Winning and retaining donors through honest communication

Creative strategies for fundraising are crucial now more than ever, as physical storefronts are shuttered, and large in-person events are banned. Yet, don’t let these uncertain times discourage you from continuing your organization’s work. Raising money from donors remains key to completing important, mission-critical work in the nonprofit sector. Fortunately, there are still ways to attract and excite donors, even in this period of monumental social, cultural, and economic change.

Three leaders in the nonprofit sector recently shared how they’re winning and retaining donors during COVID-19. The panel, How to Attract and Retain Donors in Virtual World, was hosted by the WebOps platform, Pantheon, and moderated by NTEN CEO Amy Sample Ward. During the virtual event, we learned how transparency and honest communication are key to bolstering your fundraising efforts in today’s market.

The panel included:

Here are five helpful takeaways from the event, to help you increase transparent and honest communication with donors and implement this messaging across various mediums:


Be transparent on how you’ve pivoted your goals and mission in the last couple of months. By communicating the changes you’ve made, and why you are giving donors all the information they need to make an informed decision, you’re instilling confidence in your process and your ability to respond to an evolving situation.

Where and how this message is communicated with your audience should also be taken into consideration. We recommend having a message about your organization’s response to COVID-19 as the first thing your donors see when visiting your website. Having it on your homepage emphasizes that you are making an effort to be more transparent and ensuring that the information is readily available and easy to find.

Accessibility and Demos

Accessibility should be top of mind when you think of donors. It’s important to show that you are making a conscious effort to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to receive information, get involved, and support your cause. Here are some ways to ensure accessibility across your donor base:

  • Test for accessibility and ask your donor base what method of donating works best for them. Then use the data you’ve gathered to implement those changes in how people can donate to your organization. In doing so, you are not only showing that you care but that you also value their feedback.
  • Utilize mobile applications and other payment platforms such as PayPal. Using these platforms includes those in your donor base who don’t feel comfortable inputting their credit card number directly on your site. Additionally, if you want to reach out to millennials and Gen Z, integrating Venmo (nonprofit integration is still in the private beta phase) or other popular mobile payment platforms can help reach this audience.
  • Demo how to donate. Panelist Heather Smalls recommended doing a walk-through with your donor showing them via Zoom how to donate on your website. Zoom gives you the ability to share your screen and gives you face-to-face time with your donors, making the call more personal. If doing a Zoom call with donors is too time-consuming, we recommend doing a video tutorial and posting that on your website.

Option to Opt-Out

In the past months, people have landed in social and financial situations that they could never have imagined or planned for. Empathizing with donors on their fiscal situation, and recognizing that some people are unable to donate at this time, is key to keeping the conversation open and honest.

Give donors the option to opt-out and make sure to communicate this option across all platforms — on the donation page, in emails, and in newsletters. We’ve also seen multiple subscription-based models give readers the option to pause their subscriptions during COVID-19. Ultimately, giving donors the option to opt-out will help to maintain your relationship with them, and they will be more likely to give when they are in a more financially stable position.

Going Personal

In today’s environment, we can’t just invite major or potential donors out to coffee or dinner. Instead, you have to be creative in the ways you interact with donors. It’s time to leverage the old traditional methods of communicating with people. This goes beyond digital — it’s time to pick up the phone and start writing letters.

Although video calls are a popular and useful tool to enjoy face time with donors, some people might also be tired or overwhelmed by looking at the screen all day. Phone calls give those people a break from their screens. Taking the time to write out thank you cards to donors is another way to show your sentiment and really demonstrates that you genuinely care.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask — BE BOLD

Despite the ongoing changes that are taking place in our world, the time to act is now.

Be bold, and don’t let these recent events hinder you from working toward your organization’s mission. While many people have been hit fiscally hard as a result of COVID-19, we’ve also seen people rise up and take action. People still want to give back, they want to donate, and most importantly, they want to be a part of the change that you and your organization are trying to achieve. The first step in getting that donation is by communicating that ask.

Elisha Feliciano
Event Marketing Associate at Pantheon
Elisha is passionate about planning events and has a history working in tech, higher education, and local government. Pantheon is a WebOps platform helping marketers and developers drive results.Prior to Pantheon, Elisha worked at Odoo, and helped in running their first US conference.

Elisha holds a B.A in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley.