An open letter to fundraising professionals: Keep fundraising even as COVID spikes

Written by Winkler Group Principals: Timothy M. Winkler, Sr., CEO; Jim Bush, President; Jessica Browning, Executive Vice President

Please keep fundraising—even as the country grapples with increasing numbers of COVID cases. You may be hesitant to reach out and ask for your donors’ help, thinking they have more important things to focus on. 

If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that pressing pause on fundraising can be dangerous. 

The communities our nonprofits serve are still relying on us. Arguably, they need us now more than before. So, keep your capital campaign on track. Start planning your end-of-the-year appeal and building strategies for 2022. It’s what your donors are expecting. 

During the first months of the pandemic, donors spoke through their gifts. Instead of stepping back and waiting for things to settle down, they took action and doubled down on philanthropy. We called it counterintuitive fundraising because it didn’t seem logical until you dug a little deeper. 

Giving in 2020 was higher than ever before in our nation’s history because of the pandemic. Record numbers of donors gave…and gave big. In fact, we saw more transformational gifts made to our client organizations this past year than at any other time in our firm’s 17-year history. 

By contrast, organizations and institutions that remained silent over the past 18 months are now struggling. Many have been forced to close because their donors left them behind. Let their mistake be a cautionary tale. 

“During the first months of the pandemic, donors spoke through their gifts.”

Keep building relationships with your donors. They are problem-solvers at heart and the bleaker the news, the more likely they’ll step forward to help. Make sure they know how well you’ve used their past investment to counter the pandemic’s challenges and then ask for their support again. 

If a donor was passionate about your cause in 2019, they are still passionate about it today! And they understand that your operations have been impacted by the changes are all facing. Let them help you move into the next chapter as you strive to better serve your community. 

Fundraising season is just around the corner, making our message more critical than ever. Year-end appeals will come quickly and remember that nearly half of all philanthropic gifts are made in November and December. If you take your foot off the gas, there’s a good chance your donors won’t give—and they won’t come back in 2022. 

If you need more convincing, consider the stock market, whose performance is highly correlated with philanthropy. The stronger the market, the larger the gifts as donors seek to offset their stock market gains. Just last week, Goldman Sachs raised their projections for the S&P 500 index through the end of 2021—predicting an overall 25 percent increase over 2020. These projections spell enormous potential for year-end giving as long as you make your case and ask. 

Now is the time to keep going; strengthen your donor relationships rather than ignore them.  Provide your donors with an opportunity to solve one of history’s biggest challenges.  Give philanthropy a chance to do what it does best: brighten up our darkest days.  

About the Authors

As founder and CEO, Tim Winkler provides the overall strategic direction, vision, and day-to-day management of the firm’s practice. He serves as a national director of the Giving Institute and is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE). Throughout his career, every campaign he has led has met or exceeded its goal. He has a B.A. from Wheaton College and an M.A. from Columbia Biblical Seminary.

Jim Bush, Winkler Group Principal and President, has been a fundraiser for more than 30 years. Recognized as an expert in his field, he’s helped nonprofits, universities, and healthcare systems raise more than $300 million and increase their organizational capacity through strategic planning. A noted lecturer, trainer, and teacher, Jim’s articles on fundraising have been published in leading nonprofit journals. He serves on the Giving USA Editorial Review Board and holds a bachelor’s degree from Elon University.

Jessica Browning, Winkler Group Principal and Executive Vice President, has helped lead nonprofit organizations for more than 25 years. An award-winning case statement writer, Jessica is a specialist in donor communications and a former member of the Giving USA Editorial Review Board. Jessica received a B.A. from Duke University as well as an M.A. and M.B.A. from the College of William & Mary.

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