Coronavirus and Fundraising – Now What? – Use the Phone

Coronavirus and Fundraising – Now What? – Use the Phone


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


In 2009 – no one remembers the recessions in the 1980s or the Great Depression anymore – some nonprofits simply paused, some faced deep cuts and took several years to recover, and some failed altogether.

What do we know about those that survived?

  1. That they were more dependent for their funding on gifts from individual donors than on corporate, foundation, or government grants.
  2. That they already had, and worked hard to maintain, strong relationships with their donors.
  3. That most donors did not stop giving altogether or simply choose to give less to the same organizations. Rather, they continued giving to fewer organizations.


Let’s face it – you need to be on the phone. We will all be tempted to some extent to communicate even MORE by email and text. Resist. In these times, in this new normal, we need personal touch even more than ever. Pick up the phone.

Everyone is home anyway, so call them and tell them what’s going on.

Call your:

  • Donors
  • Volunteers
  • Board Members


When you call, take five minutes to jot down three things you want to share (talking points) and a brief paragraph script you will use when leaving a message (so you don’t fumble).


Claire Axelrod offers these principles:

  • Don’t pretend things are normal
  • Be honest.
  • Ask for the urgent help you need.
  • Stay as upbeat as possible.
  • Thank, thank, thank.


To this list I can add a few more:

  • Find the humor. (If you haven’t seen the penguin video from the Shedd Aquarium, look for it. It will make your day. (And consider passing it along to people you care about.)
  • Use the tech. Learn to meet virtually. Axelrod shared a Zoom-based virtual Happy Hour from a marketing firm. There’s probably an application there you can use as well.
  • Seek out and cultivate innovative ideas. Like the virtual happy hour, people all over the country are making stuff up. Some of it is great! Find it and use it.
  • Share. What are you doing that the rest of us can learn from? In the comments to last week’s blog, one writer was live-streaming the release of a red-tailed hawk. Another was sharing a monitoring visit on social media. What are YOU doing?


Two weeks ago, I was recommending that you send the appeal out anyway. That was then. This is now. Now I think that would come across as tone deaf. I still recommend sending an appeal but the content will need to be very different.

Start with an expression of concern for the reader’s health and well-being. Talk openly about how things are evolving for your land trust – people working from home, projects put on hold, management and monitoring needs that continue, and so on. Write from the heart and for the heart. The underlying message is that “life goes on.” The mission (the reasons they give) remains important. Your commitment to it is unwavering. Support is more important than ever.

I still think that asking for a specific amount is important (basic fundraising principle), but now is not the time to be overly aggressive. Ask for a reasonable amount based on their giving history and use a gentler ask string.


Last, I will share a great list of tips for working from home from Richard Perry and Jeff Schreifels at the Passionate Giving Blog. As someone who has spent the last ten years doing exactly that, I can tell you that their list is a good one. My family will tell you that I need help with some of the items! You can find the full list here.

Among my favorites are these:

  • Stick to a similar routine – “Go to work”
  • Create a dedicated workspace
  • Set boundaries
  • Schedule calls, much as you would schedule appointments to meet in person
  • Find a chair that is comfortable
  • Do the most important things first
  • Leave your workspace at the end of every day – “Go home”


These next few weeks and perhaps months will be challenging for all of us. There’s no sugar-coating that. But we WILL get through this – come out the other side. The land trust community (explicitly including donors and volunteers!) and even the larger nonprofit community are part of the new normal that is being forged right now. We are part of the solution.


So how are YOU doing? How are you coping? Are you working from home? Are your spirits up?


Cheers, and be well!




Photo by Bonnie Moreland from



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  • Jill Boullion
    Posted at 09:37h, 24 March

    Already started doing calls last Friday. Plan is to call a few people every day. We are doing a Facebook Live “Ask the Ecologist” to keep people engaged and to try and stump our brilliant Stewardship DIrector!

  • Lisa Haderlein
    Posted at 09:29h, 24 March

    I was on a really good call yesterday with lots of Midwest EDs. LTA organized it – I’m so grateful. And I am so grateful for you and your blog, David. Something to count on! Thank you.

  • Kerry Leigh
    Posted at 09:05h, 24 March

    Thank you David! Getting my list to call ready today…