Managing Editor for Online Publications

By Ryan Newberry

A pandemic has a powerful way of making ordinary people feel powerless. When the best way to save a life is to just stay home, it’s natural to find yourself pacing your living room and wishing you could do more to help.

Good news: If you have internet access (and you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t), you can help your favorite nonprofit survive the coronavirus. 

“Nowadays for peer-to-peer fundraising, a computer is all you need,” said Robert Huffman, development manager for the Movember Foundation. Huffman knows what he’s talking about — the Movember Foundation’s revenue model depends on grassroots fundraising efforts from its supporters; in 2018, amateur fundraisers helped bring in $18.4 million

For many, fundraising is an icky word. It’s uncomfortable even talking about money, much less asking for it. But Huffman says raising money for charity is simply a matter of sharing your passion with your social network.

“Donating to an organization is not a simple transaction like buying groceries,” he said. “It’s being part of a community, part of a movement.” 

And in a quarantine, that might sound pretty appealing. 

How you can help

As you may expect, there has been massive outpouring of support for nonprofits responding directly to the pandemic, leading the Center for Disaster Philanthropy to establish a COVID-19 Response Fund. But while many Americans are understandably lining up to support relief efforts, the pandemic is hitting the rest of the nonprofit sector hard. 

Social distancing and the economic crisis are forcing nonprofits to cancel the fundraisers they depend on to keep the lights on — even beloved revenue generators like the Girl Scouts’ in-person cookie sales. Thus the Girl Scouts, along with 20 other major nonprofits, are seeking $60 billion from Congress to keep paying their staff and providing services to people in need. 

Yet even if that bailout comes, thousands more nonprofits in New York and around the country will face an uphill battle just to continue operating. That’s where you come in. 

As an armchair fundraiser, you can make a direct and tangible impact without expending much effort: 

  • Email the link to your favorite nonprofit’s donation page to your friends and family
  • Create a Facebook fundraiser for an organization that means a lot to you (yes, you can do this when it’s not your birthday)

Crafting your message

As mentioned above, passion is paramount; the more personal your ask, the more powerful it will be. One way to convey your feelings is through video.

“I think videos are crucial in this day and age,” Huffman said. “It’s extremely important to add a bit of personality to (your ask), as opposed to sending a blanket email. The beauty of social media is you can do that now very easily. … It’s OK to be a bit raw; everything you do doesn’t have to be made by a graphic designer.”

In a time of crisis, it’s also important to make the case that your favorite nonprofit needs funding now. 

“You don’t actually have to share that fundraising might be suffering, because donors might not care,” Huffman said. “But they do care if your programs or services are suffering, which impacts real people. Shift attention from the money raised to the people your nonprofit is supporting, and how coronavirus and this climate are affecting real people in real situations.”

Remember to cover the basics in the process. You can pull information from the nonprofit’s website, and to maximize credibility, grab some data from a watchdog service like Charity Navigator.

“Actually explain your cause and the need,” Huffman said. “People may not be as invested as you are in a cause, so take some time to educate the community by sharing stats and links to where you got your stats.” 

Building a community

Huffman shared additional insights into how best to communicate with your networks when fundraising:

  • Set a goal: Could be to hit a certain dollar amount, or simply to raise awareness for a cause
    • Helps you plan your approach
    • Lets potential supporters know your intention, which can help you get buy-in
  • Show your supporters appreciation
    • Share daily or weekly updates on the progress toward your goal
    • Spotlight donors on your social platforms 
      • Great way to say thanks 
      • Makes your movement more appealing to others
  • Reach out to the nonprofit you’re supporting
    • Learn more on the services you’re supporting 
    • Get fundraising tips and tricks
    • Nonprofits want to build real relationships with supporters
  • Keep your ask simple and positive
    • Your fundraiser should be a beacon of hope for you network
    • Easy to understand, low pressure, and solution-focused

Ryan Newberry is in his second year at NYU Wagner. He is Managing Editor for Online Publications for The Wagner Review, Vice Chair of Wagner Advocacy and Political Action, and Communications Chair for Students for Criminal Justice Reform. He’s an aspiring nonprofit-sector fundraiser with over a decade of experience in digital marketing and journalism.

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