The current pandemic has had wide reaching effects on all types of businesses, including nonprofit organizations. Despite the real threat posed by COVID-19, the need to support these important missions and philanthropic organizations remains unchanged. Now more than ever communities are relying on local nonprofits, yet many are experiencing new challenges to fund their causes.

Social distancing recommendations and stay-at-home orders have compelled nonprofits with spring fundraisers to find new ways to engage supporters during what is typically a critical fundraising season. With advances in online and mobile technology, today’s nonprofits are positioned to navigate this emerging health crisis just as historically they’ve continued their fundraising through natural disasters and economic recessions.

We’ve seen the true resilient spirit of the nonprofit community as the first wave of organizations quickly pivoted to virtual fundraising with short timelines and limited resources.

Shifting to Virtual Fundraising

Using technology to expand the reach outside of the traditional gala is not a new concept. For more than a decade we’ve been enabling nonprofits to grow their fundraising both online and in-person. However, during these unprecedented times there’s an accelerated need for new strategies to connect with supporters remotely.

As event restrictions began rolling out in mid-March, we saw many nonprofits forced to shift (sometimes with no more than 48-hours notice) to a virtual fundraiser. Whether that was moving to an online auction, virtual appeal, or online giving campaign, four critical strategies emerged for success:

1) Proactive & Transparent Communication – getting the word out about the virtual shift and keeping supporters engaged through text messages, social media posts, and email updates.

2) Clear Mission & Impact Messaging – leveraging images, pre-recorded video, and livestreaming to bring their mission and impact to life. 

3) Community & Social Connections – creating opportunities for community and peer-to-peer engagement with social media sharing, virtual video meetups, and donor “thank you” galleries.

4) Easy Giving Experiences– supporting simplified giving experiences with online donation forms, mobile bidding, and text-based donations.  

Among the first organizations to pivot to virtual fundraising were two Indianapolis-area nonprofits raising funds to support the new challenges in our local community.

As food insecurity in Indianapolis grew under the threat of COVID-19, Second Helpings couldn’t postpone their annual Corks & Forks fundraising gala in April. Along with the support of their sponsors and volunteers, they were able to transition to an online auction and virtual event with more than 100 silent auction items, pre-recorded video content, and text alerts to keep supporters engaged. Their first ever virtual event turned out to be one of their most successful fundraisers to date, setting a new record for their donation appeal.

When Boys & Girls of Noblesville had to postpone their annual March 2020 event, they chose to bring a large portion of their silent auction online to generate fundraising immediately, rather than waiting until their June rescheduled date. They chose items that were hot sellers or with expiration dates and relied on board members and active supporters to get the word out on social media. Their virtual auction reached more than 1,000 supporters online, helping grow their silent auction by 57% over last year.

OneCause has assembled a COVID-19 Fundraising Resource Center with success stories from other organizations, best practice guides, and timely webinars to help nonprofits navigate this challenging time.

The Future of Fundraising

While there’s still a lot of uncertainty of when we’ll return to “normal,” we’re encouraged by the quick action and creativity of nonprofits that have found new ways to reach supporters in a virtual world.  We strongly believe events will always play an important role in the fundraising strategy for many nonprofits.

There will always be a need for people to connect, for communities and supporters to give and celebrate the impact of these powerful causes. The real question is, how much will the virtual pivot influence the future of fundraising? The makeup of fundraising events will continue to evolve as we see more organizations leverage technology to create hybrid or virtual giving experiences to widen their reach and extend giving to a new world of remote supporters.