Campaigning During Covid-19 and Economic Downturn

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

You were in the middle of a campaign, then Covid hit, and now it’s stalled. You were just about to launch a campaign, then the economic downturn hit. What do you do?

A major campaign is often proposed as the solution for new facilities, growing the endowment and building cash reserves. When a campaign is well-run, it will revitalize your entire organization.

Campaigns have not been immune to the uncertainty brought on by Covid-19. We’re nervous, and that makes sense. Covid makes the process of campaigning different but far from impossible.

For a full treatment of this subject watch this video.

What are the advantages and challenges to running (or starting) a campaign at this time?


  1. Major Donors are unlikely to be cash strapped. As is the case with most recessions, income inequality has worsened during Covid-19. While smaller donors may find themselves in a precarious financial situation, the truth is that major donors have done quite well financially during the pandemic. Often, major donors are responsible for contributing at least 80% of the campaign goal, so the recession may not have any adverse effect on meeting your campaign goal. By conducting advanced prospect research you will know the donor’s capacity to give.

  2. Donors want to be of help now more than ever. Remember, your donors are stuck at home right now just like you, and many of them are looking for a chance to help. It’s your job to reach out and give them that chance.

  3. Virtual major gift meetings are easier for the donors to agree to, and donors are more readily available. If you’re having trouble with how to approach these conversations, here are six tips for virtual major donor calls.

  4. New Covid-19 relief donors have emerged. In limited analysis, we’ve observed that these COVID–acquired donors are generally younger, as affluent as traditional donors, and extremely likely to respond to digital communications. If you’re not sure how to find them, contact us for a conversation.

  5. Foundation support has significantly increased. Five major foundations jointly announced that they would raise their payout rates substantially above the 5% payout floor required by private foundations. Ford, the largest of the five, says its payout will rise to more than 10% of its endowment in 2020 and 2021. That announcement followed an earlier pledge by more than 700 foundations to relax grant restrictions so charities they support have flexibility to respond to challenges created by the pandemic.

  6. #HalfMyDAF. The #HalfMyDAF Challenge was created to unleash billions of dollars from DAF funds into the hands of the nonprofits that need it now. If your donor has a Donor-Advised Fund, they need to know about this challenge. If you are looking for a step-by-step approach to encourage your DAF holders to make grants now, here’s an action plan you can use.

  7. Racial Justice programming is sought. Long overdue, it’s not only social justice-oriented organizations that will benefit from the new funding available. Funders across the country are taking a more thoughtful approach to how institutional racism intersects with the social determinants of health. Our Director of Grants Jessica Williams provides a great explanation for communicating how your organization’s work relates to the social determinants of health.


While campaigning during Covid-19 has advantages, it has introduced unique challenges.

  1. Galas must be reframed. Many nonprofits are making the mistake of conducting their in-person gala through a video conferencing platform. This ends up with a clunky and awkward event. Instead, reimagine the experience of your gala in a way that utilizes the many strengths of digital communication. Yes, go virtual, but do it well, and for Pete’s-sake do not cancel that event!

  2. Digital Fundraising is King, so you must invest. No analog channel or communication is without a digital component, and digital strategies must be integrated into all fundraising.

  3. Meta Giving trends will be down by 7 to 12%. As was the case with the 2008 recession, the nonprofits that will defy this trend and emerge stronger from the pandemic are the ones that invest in fundraising infrastructure.

  4. Communicating how your mission related to Covid if at all. If you’re not on the front lines of the pandemic, you need to be creative in how you communicate your need and relevance. Highlighting what’s urgent about your unique mission is best.

  5. Data base hygiene has been under resourced and needs to catch-up fast. Donor data hygiene is crucial to retain donors, because donor data hygiene is a key part of what allows us to cultivate real relationships. Donor data hygiene isn’t just important with major donors, but with all of your donors.

  6. Economic challenges are here for at least the next two years. Experts are saying that we must brace ourselves for the long haul. Recent economic reports are forecasting that economic challenges could last up to three years. We need to adapt and plan accordingly.

A full treatment about campaigning can be found in Chapter 20 of Laurence’s new book, Fundraising 401. For $9.95 order your copy today.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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