Take Stock.
Hit the ground running.

Experts in Uncertainty: Nonprofit Fundraising in Challenging Times

The Center for Nonprofit Studies is pleased to collaborate with Fayruz Benyousef Consulting and Bucko Design to disseminate Pause. Take stock. Hit the ground running. A Fundraising Workbook for Challenging Times.

For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future.Barbara Jordan


With uncertainty the one sure thing in our lives right now, we take comfort in the fact that nonprofit organizations are experts in the unknown. As a sector, nonprofits provide stability where it’s lacking, whether for safety, shelter, food, physical and mental health, jobs, or educational opportunities—the list goes on. Because of limited resources, nonprofits must also conduct their work with a great deal of innovation. With these native conditions of nonprofit work in mind, is there any better resource during the current Covid-19 pandemic than nonprofit expertise? We don’t think so. Now, more than ever, we need mission-driven thinkers and innovators undaunted by reduced financial circumstances.

Which brings us to our favorite topic: professional fundraisers. These intrepid doers are adept at climbing steep slopes while advancing their organizations’ cause. The Covid crisis may feel more like an insurmountable mountain than a hill, but the work that needs to be done today is familiar. It’s the same work that needed to be done a year ago, though undoubtedly with double the intensity and a shift in approach. Here we are socially distancing—canceling fundraising events and meetings and working from home—and yet relationship building has never been more important. It’s time to connect and forge ahead, but how do we do so?

Below are five important considerations for successful fundraising in these challenging times:

1. Take Stock.
The need for your services will never disappear and your pace of work has always reflected this reality. When was the last time you reassessed your personal goals and those of your organization? Clear thinking has never been more important and you may now have the time to take a deep dive into the strengths and weaknesses of your organization. In the fundraising process we know that planning is key, and to achieve results it’s about the 80/20 rule – 80% planning and 20% execution.


1) Meet (virtually) with your various constituents;

2) set emergency goals; and

3) prioritize action items under each goal.    

2. Continue to build trust.
Relationship building is more critical than ever. When this crisis is over—and it will end—you want your board, committee members, and donors to know you have listened to them and have continued to work heroically on behalf of a cause they care deeply about. While everyone is experiencing difficulty and many are in survival mode, heads will lift again. You want your organization to be one of the first things they see.


1) For your major donors, assign a member of your board or team to be in charge of personally stewarding and deepening this relationship. This should be someone they know and trust;

2) Schedule regular points of contact that are relevant, thoughtful and strike the right tone. Like everyone else, your donors are struggling in one way or another and listening to their concerns is a priority; and

3) Let your donors know what your organization is doing during this time of uncertainty by sharing with them the stories of how you are continuing to live out your mission.

3. Connect with your donors in creative ways.
Traditional fundraising events and meetings have been put on hold but the need for fundraising has not. Shifting from events to one-on-one engagements, video conferencing, and electronic storytelling will keep your organization in the hearts and minds of your donors.


1) Identify creative staff or volunteer supporters who may have time to work on innovative donor outreach projects;

2) Brainstorm potential safe delivery methods: emails, videoconferencing, care packages, videos and others; and

3) Share your stories with your community. Are there specific clients experiencing hardship? Are there reassuring accounts of alleviated suffering? Are there moments of hope and joy?

4. Keep the drumbeat going.
Asking for and receiving gifts is just one part of the larger fundraising process. Keep the stewardship of current relationships and the cultivation of new relationships front and center without pause. Forge ahead.


1) Create a 90-day outreach calendar and assign specific tasks and accountability to see it through; and

2) Remember how much people need you.

5. Recognize goodness and express gratitude.
A positive mindset is especially important right now and also very difficult to manage. Joy and sorrow always co-exist and it is easy to forget this, especially right now when the suffering of so many people can easily overtake our day-to-day experience. It is critical for both our personal and professional well-being that we recognize and see the beauty, kindness, goodness, and joy which are part of each day, even during a pandemic. Gratitude has always been an important component of fundraising stewardship. That importance has grown.


1) Recognize the budding spring, the soft and warmer days, the smile on a stranger’s face, the kind note from a client or donor;

2) Once recognized, take a moment to let it sink in. Feel every bit of satisfaction or happiness it can give you; and

3) Express gratitude regularly and often. Your donors are an important part of your organization’s success and they will appreciate hearing how much they matter. These donors and funders have helped to prepare you for this difficult time and it’s important to share with them how their gifts are being put to good use when it matters most.

We are all in this together. And we are all on the same side: working tirelessly to alleviate suffering and provide hope. The resiliency, strength, and creativity of the fundraising community can’t be overstated. Neither should it be underestimated.

For additional resources and help with putting the above tips into practice, you can download the FBC Workbook for Fundraising in Challenging Times.

Thank you,
-Team FBC


We can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure. – Pema Chödrön