Developing a Plan to Fundraise Through the Next Three Months

As many nonprofit organizations brace for what will likely be another major recession, there is a lot of uncertainty about how nonprofits can continue to serve the people who need them.  One of your top priorities moving forward will be to ensure the financial sustainability and stability of your organization.  Now is not a time to stop reaching out to your donors – in fact, it is more important than ever to stay at the top of their minds and to stay relevant.

What steps can you take right this minute to enhance your chance of survival when all of this is over?  Below are the lessons we learned from helping organizations in 2008. They are offered with a desire to help develop a strategic recovery plan so that your nonprofit not only survives but remains viable and continues to change lives.


To develop a strategic fundraising recovery plan, start with a brief fundraising needs assessment.  This doesn’t need to take long.  Don’t overthink it.  Evaluate your budget and fundraising needs at least through the end of this fiscal year.  Where and who does the money come from?  

Statistically we know (and we experienced it first-hand in 2008) that individual donors will continue to give, even in these difficult times. So run lists of ALL of your donors, including giving to-date for this fiscal year so that you can look for recurring gift trends and major gift donors who have not yet given.  You want to identify who gave last year but not yet this year (LYBNT).  In times like these, retention is key. 

Because of our current situation, a donor might give less than the year before.  That’s ok.  The important component to focus on is to make sure they keep giving because the cost to reacquire a donor is not something you need or can afford to focus on right now.

Source: Giving USA 2009


Each plan will be different, but it needs to answer the following questions

  • Which donors will you communicate with first? We recommend identifying your top 25 and reaching out to them individually.
  • How and when will you communicate and what will you say to donors?
  • How do you plan to meet the immediate fiscal year financial needs of your organization?
  • Are there opportunities to raise mission directed funds for immediate and special projects? Can you use this opportunity to strengthen your long-term sustainability once normalcy returns?

Every plan should address:

Communication:  Reach out to your donors immediately, i.e. the next 24-48 hours.  Make a plan for consistent and relevant communications through all available channels.  Since things are changing so rapidly, we recommend that you reach out to donors on a weekly basis.  Communication can be through phone calls, emails, social media posts, etc.  Make a case for your relevance: how are you serving community members in need?  What positive steps are you taking to help during the crisis?  

Major Donors: Immediately develop a strategy for reaching out to your top 20-40 donors.  Whenever possible, communicate with them directly and personally.  Calls can be made by your executive director, board members, or others. Make sure that the right person is talking to each donor and capitalize on relationships that you have cultivated before this crisis.  All of your top donors should be contacted by the end of next week at the latest.

Donor Retention:  The donors who gave to you in the past two years and your monthly donors (if you have them) are the bread and butter of your annual giving program. This is the group that will get you through this difficult time so give them the time and attention they deserve.

While the average retention rate hovers around 45% for nonprofits, the retention rate for repeat donors (60%) and monthly donors

(90%) is much higher.  Mine your data for these repeat donors, make sure you have reached out to thank them for their gifts and ask them to support you in this difficult time.

The Non-Profit Recurring Giving Benchmark Study shows the importance of repeat and monthly donors.  They are your most loyal donors and will sustain you through challenging times.

Events: Your 90-day plan must address lost income from any events that need to be postponed or cancelled.  Think of creative ways to make up that income.  If you have a gala coming up, for example, don’t immediately cancel it but consider moving your silent auction online–especially if you already have auction items in hand.


Communications should share your plan for short-term sustainability and relevance. Assure donors that you are making strategic choices to deliver your core programs.  Don’t worry about trying to find a slick new communications tool–use what you have as effectively as you can.  This is not the time to delay or spend more money trying to enhance the aesthetics of your message.  It is the message that counts.

This is a great time to use your volunteers!  Keep them engaged and involve them in the recovery process.  Use their networks to share information about your nonprofit and help reach new prospective donors online.   


Consider developing a resilience gift or a micro-campaign with a plan to roll it out to your top donors.  These special initiatives should be tied to specific and measurable goals that keep programs and services viable. Mission-driven fundraising is more appealing to donors than general and operational fundraising, so make your asks specific and personalized, with statistics and testimonials.

When asked what impact the Covid-19 virus was having on organizations’ direct program or mission delivery, 16 percent said they were doing more, 25 percent reported no change, 35 percent said they had stopped some activities, and 5 percent said they had ceased their programming altogether. Eighteen percent were unsure. Communicate with your donors and let them know how you are serving your constituents even in challenging times.


Use this time to ask how your organization can ensure sustainability in the future.  What are your key sources of revenue?  What sources will be lost this year?  Take this time to re-evaluate your core development operations: 

  • Stewardship plans.  Are you thanking people in a way that is meaningful to them?
  • Donor moves management program.  Are you doing everything you can? Annual fund.  How will your strategy change in light of the pandemic?
  • Are there new sources of revenue that you may be able to capitalize on in light of COVID-19?  A group of top foundations are loosening restrictions for funding during this crisis. Click HERE for a complete listing.


Focus your efforts on your relationships with your donors, because these individual relationships will get you through these difficult times. Highlight your relevance today and your organization will thrive.  Yes, the landscape will likely look different, but it is the organizations who take a step back, breathe, and plan that will be the first to recover.

Tim Winkler, Principal and CEO: twinkler@winklergroup.comLinkedIn

Jim Bush, Principal and President: jbush@winklergroup.comLinkedIn

Jessica Browning, Principal and Executive Vice President: jbrowning@winklergroup.comLinkedIn

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