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3 Steps You Can Take NOW to Increase Donor Engagement During These Uncertain Times


3 Steps You Can Take NOW to Increase Donor Engagement During These Uncertain Times

These are unprecedented times, no doubt. The novel Coronavirus is impacting the world in ways we never imagined. At ZGIVE, we know this virus is impacting the nonprofit community in vast and complex ways. Our hearts go out to you.

We know there are a thousand articles and steps for you to take right now to adjust your fundraising plans – which can feel overwhelming. That’s why we created A.) a handy e-guide with just three simple steps you can take right now to increase donor engagement through this uncertain time with ZGIVE, and B.) this article that speaks to the general development steps you can take now to increase donor engagement.

This article will include:


  1. How to Create a Crisis Plan to Boost Donor Engagement

  2. The Importance of Communication During a Crisis

  3. Ways Nonprofits Can Make the Most of Donor Data Right Now

Step 1: Create a Donor Engagement Crisis Plan

If you take nothing else away from this article, let it be this: make a plan. That might sound over redundant or Elementary, but it’s surprising how many nonprofits (and for-profits!) do not have crisis plans. However, I think we can all agree that after all of this, it’s something all nonprofit organizations will now be thinking about. 

If you have no idea where to start as an organization in general, FEMA has an excellent emergency checklist. One crisis plan every nonprofit should have and can create is a development crisis plan. The critical aspects of developing a crisis plan are the three pillars of fundraising: acquisition, engagement, and retention. All three areas of development (and more — we’ll get to that!) should be addressed in your crisis plan. 

Of these three development pillars, donor engagement should be your #1 priority throughout times of crisis. Why? Well, the bottom line is, engagement is the most cost-effective donor strategy. Well over half of all U.S. donors fall off within the first year of contributing to charity. Instead of investing the majority of your resources into building out ads or crafting digital recruitment game plans, give the best of your energy to bolstering up stewardship strategies. 

What’s a donor engagement crisis plan, you ask?


A donor engagement crisis plan is the guidepost a nonprofit organization puts in place in case of an emergency, which pivots from the “normal” annual development plan. Donor engagement is one specific and important piece of any annual development plan. In the case of a crisis, a donor engagement plan is about specifically asking your team, “How can we continue to deepen the relationships we have with our core group of donors? What does that look like remotely?”

Key elements of a donor engagement crisis plan include:

  • Communication strategies

  • Allocation and budget strategies

  • Development/marketing staff and HR strategies

  • Tech resource strategies

If you are a nonprofit that relies heavily on volunteers for building donor engagement, this crisis plan will be especially helpful to you.

Step 2: Act Consistently in Donor Engagement

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Consistent communication truly is the key to driving donor engagement throughout uncertain times. Be timely, clear, concise, and stick to the facts. Share your heartfelt condolences. Assure your donors that your program has a backup plan. Be transparent with supporters when you have no idea what you’re doing in terms of fundraising. 

For example, say your annual spring gala has been canceled due to the Coronavirus. As a backup plan, you will stream a Live virtual fundraising event. The thing is… your nonprofit has never done one of those before. One of the best things you can do in a situation like this is communicated with transparency. For example, “We’ve never done a live stream fundraising event before, so we’re going to need all of the support we can get right now. Please, be patient with us as we fine-tune the details and technology in particular for this new event. As you know, our annual spring gala is critical to operating our program and fulfilling our mission year after year. This is why we are trying something so outside of our comfort zones, and asking you to join us so that together, we can save lives.”

This is an excellent, basic crisis communication guide to help you build your plan – within minutes, not weeks.

Step 3: Evaluate Your Crisis Plan for Donor Engagement

Once you have created a crisis plan for donor engagement, the ongoing evaluation process is critical. Your team should not be sitting around, panicked, and wondering if your messaging is working. Instead, create a realistic daily and weekly method for your staff to dig into your nonprofit’s email and social media analytics. Are donors opening, sharing, and replying to your crisis fundraising content? Are there any themes as to what is working or not? 

These sorts of findings should be documented and shared with your development and marketing team on an ongoing basis. Every two weeks, send a screenshot with a brief email update to your Board. Every month, have your key leaders call your top donors, fundraisers, and Board members to get feedback. Simply ask what their feedback is on your communication throughout the Coronavirus. Ask for advice! (As you might already know, donors LOVE this.)

As you focus on donor engagement and data, be sure you’re recording key, personal interactions with supporters in your CRM. Some examples of this include:

  • Details of a phone call with the donor

  • Storage of email conversations

  • Notes from video calls

  • Saving a copy of personalized thank you messages

Speaking of recording key communications, now is THE perfect time to be cleaning your core donor’s data as well. This includes:


  • Phone number

  • Email addresses

  • Pinterest and Twitter handles