Charitable Giving in Crisis? What Non-Profits Can Learn From COVID-19 (Part 1)

01 July 2020 16:08

charitable giving in crisis

Global Citizen and Lady Gaga generated more than a few headlines recently when they raised nearly $128 million USD through their One World: Together At Home campaign to benefit the World Health Organization. Scores of celebrities, philanthropists, influencers and self-made billionaires have pledged their support to individual causes, too, from sports stars like footballers Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to fashion designer Giorgio Armani to Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

But for nonprofits and GMOs without a global telecast fundraiser or celebrity connections, the COVID-19 pandemic presents a grim reality. According to a survey conducted by the Nonprofit Finance Fund®, 50% of nonprofits have experienced reduced levels of giving, while only 6% of respondents have seen an increase in donations. Yet dramatically increased demand for services, slimmer-than-ever operating margins and well-founded concerns for the safety and well-being of clients, staff and volunteers have plunged nonprofits into a world of uncertainty.

All is not lost, however. One survey from Fidelity indicates 79% of respondents plan to maintain or increase their donation levels this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting organizations that can help or support others in the crisis remain top of mind for donors. This philanthropic inclination is further bolstered by programs like the US CARES Act, a new law that incentivizes charitable giving. What can nonprofits do to take advantage of this wave of generosity in such a time of duress? Our team compiled a few thought-starters.

Draw Inspiration from Others

After shutting their doors to stop the spread of COVID-19, the team running Paris restaurant Quartier Rouge started using their space to prepare meals for those in need. Some 30 volunteers now deliver up to 250 meals a day to health care providers, paramedics, less fortunate families and the underhoused.

In Kentucky, insurance provider Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s foundation directed more than $100,000 USD in new funds to three of the state’s Boys & Girls Clubs. The donation will be used to expand virtual youth programming such as online storytime and provide meals, snack packs and hygiene kits for at-risk and low-income youth.

And in Pennsylvania, the Bristol Township Senior Center was recently granted $27,000 USD to expand programs aimed at helping older adults maintain access to food, vital information, healthcare services and essential medications. Meanwhile, a group of Penn State students formed Shop4Seniors to shop for and deliver groceries to seniors; the group has recruited 50 volunteers in 13 counties to assist in Shop4Seniors’ efforts.

What do these good-news examples have in common? They key in on an important factor of charitable giving in the COVID-19 crisis: making an immediate impact on real people. Donors are more likely to give to causes that support those risking their own health on the front lines and/or those who belong to an already socially isolated or at-risk population. The odds of success tip more in your favor when your nonprofit can make a connection between the services you provide, the speed at which you can provide them and the essential personnel or people - the humans - who will benefit.

Let us offer one caveat to this advice, however: think inside the box. Build on the best practices of others in a way that authentically reflects both the context of the current times and your organization’s mission, vision and values.

Think Like a Philanthropist

In a recent article on, philanthropic strategist Bruce DeBoskey offers seven suggestions to investors who wish to support non-profits during the COVID-19 outbreak. While his advice is targeted toward the check-writers of the world, his tips are just as relevant when considered through the lens of your nonprofit’s fundraising strategy.

For example, DeBoskey counsels philanthropists to give more to the nonprofits they already know, believe in and support. Turn that advice around by reaching out to your most consistent and reliable donors with a very targeted ask. Share with them how your organization is responding to the COVID-19 crisis, what your current needs are and what you plan to accomplish with additional funds. Assure your donors of the immediate impact they can make through their charitable giving, especially if you’ve created a special fund or response team to navigate the COVID-19 crisis.

We hope these examples serve as inspiration to help your organization connect with those in need—and those in a position to help you meet that need, financially. In our next post, we will dive into how to use data and other resources to connect the dots.

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