RESOURCES  |  April 10, 2020

FAQs: Nonprofits and COVID-19

Written by FreeWill

We’ve been hosting weekly webinars to help nonprofits navigate work and fundraising during the Coronavirus pandemic. Before and after, we send out surveys to more than a thousand participants to learn more about the biggest questions facing nonprofit professionals today.


These FAQs will be updated weekly as we get new questions and find you better answers.


Last updated: April 20, 2020 


Fundraising in a crisis


Donor relationships and events


Economy, revenue, and staffing


Operational strategies


Fundraising in a crisis

How and when do we ask for donations without appearing insensitive or exploitative?

Even in these uncertain times, we encourage you to stick to your fundraising calendar. Your organization needs donations and people still want to help if they’re able. However, you will need to adjust your messaging to be even more respectful, thoughtful, and kind.


Acknowledge the strain that COVID-19 may have on many of your supporters. For some, it might be difficult to make financial commitments if they’ve lost jobs, are dealing with sick family or friends, or are concerned about a pending recession. By doing this, you make the space safe for those unable to give.


Then, you can reach out to those who you know are able to give. Explain that their support is needed, perhaps now more than ever. Folks who have the means will feel good knowing that you’re being transparent with what you need and how they can have an impact.


Download our email marketing templates and phone call transcripts for examples on how you can navigate donor outreach during this crisis.


Furthermore, if your organization does work related to COVID-19, make sure your supporters know this. Let them know how their support will help mitigate the spread or provide relief. If you do this, you may actually see your donations increase. We recommend that you ask for donations immediately as there is no time to waste in the current crisis.


How do we ask for funds when our organization isn’t doing work related to the health crisis or our operations have been suspended?

If your work is unrelated to COVID-19, you can still speak to your supporters about how the crisis is affecting your organization. Whether you’re all now working from home, have had to close your museum, or have extra dogs up for adoption, pretty much everyone is affected.


Let your supporters know how your organization is unique and necessary in this moment, as well as why you need their support to continue in the future. You can learn more about how to frame this message at the 34:33 mark in our second webinar recording.


One example is that land trusts are in the “business of forever” and protect wild spaces — often for public use. During times of social distancing and staying home, protected wild spaces can provide a healthy escape.


Should we still promote QCDs?

Yes! We recommend that you keep marketing QCDs to your supporters. While the CARES Act is waiving Required Minimum Distributions for 2020, your donors can still see tax benefits by making gifts directly from their IRAs. Learn more in our article on QCDs in light of the CARES Act.


Is it okay to ask people to give stocks during a down market?

Yes. Stock gifts can still be powerful even when the market goes down. Since most people don’t purchase stocks at the ‘peak,’ they will probably still have some appreciated assets. Plus, a donor can still give stocks without changing their portfolio:

  • Step 1: Donate the stock.
  • Step 2: Immediately buy the same stock with cash.


Following this process can actually reduce the capital gains your supporters would pay when the market rebounds — all without changing their portfolio.


Note: Donors should never give depreciated assets.


Can we send direct mail to fundraise during this time?

Yes, sending direct mail should be safe. There have been no recorded incidents of catching Coronavirus from mail and both WHO and the CDC say that the risk is relatively low.


In fact, this could be a great time to send mail as your donors may be receiving less mail from other sources. This will allow your messages to stand out. Just make sure you do a last-minute check for appropriateness!


How do we convince leadership to keep investing in planned giving?

Americans have been rushing to make estate plans in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic, and bequests on FreeWill are six times higher than this same time last year. At this moment, nonprofits have an unprecedented opportunity to connect with supporters about planned giving.


We’ve put together a strategy deck to help you make the case to your leadership teams about why they should invest in planned giving now.


What will fundraising look like for the rest of 2020 in the wake of the pandemic?

Fundraising won’t be exactly the same. You most likely won’t be holding major fundraising events or meeting with your major donors in person for the next six to nine months. However, there are a whole host of new opportunities to come out of this crisis.


One, you’ll have more resources. You’ll save on costs from travel, events, and possibly even rent. Plus, you may be eligible for government loans and grants via the CARES Act. With less commuting, travel, and events, you’ll also have more time to focus on your work.


Two, donors are more reachable right now. They’ll be receptive to conversations and primed to have an impact. Furthermore, interest in estate planning is at an all time high, which means you have more opportunities to market planned giving.


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Donor relationships and events

What message should we be sending donors when our organization is closed?

Even if your organization’s doors are closed to the public, your team is still working hard! Be open and honest with your supporters. Let them know what you’re doing during this time and how you’re preparing for the future. You could also send fun videos to your supporters, such as a virtual museum tour, a “couch concert,” or a minute of calm from your nature preserve.


How do we keep engaging with supporters who can’t afford to give now, but hopefully will in the future?

The first thing we suggest is surveying your donors to see who is ready to give and who isn’t. For those who can’t give at this moment, continue to steward them. This is a great moment to act as a resource for your community — whether that’s by providing activities, entertainment, or education.


What are some creative ideas to keep our donor relationships strong and sustain engagement without in-person meetings or events?

Keep your events going by moving them to a virtual video platform like Zoom. We’ve seen organizations hosting everything from virtual happy hours to huge fundraising galas via video. And you can engage with your donors in the same way. For example, you could have a virtual lunch with a major donor that you’d normally see in-person.


How do we manage one-to-one outreach if we have a large supporter base?

First, survey your donors to see who is interested in chatting with your team. That will help narrow down your list. Then tap into any underutilized employees like security guards, museum guides, coaches, receptionists, etc. Instead of letting these employees go, ask them to be the first point of contact for these donors. You can prep them with a phone script, ask them to have a casual conversation to check-in on the donor, and then set up a second phone call with a trained gift officer.


