Now What? 4 Must-Dos for Your 90-Day COVID-19 Recovery Plan

Mary Kaufman-Cranney, CFRE, Vice President

Every organization is approaching and responding to COVID-19 differently, but regardless of the approach – certainly, all have been considering what fundraising will look like in the coming months and year. We know a rough road lies ahead and no one can predict what this recovery will look like; however, there is some good news.

The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy tracks giving during disasters, and what they’ve seen so far with COVID-19 is record levels of seven-figure gifts being made to organizations. America is being more generous than ever.

Additionally, we witnessed the One World: Together at Home concert event honoring health care workers raise $128 million and saw events in our hometowns raise significant funds to address urgent services through local United Ways, Community Foundations and other local nonprofits. Foundations across the world have stepped up with more than $2 Billion towards COVID-19 support. Earlier in May, the #GivingTuesdayNow global day of giving saw an outpouring of funding to organizations across the country–asks were bold and the country responded.

History tells us that this is not the time to pull back on fundraising and now is the time, whether you are big or small, to be guided by a written fundraising plan.

Now, the question is when will we see this kind of crisis giving slow down? What will be the impact of generous COVID-19 response funding on future giving? When do we begin to turn our attention to a strategic forward-thinking plan rather than the reactive/survival/emergency funding most are in right now?

Leaders are acknowledging that philanthropy is not the only solution for nonprofits, but it will continue to be a big part of it. History tells us that this is not the time to pull back on fundraising and now is the time, whether you are big or small, to be guided by a written fundraising plan. Charting out your short-term plan now will put you in good stead for the long term.

Here are four must-dos that should be included in putting together a 90-day fundraising plan while we see in the coming months how the world recovers from this health and economic crisis.

#1: Clearly Define Your Philanthropic Need

CEOs and Executive Directors leading organizations during this crisis have likely been working with their staff and boards to create operational and financial scenario planning in order to carry out their case in at least several possible futures. What will your financial need be if we are beginning to recover in 3 months? What will your financial need be if we don’t see recovery for 6 months? What if this is an up-and-down situation over the coming year?

Whether you are the food bank that has more donations than planned, but facing a volunteer and food access crisis or an organization that is dependent primarily on disappearing revenue sources, scenario planning will help you determine your philanthropic need.

What will it take to sustain your organization until you are fully operational again and what will it take to assure your critical mission work. You need to be transparent with your donors about what your fundraising need is and what it will mean to the community– articulating that for the next 90 days, as well as longer range time frames.

Clearly show what your priorities will be and what will happen with each level of funding secured and communicate that in your case for support.

#2: Update Your Case for Support

Strategize around your case and why people will care today and in the coming months about your mission and the services you will provide. How are you relevant and what do you need to thrive? Connect to donors’ concerns and make it clear and personal. Some connections are obvious, such as those addressing food, housing and the vulnerable, but not all will have a direct COVID-19 correlation. In that case, it’s important to revisit your mission. You must be able to answer to prospective donors why your organization and its mission are important to your community now and into the future. Why is it important when the pandemic subsides?

Use this free tool to evaluate your case for support:

Case Evaluation Tool


#3: Love Your Donors!

The national retention rate of donors is about 45% and Giving USA research highlights that investments into both acquisition campaigns as well as a heavy emphasis on retention of donors will ensure that we will see healthy increases in our giving at the organizational and individual donor levels.

The reality is that acquisition is always going to be a costly endeavor, costing the average nonprofit $1.25 to obtain $1.00 from a new donor.

The most important thing you can do right now is double up on your stewardship with those donors who have already invested in you. If you are doing a baseline level of stewardship that just may not be enough to set you apart, so consider reviewing and elevating how you’re engaging your donors now! A majority of donors say they quit giving to an organization because they don’t feel appreciated. In fact, Giving USA reported that 4.8 million donors were lost between 2017 and 2018.


  • Pay particular attention to your top 15 to 20 donors who are likely your most loyal and can help you the most. Call them, ask for advice, offer special conversations with key leaders or create videos just for them.
  • Don’t stop your acquisition strategies, but do think carefully about where you will get the best return and be sure to have the plan and resources lined up to respond to those who do give to your organization for the first time.
  • Engage your board and volunteers to help you. This is not a solo activity.
  • Develop an integrated donor engagement strategy. Be specific in your communications, cultivation and stewardship actions while scheduling them and assign your detailed organizational guru to keep everyone on task.

#4: Creatively Adapt Strategies and Tactics

The best fundraisers are often optimistic and creative. Today, those two characteristics are needed more than ever. Think about the tactics you have been using and how you will adapt to the new normal. What will be your virtual toolset, timing and audience for your major solicitations over the next 90 days and what will you need to be doing to prepare for those.

A written plan for all areas of fundraising with specific steps, timelines and assignments of who is carrying it out will be critical to having a robust recovery plan.

Here are a few things to consider as you plan:

Major Donors: If you are unable to meet face-to-face with your donors over the coming months, how will you continue effective communication with them once you have done a few calls and webinars? How can you further empower your board members to help with this outreach? Continue to solicit, but be respectful of the impact of COVID-19 on your donors.

Annual Giving: Have you done a good job stewarding your donors at all levels, even amidst COVID-19? Evaluate your overall stewardship practices to ensure that you are minimally thanking and adding a few added elevated ways to engage these donors before you ask them for another gift. Being honest about what your year-end appeals will be supporting and why your organization needs their support will go a long way today.

Direct Mail/Social Media: What will you need to do, particularly with acquisitions, in a saturated market in order to be relevant and stand out? Be sure that your messaging and timing of solicitations are integrated throughout all of your fundraising and communication activities.

Events: There are many creative online adaptations taking place and it will take even more creativity to continue to capture your donors’ attention. Get those creative juices flowing.

Major Campaigns: Whether in the planning stage or underway, there is likely an opportunity to continue to move forward with a modified plan to keep your campaign on track.

Planned Giving: Don’t forget to address planned giving and how your timing or messaging may or may not change over the coming months. Be mindful of where your donors are in their planning processes and how you’ve communicated this type of information in the past. If your organization had an integrated planned giving program before COVID-19 and you’re concerned with sensitivities with your donors now, consider modifying or rescheduling certain elements. But it never hurts to broach this subject when possible in appropriate and relevant ways.

Bonus Tip!

Immediately determine who can help you with planning and engage them right away. Set up a series of video conferencing calls over the next few weeks to have a team help think through these must-dos with you.

The first session should be around addressing your case in light of the pandemic and assessing the need; the second session can be a review of current cultivation/stewardship activities and a creative brainstorming session on how to elevate them; and the third session can be around creative approaches to the current development strategies and tactics.

A mix of development, communication, program and organizational skills amongst staff and volunteers will help you create a team process that delivers the best results for your nonprofit and ultimately the community.