Individual giving fundraising campaigns helpful for nonprofits facing fundraising hurdles due to COVID-19

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits have had to shift their fundraising strategies, knowing they don’t have as many tools in their arsenal as they did about a year ago. 

Perhaps the biggest change has been the inability to host in-person events, an opportunity nonprofits organizations have historically relied upon to cultivate new supporters, steward longtime supporters and bring in revenue from ticket sales, on-site auctions and pledges. 

Common Threads lost out on two opportunities to host in-person events, having to indefinitely postpone two events originally scheduled for March and April. As the pandemic wore on, smaller events such as board happy hours and panel discussions either moved to a virtual space or didn’t happen at all.

Even before COVID-19, individual giving campaigns were becoming a fast growing revenue stream for nonprofits. In 2019 an estimated $1.97 billion was raised on Giving Tuesday through online and offline donations, with an estimated $2.47 billion raised this year (according to The Nonprofit Times). Regional giving days, such as The Miami Foundation’s Give Miami Day, have seen similar success. More than $14 million was raised on Give Miami Day in November 2019, increasing to more than $18.2 million in 2020.

Common Threads has also seen growth through its campaigns. Previous Give Miami Day campaigns raised between $1,400 and $6,100 before 2019, but Common Threads raised more than $15,000 each year in 2019 and 2020. Giving Tuesday had been a fairly quiet campaign in 2019 with $9,200 raised, but exploded into a major fundraiser with over $50,000 raised in 2020.

These increases came as a result of careful planning and strategy, and implementing key learnings from past campaigns, including some of the following tips.

Matching funds make all the difference

Individual donors, foundations and corporations often offer to match donations up to a certain amount. Are there loyal donors who would be willing to be positioned as one of your match partners? This year, Common Threads was fortunate to have a $10,000 Giving Tuesday match from Zoom Video Communications, something that motivated many of our donors to give and brought several new donors into the campaign from Zoom’s employee base.

“Collaborating with Zoom was a game changer for Common Threads,” said CEO & Co-Founder Linda Novick O’Keefe. “Donors shared with us that they donated more because of the match, and they recruited new donors to our campaign since we don’t always have this opportunity for matched funds.”

Set a stretch goal

Many donors want to see where the bar is set, and some of them will be instrumental in helping you get over that bar. Our team has erred on the side of being ambitious, setting goals that were in some cases triple or quadruple the results of the previous year, but we’ve exceeded these goals with almost all of our recent campaigns. Ask for early pledges from some of your loyal donors to see if you’ll be receiving larger gifts that will allow you to set a higher goal.

Get everyone involved

Spread the word to your staff and board members at least a month in advance, and be clear about what you’d like them to do. At Common Threads, we ask board members to share the campaign with 10 people in their network while also encouraging them to make a donation toward their annual board dues. We also encourage staff to share the campaign if they are comfortable doing so.

Repetition matters

There are a number of terrific nonprofit organizations out there, and most of them are competing for dollars from individual donors. Don’t sit quietly on the sidelines waiting for the donations to come in. Make sure you get your message out there a few times and with higher frequency as you get closer to the campaign. It is also helpful to coach your board members and staff on some strategies to make a follow-up communication sound less like a broken record and more like a friendly reminder.

Quantify the value of the gift

We decided early on to focus our campaigns on the need to implement grocery deliveries for our families participating in our at-home, virtual cooking and nutrition education lessons. Having the ingredients at home has made all the difference in achieving higher levels of engagement with our participants while also realizing the important side benefit of putting two healthy meals on the table at a time when food insecurity is rampant in communities across the country. We made sure to build this theme into our communications, informing donors that every $25 helps a family gain access to groceries.

“Once I realized that $25 could feed a family of four, it inspired me to mobilize my community on Give Miami Day,” said Rochelle Gapere, a recent addition to Common Threads’ Miami Board. “They were in turn inspired to play their own part in paying it forward. Together [my friends and I] were able to feed a whopping 120 families!”

Take a peek at Rochelle sharing her success with her Instagram followers late in the evening on Give Miami Day!

Create a dialogue as you fundraise

As part of our collaboration with Zoom and Pledgeling on Giving Tuesday, Common Threads held a video call on Giving Tuesday, “Tackling Hunger during COVID-19” to discuss the issues of hunger and food insecurity from the lens of board members Michelle Bernstein and Angie Cooper, Jose Bustos, a parent and PTA president from Piney Point Elementary in Houston, Alejandro Diasgranados, a fourth grade teacher at Aiton Elementary in Washington D.C., and Common Threads chef instructor (and co-founder of Everything Food) Monti Carlo. Carlo shared her perspective as someone who has come full circle, previously facing food insecurity as a single mom, but now teaching families emerging from this challenge. This half hour call introduced new supporters to Common Threads’ “why” while also presenting a compelling call to action that encouraged fundraising.

“The collaboration with Zoom gave Common Threads an opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation about how our organization helps combat food insecurity,” said Common Threads board chair Angie Cooper, who is also executive director of the Heartland Summit and chief programs officer for Heartland Forward.Zoom’s new OnZoom platform offered a great way to raise funds and a fun way to connect with new and existing partners.”

 

Staff the campaign just like you would an event

Dedicate a few people on the team who can manage the campaign without having to worry about other major responsibilities that day. Day-of duties include logging donations, reporting out to staff and board members on progress made, and getting a head start on thank yous and acknowledgements. Don’t forget to staff a team to handle “after hours” donors, especially someone who can rally board members to make one final ask as you’re getting close to your goal. You’ll also want to schedule a team who can handle some of the final steps in the days after, such as thank you letters, data entry and announcements of campaign results.

Reach your entire donor base

Campaigns like Giving Tuesday and Give Miami Day tend to have more of an online, digital feel, but what about your other donors who may prefer to see the appeal land in their mailbox? Our team implemented a focused direct mail campaign targeted at past donors, which helped us top off our individual giving season with an additional $4,000. We’re duplicating these efforts in 2020, hoping we’ll receive an additional $10,000. 

Demonstrate gratitude

Common Threads has had a tradition of calling or emailing each donor who gave during these campaigns to say thank you, regardless of the size of the gift. Donors have responded well to this practice, and with one of our new donors telling a board member, “I just got a thank you call from Common Threads, and now I have tears in my eyes!” Also, don’t forget to thank the board members and staff who stepped up in a big way by making or soliciting gifts, or doing other things to make the campaign happen. Find ways to celebrate your success with them.

Even as communities hopefully begin to emerge from COVID-19 in the coming months, there is no doubt that giving campaigns will remain a major fundraising strategy for nonprofit organizations.

ABOUT COMMON THREADS

Common Threads is a national nonprofit that provides children and families cooking and nutrition education to encourage healthy habits that contribute to wellness. We equip under-resourced communities with information to make affordable, nutritious and appealing food choices wherever they live, work, learn and play. We know that food is rooted in culture and tradition, so we promote diversity in our lessons and recipes, encouraging our participants to celebrate the world around them. To learn more, visit www.commonthreads.org or on social media by searching for #CookingForLife.