A guide for frontline fundraising during COVID-19

Across the country, development officers are off the road and working from home for the foreseeable future. The world is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and institutions are trying to figure out next steps for students, staff, and families. We’re still sorting things out, but it’s certain that our institutions will need more support from advancement teams than ever.



Jess Melby, Customer Success Manager



















Watch tips for gift officers using EverTrue to manage their portfolios and reach out to prospects during this crisis. 

Take action

This is a time for activity — even if your team is refraining from making new asks. With travel suspended, there’s more time for one-to-one outreach via email, phone, and video chat. 

Run through your whole portfolio and reach out to every assigned prospect. Check-in, ask for a conversation, and share how campus is handling the coronavirus outbreak. Most importantly, take time to listen. Your donors are going through the same thing you are: they’re worried, the market’s crazy, and they’re probably cooped up at home, too.  We talked to Susan Armacost, Executive Director of Development at the University of Memphis, about how she’s guiding her team during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Activity should be heightened, but with lowered expectations for proposals and closed gifts,” Susan said. “It’s a little inappropriate, right now, to ask people to make contributions to things that aren’t top of mind. We don’t want to be seen as taking advantage of a situation or capitalizing on that.”

Don’t feel like you have to have the answers or even all the information. It’s okay to acknowledge their insecurity and assure them that your institution is doing everything it can to keep students healthy, continuing education, and confronting this crisis head on.

Block off two hours a day for making calls, sending videos, and shooting off texts to touch base.

For more, check out this RAISE podcast with Jim Husson, SVP of Advancement at Boston College, on running a phonathon the day of the largest-ever stock market crash.

The worst time may be the right time to make the ask

A lot of shops are suspending fundraising activity. And while it’s important to be sensitive about broad appeals, this can be a time to work with donors who are looking to help.

Brad Hayes from Plus Delta posted about fundraising during this crisis. If you are connecting with prospects, you’ll find some who want to get involved in helping support students and staff. “Offering them an opportunity to act may be the kindest thing that you can do for them right now,” Brad wrote.

Great things happen when institutional need intersects with donor interest. We’ve entered a time where there will be new and unforeseen needs. We have to house and feed students with no other place to go, we have to support staff who can’t go to work, and we have to invest in research and programs to combat disease and support recovery.

That can only happen when we listen to our prospects. And respond when they want to get involved.

Build lists for immediate needs

Right now, almost every institution needs resources for students services and to support virtual learning.

You’ll have to build prospect lists for those initiatives. Look for donors who have given to similar support or discretionary funds in the past. Use engagement scores to find high-potential prospects who are also really connected to the institution, as they’re your most likely donors.

EverTrue customers can use keyword searches to mine contact reports for assigned prospects who have mentioned the food pantry, student services, residential life, or other potential areas of support. They can also quickly see which prospects or wealthy donors are interacting with Facebook posts about fundraising needs and reach out accordingly.

Keyword searches on contact reports in EverTrue

Qualify new prospects

We don’t know how long this crisis will last. It could be a few more days or months. But it will end and we’ll return to more “normal” fundraising. It’ll be a new environment with different challenges, but one thing is certain: institutions will need to build major gift pipeline quickly. 

There’s an opportunity to create prospect lists now for when travel and typical fundraising resume. If your research team has already built a pool of pre-screened prospects, look for ones in your region and start pulling names onto a list. You can also create saved searches in EverTrue to receive alerts when an unassigned donor in your region makes a gift above a set amount or look for highly engaged donors from wealthy areas.

The work teams do now to uncover new prospects and organize future outreach will pay off as we move beyond this crisis.

Use 80+ filters to build custom saved searches in EverTrue

Perfect your digital visits technique

Most teams are shifting to counting video chats as visits, helping their development officers keep working toward key metrics.  

In many ways, successful video meetings work the same as an in-person visit. You can ask the same questions to determine a prospect’s interests and willingness to give even though you’re not in the same room. Pre-meeting research and post-meeting follow-up are still critical, too.

But there are some differences. You should prep your office space to be camera-ready. Find a good backdrop or even hang your school’s banner behind you. Having trouble finding a professional backdrop these days? We’ve got some tips for making the most of Zoom’s Virtual Background feature.

Use headphones to improve audio quality. And check to make sure you have enough lighting so your video comes through crystal clear. We use Zoom and Google Hangouts for most of our virtual meetings, which allow you to invite multiple guests, share documents, and see every participant.

Chris Campbell nails the branded backdrop in Episode 3 of the Raise Podcast

We’re all working in unconventional ways and trying new things during the coronavirus pandemic. This is unfamiliar territory for all of us. As we learn from others in advancement, we’re sharing best practices for remote fundraising, working from home, and handling uncertainty. Bookmark this page and subscribe for ongoing updates.


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