Dear Donor, Keep Your Distance...But We Still Need You!

Mar 19, 2020

By Mary P. Walker, Petrus Blog Contributor & Local Charity Board Member

My community has just declared a state of emergency. I’m on the board of three nonprofits. While we are all trying to keep our social distance, these nonprofits are “out there” offering needed services, in creative ways and under great stress. Two of them have fundraising special events scheduled in the next two months. We booked our venues months ago, and we will be cancelling.

Sadly, this is happening every day right now, and nobody knows when we can plan again for big fundraising gatherings. Jamie Cappetta, president of Our Savior Parish and USC Caruso Catholic Center, recently postponed a gala. This gala was on track to raise a VERY LARGE amount of money to support the ministry. In the meantime, the work of the ministry is needed more than ever.

The logistics of cancelling or postponing include trying to recoup deposits, working with a venue and speakers, and notifying those who sponsored the event or planned to attend. One of my nonprofits has already spent money on publicity for an event that will not happen.

Jamie and I talked about the challenges of raising support for our organizations when we can’t physically BE with our benefactors. There is a lot in our current situation that we can’t control, so it makes sense to focus on what we CAN do. 

The following points came up in our discussion. We’d love to hear your ideas too!

  • It’s time to really promote our monthly giving programs. These benefactors are particularly important in uncertain times. Right now, we need to (1) thank them, and (2) perhaps gently ask them to consider an increase in gifts. These are the folks most connected to your ministry, and they want you to succeed. For donors who are not part of your monthly giving program, now might be a great time to reach out to them and explain how vital their commitment would be in challenging times.


  • It’s also time to prioritize the attention we give to different fundraising activities and revenue streams. I like a good time as much as anybody. If I can have fun and give to my favorite ministry, all the better! However, as a responsible board member, I must examine how dependent my organizations are on these special events. Is the risk too high if something goes “wrong” or the event has to be cancelled? Are we focusing too much effort in making an event happen versus going out and personally calling on potential benefactors? Is too much energy is being directed toward a special event, when this energy could be better channeled into growing the ministry?


  • Communicate, communicate, communicate with your benefactors. This is not the time to cut back on newsletters, mailings, social media posts, and telephone calls. In fact, this is probably the best time to ramp up your communication strategy. Let your benefactors KNOW that while your ministry may be adjusting, it is still doing God’s work, perhaps in a different way with different tools. Their financial support and prayers are appreciated now more than ever!


  • Communicate, communicate, communicate with your staff and key volunteers. Let them know where things stand financially. If possible, reassure them that the ministry will take every step necessary to keep them employed. If you are facing dire financial challenges, be open. The “unknown” is more frightening and paralyzing than the known. I’ve also observed through the years that if people understand the challenges, they often creatively find solutions.


  • Recognize that your benefactors are impacted too, and you’ll need to minister to them. Research shows that the “typical” benefactor is well over 60 years old—the demographic where coronavirus is most deadly. They are probably a bit scared and feeling even more isolated than we are. I’d bet that a phone call from their favorite ministry will make their day! A letter or card shows that you value them as people, not cash machines.


  • Figure out creative ways to focus on the fundamentals. If you can’t meet in person, you can still make a development phone call or video chat. Maybe this is the time to consider a webinar “special event,” You can send a personal email to “check in” and express appreciation for donor support. You can send a card or letter (washing your hands first, of course!). Those who support your work will be very interested in learning how your ministry is adapting.


  • And, of course, PRAY! Our inspiration, creativity and motivation come from God. We need a good dose of those qualities right now!

Mary P. Walker is a member of the Petrus Blog Contributor Program. She has published hundreds of articles in Catholic and secular publications. After a career in technical marketing with IBM, she was the communications specialist at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M for nearly ten years. During that time, the base of donor support grew five-fold. Presently, she serves on three nonprofit boards.

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