Keeping Donors During the COVID Recession

This is for trustees or the leadership team of charities that are experiencing loss of income as a result of COVID-19. This blog will give insight on how to reposition communications and fundraising work, as well as manage the loss of income and re-build support.

Three-quarters of charities have declining income this year, half have lost 50%, with charities on average losing 29% (see Institute of Fundraising Report). Donors are leaving due to financial uncertainty due to job loss or reduced income.

To keep support you’ll need better communications, more work around relationship-building, a means to prioritise your workload and the facility to keep on asking for money.

Re-enforce your mission

All donors, including trusts, foundations and corporate supporters, need to be reminded about your purpose and mission. This is the time to re-enforce how your charity is utterly committed to achieving its objectives even when it faces hard times.

Make sure commitment is communicated to this mission through emails, letters and newsletters. If you’ve got high value and major individual donors, corporate partners and trusts and foundations relationships now is the time to drop them a personal note. Where possible pick up the phone or set up a virtual face-to-face meeting, so you can reassure them of your commitment to the charity’s mission. In communication, you can create a sense of togetherness and open up conversations of how you may work collaboratively to achieve goals.

This will show leadership and camaraderie. Your donors have supported for many years. Now you can show them that even during the worst of times your charity stands strong to make a better world.

Build Relationships

Relationships are what charities are founded upon. Your network is the charities most valuable asset, so use it! Many will be waiting to be reached out to as they would have had more contact before social distancing, and could be worried that your charity is struggling to cope.

There are many ways in which you can ask for support. Some of your major or high-value donors may be interested in doing something special. They could be willing to fund a matched giving scheme to encourage others to give, or may simply be willing to write a cheque. You really won’t find out until you speak to them.

Your partners, including trusts, charitable foundations and corporates, could be thinking about how they could do more to support the decline in charitable giving. It’s important to give them a personal insight into what’s going on with the charity and identify areas of collaboration.

A number of charities are holding virtual events to engage people in different ways. This might be the first ‘personal’ contact group of supporters have had for many months. A virtual corporate workshop or a meeting with past grant and charitable trust funders could be held. For members or regular donors, a virtual conference could be hosted, where members of your team or the wider movement speak.

Creating personal contact with people will allow you to share your challenges in a constructive, problem solving environment, as well as giving face-to-face engagement, which vitally allows the supporter base a change to see the people behind the charity once again.

Prioritise and Tailor Contact

If you rely on support from a large number of people then consider how you target your contact work. The first step is to segment your various audiences and then consider what you need to communicate to them and how.

Larger donors need to be prioritised, but those large numbers of regular donors, who are likely to leave, also need to be engaged quickly. At this stage, you will need to build intelligence about why people are stopping their donation and what characterises these types of donors. These potential lapsed donors need to be contacted before they lapse. You could invest in phone calls or invite them to increase or decrease their regular donation, according to their means.

Other activities such as questionnaires should also now be used. These are a means to help you consider direction for the organisation during these changeable times as well as allowing people to self identify whether they’re interested in giving more or less. This is also your opportunity to show your concern for your support base - are they struggling? Is there anything the organisation can do to help them?

Tailoring communication to the large numbers will make a difference to their perception of your charity, and will allow for you to sympathise with them, helping build longer-term relationships.


We finish this piece by reminding charities of the importance of asking. Asking shows you are worthy of support. During difficult times this is more important than ever but needs to take a balanced approach.

This is not the time to launch a big appeal but is the time to ask for a small amount of money to keep an existing project or service running, especially if it’s backed up by a high value or major donor. You will gain support if you ask.

Sometimes it is only when a charity is asking for money does someone pay attention to the key messages. Make sure you plan a small appeal if you want to maintain income. Don’t be shy, your work is important and warrants support.

The blog is written by Tom Beckett, a fundraising expert who founded a leading regular giving fundraising consultancy and directed two organisations through considerable financial growth. Learn more about him on our website here.

The charitable sector is incredibly important to building a Better Century and we want to help. Do please get touch through tom@bettercentury if you would like a free consultation on building a fundraising strategy. To learn more about our consultancy see our consultancy pages here.