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By julia lindenmon

Over the past year, the world as we know it has substantially changed. Between social distancing recommendations, mask mandates, and constant handwashing among other essential health standards, COVID-19 has altered the way society operates. This is especially true for the nonprofit sector.

If your nonprofit is like most, the pandemic drastically altered the way your organization responds to community needs, uses its volunteers, and requests donations. You’ve had to constantly adjust to account for the evolving needs of your supporters, and at this point, you may be hard-pressed for vital resources.

With necessary health protocols in place, traditional fundraising methods (like in-person events and face-to-face meetings with donors) can no longer go on as planned. Nonprofits like yours have to go the extra mile to overcome the distance and continue fundraising effectively.

Here at Donately, we’ve worked with thousands of nonprofits and a range of causes to optimize their online fundraising strategies. We’ve walked nonprofits through the challenges they’re currently facing due to the pandemic, and we understand what nonprofit professionals need to do to bridge the gap between them and their supporters right now.

Using this firsthand experience, we’ve pulled together three methods that will help your team overcome the distance. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. Optimize your online donation form.
  2. Set up engaging remote events.
  3. Analyze data to deepen connections with donors.

As your nonprofit pushes through the pandemic, your team needs to go the extra mile if you expect donors to step up to the plate and give. Let’s jump in and explore several ways your team can connect with supporters remotely.

1. Optimize your online donation form.

The fundraising landscape was already expanding to include more digital options prior to the pandemic, but the change to at-home operations accelerated that transition substantially. Now, nonprofits are operating in an all-remote fundraising environment to continue collecting funds in a safe way.

As noted in Donately’s online fundraising guide, nonprofits typically kick off their online fundraising efforts by developing an online donation form before anything else. Centrally located on a nonprofit’s website, this page serves as the core of your digital fundraising strategy. You’ll drive traffic to this page across all of your campaigns and marketing, which means one that’s well-designed is vital to your success.

Backed by sufficient nonprofit software, develop a conversion-optimized donation page that:

  • Captures the essentials. While you may be tempted to ask for additional information, the last thing you want is to slow down the donation process. Cut excessive fields and stick to vital information like the donor’s name, contact information, and payment data. Too many unnecessary steps only give donors the opportunity to lose motivation and rethink their decisions.
  • Is branded. Make sure your cause shines through by adding your logo and adjusting the color scheme to match your brand. This assures donors that they are in fact giving to your nonprofit. You may even choose to feature a compelling picture that represents your cause and reminds individuals why they’re donating.
  • Is mobile-friendly. Ensure your donation software offers automatic mobile responsiveness so that all page elements adjust to fit and work on each user’s device. That way, donors won’t have to pinch, zoom, or rotate their devices to fill out the form and submit their gifts.

Submitting a donation is when donor engagement is at its peak, so don’t do anything to take away from the experience. The tips above will help you optimize your form so donors can give the moment they feel inspired.

Just make sure you’re first backed by sufficient online donation software to get you there. Otherwise, you may wind up with a page that’s disorganized, overwhelming, or otherwise difficult to complete, which means it will defeat its own purpose: increasing donations.

2. Set up engaging remote events.

At the start of the pandemic, nonprofits felt pressured to either indefinitely postpone their events or cancel them altogether due to underlying health concerns. Since then, event tech has advanced substantially, so instead of eliminating or even reducing these powerful engagement opportunities, you can easily move them into the digital space.

As explained in Fonteva’s virtual events guide, the benefits of digital events expand beyond the current situation too. They empower you to reach a much wider audience by eliminating geographical barriers. Plus, the expansive nonprofit tech world allows organizations to pick from a list of affordable options to reduce overhead costs and decrease their carbon footprints.

As with any fundraising endeavor, you’ll want to base your events on your donors’ interests. Using what you know, select events that align with the previous opportunities they found engaging. Here are two ideas that many organizations have found success in during the pandemic:

  1. Virtual races. Spending most of the time at home means many supporters are likely going stir crazy, making fitness fundraisers highly appealing. Host a virtual race where participants complete the run independently and report back to your team on their results. One approach is to have them run wherever they’d like on the same date and same time. Alternatively, have them run on their preferred date and time so long as it’s completed within a specific time frame (like two weeks).
  2. Online auctions. Thanks to online auction software, you can seamlessly shift your live auctions online. All you have to do is procure appealing goods, create compelling item descriptions, and set fair starting bid amounts. Once everything’s squared away, you can start sharing the news online. According to this resource, you’ll also want to take extra steps to engage your audience remotely. This could be with a live-streamed program or with leaderboards and countdown timers to drive engagement until the final few seconds of your event.

