Messaging in a Post-Pandemic World: Planning for your digital fundraising when the pandemic ends.

A year ago, as the WHO officially declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic, we all transitioned our lives from offices to working from home – and so much more. Not only did our day-to-day shift, but so did the fundraising approach so many organizations typically lean on, while they saw an influx of new donors and increased giving behavior with their existing supporters. 

As organizations jumped into action a year ago, we saw incorporating COVID-specific messaging in emails result in a 90% year-over-year increase in revenue for Save the Children during their annual match campaign. Nonprofits like Doctors Without Borders and the USO also incorporated pandemic-related appeals into their EOY messages, a decision that led to large increases in YoY revenue across channels.

Now, in 2021, the immediate needs exacerbated by the pandemic are becoming less resonant with audiences. With the pandemic no longer a breaking headline, how can organizations retain and engage donors – especially their newest community members? And perhaps even more importantly, how can they retain their COVID-era donors after the pandemic?

The truth is: we don’t really know. We don’t think anyone really knows. We’ve helped nonprofits respond to emergencies and crises before — whether political organizations and campaigns during the Trump era, international nonprofits during earthquakes and hurricanes and Ebola or gun violence organizations after every mass shooting.

But we’ve never been through a pandemic, let alone one that has lasted over a year.

So, we’re not sure how the pandemic is going to affect fundraising in the future. But our teams’ considerable experience with rapid response and retaining emergency donors, we have a few guesses — some educated speculation, if you will. Here are a few things our team is anticipating, and how they’re planning ahead.

1. Retention, retention, retention.

The first big concern we have with all emergency donors is their retention, which we know is typically far lower than core donor audiences. We’re expecting the same thing for organizations that acquired a lot of donors during the pandemic. So how do we keep them? Well, our ultimate goal is to get these emergency donors to look and behave like core donors – so we need to “move them to the mission,” as we say, by leveraging engaging and educating content in service of getting that critical second gift. We’ve got plenty of quizzes, surveys and sign-the-card campaigns lined up with a sprinkle of mission education and an upsell survey to ease that second gift.

2. Better yet, make that sustaining.

One of the best ways to retain donors is to convert them to sustainers. So as we’re trying to convince folks to make a second gift, we’re also nudging them to become sustainers. Sandy Hook Promise and the USO, for example, are creating user journey flows that first ask audiences for a one-time gift, before asking them to make it monthly. Modelling audiences with AI technology is another way we’ve seen organizations find the donors who are most likely to become sustainers. Read more about our digital co-op and modeling services here.

3. Always be engaging (and educating).

Even if we can’t get that second gift within the first year (or that elusive sustainer upsell!), we really want to make sure these new supporters stay engaged and active on our email file. Who knows: we might be able to convince them during EOY or the next big moment. We expect many organizations to pivot their content to education- and impact-first creative, especially for folks who have already turned down a second gift or sustainer asks. For example, while Mount Sinai’s messaging initially kept donors up-to-date on their response to COVID-19 in New York City, the organization has pivoted their fundraising content to cover their research on the long-term impacts of COVID-19.

As organizations shift from crisis messaging to appeals based on engagement and stewardship, we’d love to hear more about what your team has tried and how we can help you implement these strategies. Email us at with your story to set up time with our strategists.

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Anne Lewis Strategies, a Data Axle Company

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