What is the projected timeline for holding in-person events again?

2020 is increasingly looking like it will be an "un-event-full' year. in our survey from April 17, 31% of nonprofit professionals reported that they were rescheduling or postponing events, 29% reported that they were hosting virtual events in place of in-person events, and 15% reported they were canceling their events.


While we can’t predict how long the pandemic will keep things closed, here are our best estimates for holding in-person events. We recently updated these recommendations in our fifth webinar on virtual events:



0-3 months

3-6 months

6-9 months

9-18 months

Best estimate

Not happening

Very unlikely

Less than 30% 


Action step

Cancel event OR move to virtual

Make no purchases & prepare to move to virtual

Treat event as “Plan B”  & prepare to move to virtual

Make no purchases, re-evaluate in 3 months


The older your event attendees are, the longer it may be before you can hold them in-person again.


Should our organization cancel or postpone our events?

We don't recommend canceling or postponing your events because the timing is highly uncertain and you may end up with multiple postponements. This will delay your following events and hurt your ability to fundraise in the future. 


Instead, we suggest moving your events to a virtual platform — especially as these don't preclude hosting an in-person event later on.


How can we make our virtual event successful?

The first thing you need to remember is that "events" are not a goal in themselves. You need to make sure that your organization has a clear objective for any event. Determine which events are fundraising events and which are stewardship events (they can be both). 


Then, we suggest calculating an "event score." We've come up with the following calculation as a way to help you think about the metrics and costs involved with events and compare your final score to other initiatives. We hope this will help you improve your decision making and future events.



  1. Estimate the overall stewardship impact or fundraising potential per person at your event. (Tip: Pick an existing event as a baseline and use a 10-point scale.)
  2. Estimate the number of people who are likely to join.
  3. Estimate the total number of “person hours” to pull this off (i.e. 10 people for 10 hours each = 100 person hours).


(Per person impact x Number of people joining) / Estimated staff hours = Event score




What are some examples for how other organizations are hosting virtual events?

The nonprofit community has been tackling events in all kinds of creative ways from hosting virtual cocktail parties for donors to planning petwalks.


Here’s how Upaya held a virtual gala. Their annual gala is their biggest fundraising event of the year, and after being forced to cancel, they reworked it into an exciting online event.


Some other virtual event ideas we’ve heard from the community are:

  • Online yoga
  • Virtual run in place of an annual 5K
  • Livestreaming video chats with nonprofit leadership
  • Livestreaming town halls
  • Virtual tours of art galleries and nature preserves
  • Virtual concerts (Here’s a video example from the New York Youth Symphony)


A fun idea from our own team is that we’re hosting a virtual talent show over Zoom.


We've also included a number of event examples from the community in our fifth webinar on going virtual in a pandemic.


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Economy, revenue, and staffing

How has giving been impacted during previous recessions?

In 2008, total giving fell by 7% in inflation adjusted dollars. In 2009, charitable giving dropped another 6.2%.


Giving by people with incomes of $200,000 or more fell by $31 billion from 2007 to 2009. Those who earned less than $100,000 dropped their giving by a total of $4 billion.


This recession will probably be hard for nonprofits. While previous recessions hurt people’s ability to give, this one also hurts nonprofits ability to ask. Many fundraising professionals rely almost exclusively on 1-1 meetings and events and are now being forced to cancel and rethink how they work.


However, there are new opportunities in any crisis, and organizations will see cost savings from lack of travel, events, or rent. And this money can be reinvested into new plans and creative ideas for reaching donors in 2020.


How do we keep our organization going in the short term with the loss of programming and donation revenue from events?

The CARES Act has put some provisions in place that will help nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees, including a Paycheck Protection Program. Please read our guide to see how your organization can apply for a forgivable loan.


Will my coworkers or I lose our jobs?

Organizations that want a fully forgivable loan via the Paycheck Protection Program should not lay off employees. Please read more in our CARES Act guide.


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Operational strategies

What are some tips on how to keep direct reports motivated and connected?

Check in with them frequently and be more understanding and empathetic for what they may be dealing with at this moment. Some people are now balancing both homeschooling and full-time jobs, are sick / have friends or family who are sick, or are simply struggling with the anxiety that this pandemic brings.


At FreeWill, our leadership team sends daily check-in videos over Slack to shout out employees’ accomplishments and to generally touch base or offer a lighthearted look at their new lifestyles.


How do we plan ahead to adjust our goals?

About 25% of organizations we’ve surveyed say they’re adjusting their goals. Here’s what we recommend:

  • If you are doing work related to COVID-19, then consider increasing goals to meet needs.
  • If you are not, wait two months to revisit goals. You may surprise yourself with how you’re still able to meet them.
  • Planned giving goals should remain the same (and you’ll likely exceed them with an increased interest in estate planning).


How do we host successful meetings remotely?

The Harvard Business Review has outlined 12 steps you can take to host a successful virtual meeting. The main takeaways are to assign a facilitator, use video technology so you can see everyone’s faces, and set a clear agenda.


At FreeWill, our facilitator usually asks people to type ‘me’ or ‘stack’ in the video chat box to show that they have a question. That way they can call on people in a timely, orderly manner.


How do we manage expectations in the face of this crisis?

This is a difficult time for almost everyone. One of our main values at FreeWill is to be kind, and that’s what we suggest for managing expectations. Be kind to yourself and to your colleagues. You can accomplish great things during this time and set high expectations while still being understanding if everything doesn’t go to plan.


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