencing skyrocketing demand and an outpouring of generosity from their communities. Still more are somewhere in the middle.

What all organizations have in common, though, is continued pressure to raise money at or above previous levels, all while trying to conserve resources in an uncertain environment.

To thread the needle between increased fundraising needs and scarce resources to meet those needs, you’ll need to think critically. Our Strategic Information Services team recently shared a process all organizations can follow—in as little as three weeks—to develop a crisis fundraising strategy using their donor data.

Beyond following that all-purpose process, we recommend using an approach tailored to the way the pandemic has impacted your organization. Below, we walk through fundraising approaches designed for organizations facing three different realities:

  • “We are fighting to survive.”
  • “This is our moment.”
  • “We’re not on the front lines, and we’re not sure what we should be doing.”

"We are fighting to survive."

Many organizations are facing existential threats from COVID-19, often as a result of lost earned revenue. If your organization is in this situation, your board has likely frozen all non-essential expenditures, and you may have already needed to furlough or lay off staff. In this case, your most precious resource is time. By following these guiding principles, you can use this time as effectively as possible to manage the crisis.

Major Gifts: Still the Best ROI

Now, as always, major giving represents the lowest cost per dollar raised. All staff and volunteers with major gift expertise should have as much of their time as possible redirected towards the prospects who can make big gifts. This may mean taking resources away from annual giving or mid-level gifts temporarily.

For each major gift prospect, you’ll want to decide several things:

  • Your story. What will this donor want to know that will compel support?
  • Your team. What volunteers or other staff are best positioned to tell that story?
  • Your ask. How much can this prospect reasonably give? Do you expect to ask in the first conversation?

For many of these individuals, you may have already had strategies in place or asks planned. Leverage the great information you’ve already gathered to formulate your strategy, but give yourself permission to accelerate your plan and pivot.

Focus on Your Closest Supporters

For an organization in crisis, now is the time to cash in on the goodwill you have built up. Tell the donors with whom you have the closest relationships what’s at stake and ask them for the support you need.

Even as you share detail on your challenges, it’s important to share a vision for a vibrant future, with updates on how the organization is adapting and what it will take to overcome the challenges you cite. Be prepared to tell a story about how your mission, whatever that is, is important to the world today.

In addition, while you’re setting up your donor to give, bear in mind that this will likely not be the last time you make an ask. Be honest about the scale of the need and the scope of the threat, and they will understand that one gift won’t save everything.

Matching Gifts

Major donors will always want to make the greatest impact possible with their gifts. Some may be interested in motivating lower-level donors to give through matching gifts. By encouraging matching gifts and setting up double or triple matches, you can inspire giving from annual and mid-level donors with less effort.

Crafting Your Case

If your organization’s situation is dire, it probably feels difficult to know what to say. You need to convey urgency while also demonstrating a viable path forward. The details you share with your closest insiders will be different from what you share in mass communications.

Consider testing messaging with board members and other close stakeholders to make sure your messaging threads the needle effectively. This can also be a good cultivation activity for your volunteers, helping them see more clearly the challenges you face in this moment.

Online Fundraising

Some organizations in this situation may find that they have a limited amount of funding to retain outside help, whether through cash reserves or a gift earmarked for this purpose. If this is the case, consider investing in counsel focused on online fundraising.

Your next-level donors are spending an increasing amount of time online, and email, social media, and other digital appeals will be critical to reaching them. Counsel can help you quickly set up or refine a digital strategy, allowing your staff to focus on major gifts.

“This is our moment.”

An organization dealing directly with the effects of COVID-19 will also most likely be in crisis mode, but for different reasons. Your program staff are likely under intense pressure to increase capacity, and your fundraisers are seeing a surge in giving. This is a moment that could be transformational for your organization if you can stick with fundraising best practices and lay the groundwork for giving beyond the crisis.

Identify New Major Gift Prospects

Low- and mid-level gifts are often the way a new major gift prospect introduces themselves. Keep your eyes on new gifts for signs that an individual might have capacity and affinity to give more.

Having several criteria for further outreach or investigation could help: If an individual gives a first-time gift of $500 or above, or if a donor doubles their previous gift, they may be worth a phone call. Custom dashboards or reports can help you identify these prospects quickly.

Offer Opportunities for Greater Engagement

Effective donor stewardship should include opportunities to engage more deeply with your organization’s mission. First-time donor acknowledgement letters can include a survey focused on what aspects of your mission your donors most value, what led them to give, and how they would like to be engaged in the future. Thank-you calls for mid-level donors can focus on the same topics.

In every case, knowing more about your donors will help you identify which donors you can move to the next level.

Consider Multiple Fundraising Scenarios

Amidst the current environment of uncertainty, it can be difficult to plan for the future. At the same time, you are likely getting questions from your board about what they can expect.

Beam Insights allows you to develop unlimited scenarios based on regularly updated capacity information. As new donors are screened and added to your database, you can factor them into how the rest of the year, and beyond, might play out.

Beam Insights can also help you make sure that your high-potential prospects are currently assigned to a fundraiser, allowing you to focus your time where it’s needed most.

Invest in Help Where You Need It

If there’s simply too much new fundraising activity for you to handle, counsel can help you manage your pipeline. Counsel can develop processes to identify the best prospects, ensure strong donor stewardship, improve coordination across your teams, and harness all the potential of this moment.

Your case for support is another area that may be worth further investment. This crisis has shone a light on the importance of your mission, and it’s critical that you are able to share your success and your vision for the future. Our Communications team recently shared advice on the next phase of communications during this crisis.

“We’re not on the front lines, and we’re not sure what we should be doing.”

For organizations not under threat and not directly involved in the COVID-19 crisis, this can be a confusing time. While you may still have a mission that’s impacted by the pandemic, don’t force a connection if one doesn’t exist. Stay in touch with your top donors and use this time to prepare for a successful period of active fundraising when things calm down.

Refresh Your Wealth Screening Data

Accurate, up-to-date wealth screening data is always useful, but at a moment that calls for thoughtful planning, it’s even more necessary. Take the time to update your data and then use it to find new prospective donors within your database. There may be prospects you haven’t identified hiding in plain sight, giving small gifts every year and waiting to be qualified.

Revisit Portfolios Using Beam Insights

As you identify new prospects, you’ll need to make room for them in staff portfolios. Conduct a thorough review of each portfolio, ensuring that you are focused on the right prospects. With Beam Insights, you can identify highly-rated prospects without a manager and low-rated prospects with a manager, which will help you adjust portfolio composition.

Prepare for Virtual Events

Even if COVID-19 hasn’t impacted your mission directly, it has hampered your ability to bring your supporters together at events. Rather than simply cancelling fundraising or cultivation events, consider moving them online.

A small-scale cultivation event need not be highly-produced; providing a behind-the-scenes, intimate conversation with an organizational leader is simple to execute and compelling to many donors. Larger-scale fundraising events are more difficult to execute in a compelling way; consider engaging counsel to draw on expertise from a wide range of other institutions to plan and run your event.

Reach Out for Help

While we hope this guide is a good starting point for your planning, the challenges posed by COVID-19 extend well beyond this. We’re offering free 30-minute consultations where we’d be happy to answer any questions you have—email us at to schedule a call.

We also encourage you to check out the Campbell & Company COVID-19 resource page for all the information we’ve put out to date on how to navigate this moment. Please feel free to reach out with any questions!


Katelyn Martin

Katelyn Martin is a Senior Consultant at Campbell & Company, with a primary focus in arts & culture philanthropy. She works to identify opportunities to leverage strategic use of data and communications.