One day – or one event – can change everything.

Here in the U.S., yesterday – November 3, 2020 – was one of those days.

Or, you could say, it was one of those events.

The 2020 general election.

Whatever side you're on, you likely believe the outcome will change everything.

The comment, however, was about the coronavirus.

It was one of the recent messages from Mark Phillips at Bluefrog Fundraising in London about how the coronavirus has changed charitable giving.

And we all know that the coronavirus – this global pandemic – has truly changed everything.

Mark and the fine folks at Bluefrog have done a series of research studies over the past 7 months about donor perceptions, their giving behavior and future intent.

(Click here to read the most recent Bluefrog post and/or watch the 13-minute video.)

While the Bluefrog team interviewed U.K. donors, I believe it's fair to say that U.S. donors are feeling the same way.

Here are a few takeaways from Mark's most recent findings and what it means to your nonprofit.


Today, more than ever, people are seeking a greater sense of personal control.

Remember toilet paper hoarding at the onset of the coronavirus?

No one needed that much toilet paper. It was all about being in control.

Now, consider the U.S. election. Not just who you voted for, but how you actually voted. (early, by mail, in person)

It's all about control… and trying to reach a feeling of stability.


The U.S. wasn't the only country that suffered from a 2008 recession. So did the U.K.

And now, in the U.K., for the first time since 2008, people are beginning to talk about stopping their giving. Because they feel financially insecure.

Mark points out that while donors are considering it, they don't want to stop giving.

And, in fact, many won't stop giving. But their giving may change.


Mark stresses that people do not want to stop giving – particularly to causes that they see as important or relevant now.

He also talks about a "new hierarchy" of giving, in the wake of coronavirus.

Basically, this year, donors are deciding between four types of charities:

  1. Core causes. These are charities that the donor has supported for a long-time because the organization aligns with the donor's values and interests.
  2. Coronavirus causes. These organizations are working to address issues that have been created by COVID-19.
  3. Obligation causes. Obligation giving is tied to the relationship the donor has to the person who is asking.
  4. Other causes. These are nonprofits that don't do work that is impacted by COVID or, more likely, are irrelevant to the donor's personal interests and values.

hierarchy charitable causes


Are you a Core Cause?

Many moons ago, Mark Phillips said, " She is not your donor. You are one of her charities."

So, if she considers YOU one of her Core Charities, she wants to support you again. It's as simple as that.

And she will, if she can... assuming you've stewarded her well.

Are you a Coronavirus Cause?

Donors are still thinking about the coronavirus. So don't ignore that in your end-of-year fundraising. Make a case that you are a Coronavirus Cause.

Consider how COVID-19 has impacted your organization.

How has it affected your beneficiaries? Your budget? Your staff? Your service delivery?

This year, donors want to support local charities that are addressing coronavirus challenges.

Similarly, don't ignore the other issues that are top of mind today, especially if they impact your organization or the people you serve.

For instance, people are thinking about the outcome of the election. They're thinking about social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

If these issues affect your organization and your beneficiaries, they increase your relevance to today's donors.

Don't be afraid to talk about these issues in your fundraising this year. These issues matter to your donors.

Are you an Obligation Cause?

This year, more than ever, peer-to-peer fundraising is essential to year-end success.

You can't expect your end-of-year appeal to do all the work.

There's a fundraising maxim: People give to people.

The corollary is this: People give to people they know and like and trust.

In fact, people give 2 to 4 times more when asked by phone. They give 5 to 10 times more when asked face-to-face (or what Jerry Panas used to call knee-to-knee).

With COVID-19, face-to-face is more challenging for sure. Pick up the phone instead.

You don't have to do this alone. Engage your staff. Activate your board.

Get as many people as you can, staff and board members alike. Talk to as many donors as you can between now and the end of the year.

Start with the donors who you know consider your charity to be one of their Core Causes.

Ask them to give.

Are you an Other Cause?

Other Causes will likely struggle this year because they lack relevance in the current climate.

Plus, general requests from "Other Causes" are easy to dismiss.

Now's not the time to focus on new donor acquisition. And it might not be the time to reactivate lapsed donors.

Sending a letter to everyone in your database isn't smart. Especially this year.

Sending more letters doesn't mean more people will give. It just costs you more money.

My dad used to say "One way to make money is to save money."

This year, in your year-end mailing, focus on your current donors.

Focus on those who consider your charity to be one of their Core Causes.


Here's some encouraging news from Mark:

Those who can, want to help... We expect giving to be very strong this winter.

And the early results are already in. 2020 looks to be a strong giving year in the U.S.

Charitable giving was up 7.5% in the first six months of the year, compared to 2019. That's despite COVID. Some would say it's because of it.

Will rage donations drive giving up in 4 th quarter, like they did following the 2016 election? Maybe.

Right now, people want to be empowered… They want to do something… They're desperate for stability...

And they want to help the charities and the causes they care about.

Is yours one of them?

Sure, some donors simply won't be able to give this year.

Others won't be able to give at the same level as in year's past.

But it doesn't mean they don't want to give – and it doesn't mean donors won't give.

This year, make yourself relevant. Talk to your donors. And ask them to give.

When you do, you're positioning yourself to end the year strong.

Photo credit and quote attributions: Mark Phillips, Bluefrog Fundraising,@markyphillips

Need help with year-end messaging that that will get more donors to give this year? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

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