While nonprofits were already experimenting with virtual events prior to the pandemic, popularity is surging right now. They bring a sense of normalcy into supporters’ current lives and allow them to continue engaging with the causes they care about without compromising their health. Whether you’re shifting existing ideas to the online space or creating entirely new events, going digital is the smart (and safe) move.

3. Analyze data to deepen connections with donors.

While operating online certainly comes with its challenges, it also presents the opportunity to gather donor data. As explored in this DonorSearch blog post, data has always been a part of nonprofits’ strategies, but it’s become more crucial than ever for two reasons:

  1. Right now, competition for donors’ attention is fierce. Data allows you to better target your campaigns and messages so that they stick out to donors.
  2. Tech-based strategies generate more data than traditional methods. Your team can become quickly overwhelmed and won’t make the most of its data without specific strategies in place.

Data should inform every strategic initiative you take on. Effective data management will empower your team to develop targeted engagement tactics based on powerful insights. Otherwise, you’ll be blindly guessing, which can result in inconsistencies in donor engagement and your revenue.

Chances are, you’re already taking several important metrics into consideration when building out your engagement plans, but you might not be using them to their fullest potential. To help with that, let’s break down data into two primary categories: general engagement metrics and individual supporter data.

General Engagement Metrics

Engagement metrics indicate how donors interact with your organization through various marketing channels. They illustrate your overall fundraising success and can indicate where your efforts aren’t quite matching expectations. Especially as you’ve transitioned to a digital format, these metrics are much more crucial to track when refining your approach to communications and engagement opportunities.

Quickly get a pulse of your engagement tactics by keeping up with information like:

  • Event data: When looking at your events, how many people attended and how many decided to continue their relationship with your cause after the fact? Knowing attendance numbers, attendee acquisition, and attendee retention can help you figure out which types of events you should host more often.
  • Digital marketing engagement: How effective are your digital outreach efforts? Pay special attention to analytics like email click-through and bounce rates, as well as social media likes and shares. Determine which types of outreach tend to perform well and adjust accordingly. For instance, you may find that certain email subject lines tend to boost open rates where others don’t garner as much attention.

Studying online engagement metrics helps you pinpoint where your team is succeeding, where they could put more of their focus, and how they can go a step further. With all sorts of data flowing into your database in an organized manner, your team will be in a strong position to refine its outreach and share much more effective donation opportunities.

Supporter Data

You’ll also want to dive into your individual supporters’ data to get a sense of what works best based on how they prefer to engage with your nonprofit. Keeping up with your supporters on a one-on-one basis allows you to create specialized outreach that resonates with your audience on a more personal level.

Whether you’re refreshing existing strategies or starting from scratch, you’ll want to pay special attention to this information to grow your fundraising:

  • Past donations: How often and how much does each donor tend to give? This allows your team to reach out at the appropriate time and ask for the right amount. If you notice the donor gives on a frequent basis, this can be an indicator that they might be a strong contender for recurring donations. Similarly, if they give notable gifts frequently, they may be a strong major donor prospect.
  • Engagement history: How has each individual interacted with your cause in the past? Beyond donations, this encompasses information like volunteer history, programs they’ve supported, and events they’ve attended. This gives you an idea of what other opportunities they may be interested in.
  • Traditional wealth markers: Does the donor have real estate holdings, own stock, or have any business affiliations that indicate their net worth? Data like this helps to determine if they have the capacity to give more than they already do to your organization.

To streamline your supporter data management strategies, start with the right nonprofit software that automatically gathers the information you need and presents it in an easy-to-read format. This will eliminate manual data entry and ensure you’re not overlooking any important metrics. However, you’ll still want the ability to add your own fields and notes so that your team can input any extra information that you gather along the way.

Wrapping Up

The pandemic has brought about many changes to the nonprofit sector. You can either view these changes as an inconvenience or as a challenge to step up your fundraising efforts and continue engaging your supporters.

As you start refining your strategies, kick things off with an optimized online donation form that fully represents your cause and drives donors through the giving process. From here, you’ll be able to jump headfirst into virtual events to encourage donors to interact. Just make sure you have effective data management strategies in place, so you can gather and analyze important metrics during your fundraising efforts.

When combined with a motivated attitude, these strategies will help you overcome the distance and connect with donors without risking their health. Good luck!


Andrew Berry is the head of marketing and customer success for Donately. After getting involved with nonprofits at a young age, he discovered a passion for helping the organizations that are making the world a better place. Knowing how vital online fundraising has become, his goal is to help nonprofits raise more money online each year! In his spare time, you will find him cooking up dinner, playing with his dog or cheering on Boston sports teams.

COVID-19 Fundraising: 3 Ways to Overcome the Distance