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How to (Quickly) Mobilize Volunteers to Maximize Nonprofit Fundraising During COVID-19

2 min read

Staff bandwidth is on overload at every level of nonprofit organizations throughout our country. In addition to the urgent work of serving the community, “the new normal” is burdening budgets when they can least afford it. Here are five quick tips for mobilizing some of your most committed champions: volunteers. 

1) Create a “mini” case for support to clarify what you need to be raising money for right now: 

  •  A gap in this year’s operating budget (it might be that you’ve cancelled a fundraising event or revenue-generating programs) 
  • Additional support for clients and staff most vulnerable to health and economic impacts of the virus 
  • Reserve funds to cushion the unknown of next year’s budget 

2) Identify those individuals most likely to step up to support your organization through the crisis. They include: 1) major donors, as you define them, and 2) donors who have given each of the past three years. Prioritize those donors who have not yet made a gift during this fiscal year, and add any other donors you think would increase their giving if asked. Remember: while many donors now have concerns about their personal exposure and personal finances top of mind, there are many older donors — a demographic that is already more likely to give, give more, and give again — who still are well-positioned and eager to contribute. Donors are people first, so consider further refining your list with these considerations in mind. 

3) Create a list of those tip-top volunteers who will be willing to get involved in fundraising plans as they unfold, and then invite them into the process. This might include: 

  • current and past board members 
  • current or past Campaign Committee members 
  • current or past event volunteers, including table captains 
  • non-board members serving on your development, finance, or other standing committees 
  • other volunteers who may have extra time because client contact has been limited, programs have been cancelled, or for other mission-specific reasons 

Volunteers in high risk categories who are isolated at home may be especially eager to help. Inviting them into the process will enable people to connect with each other as stakeholders in your cause.  

4) Segment this new pool of Fundraising Heroes by their comfort level and experience in “asking.” Board members and campaign volunteers may already be skilled in personal, peer-to-peer solicitations and are most suited to reach out to major donors. Development Committee volunteers may have made thank you calls or reached out to their social media networks on a giving day. Program volunteers may have shared their stories at stewardship events. Everyone has a role to play. 

 5) Schedule brief phone conferences to prepare volunteers to call or email supporters. Keep the “training” simple: 

  •  Reassure volunteers that if they can share why they personally care and give, the rest is “in the details.” 
  • The details: for those volunteers who will be soliciting gifts, create a very brief script summarizing your new case: how your mission already meets community needs, why those needs may have escalated right now, and what donors can do to protect the work of your mission – either by giving, or giving again. 
  • More details: for those volunteers who will be thanking, a simple call or email of appreciation with one example of what a donor’s generosity will make possible is all you need. 

When our communities are at risk, those same communities step up to care for one another. Nonprofit staff, volunteers, and donors find themselves at the heart of that care during these unprecedented times.  

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Barbara Maduell JD CFRE is a Co-Founder and Principal of Breakthrough Fundraising Group, based in Seattle, Washington. A generalist at heart with deep expertise in annual, major gifts, and special campaigns, Barb has three decades of experience working inside and alongside 75+ organizations in K-12 education, arts and culture, human services, and Jewish communal life. Along the way, she has been inspired by staff, board members and donors who have worked together to raise more than $100 million for their communities.


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