Nonprofit Fundraising During Uncertain Times

Nonprofit Fundraising During Uncertain Times

Everyone knows that the pandemic had winners and losers — and given nonprofits rely heavily on fundraising events and donations, you might expect them to sit firmly on the losing side. Yet 2020 was a record-breaking year for giving: $471.44 billion dollars went to charitable donations in 2020, which is a 5% increase from 2019.

Charitable Giving Total According to Data From The Annual Report on Philanthropy 2020

But there’s a caveat: only nonprofits that were prepared to adapt to the new conditions could reap the benefits. 

As a platform that helps organizations make their fundraising events virtual, we’ve experienced firsthand how nonprofits and their supporters have reacted to changes over the past two years — and how they should set themselves up for success. In what follows, we’ll outline what to expect when planning an event for this fall or next spring and how to execute each stage of holding a successful event. If you’re still scratching your head about why 2020 was such a great year for fundraising, don’t go anywhere yet. 

Nonprofit fundraising in 2021: what’s changed?

Before we go into our advice for planning a fundraising event, let’s take a look at some general trends we’ve noticed. Where does nonprofit fundraising stand in 2021, and how has it changed since 2019?


Here’s a word you’re probably sick of by now: uncertainty. The lack of security recently has made life hard for everyone, from families trying to organize holidays to companies figuring out how many people to hire, but it’s been particularly hard for nonprofits. What are you supposed to do when your revenue depends entirely on donations, and these donations primarily come from events that you can’t plan because you’re not sure they’ll go forward?

There are three options:

  1. Decide not to hold any events at all.
  2. Try to plan events but prepare to postpone or cancel.
  3. Adapt how you think about and hold events.

You might have the luxury of going with number one if you already have the funds you need to go ahead with all your projects, but this isn’t going to be the case for 99.9% of nonprofits.

It’s easy to convince yourself that postponing or canceling the event is a good option if the pandemic throws you a curveball, but our experience suggests there are far better options out there. You could switch to a hybrid or virtual event, make an indoor event an outdoor affair, or bring in more social distancing regulations.

Put yourself in the attendee’s position: would you rather go to a pared-down version of an event you hoped to attend on the same day, commit to a different date in the future, or have nothing to attend at all? Postponing is annoying and results in a loss of momentum, and canceling can make sure donors lose interest in your nonprofit altogether.

Donation boom time

Dealing with uncertainty when planning events isn’t the only thing that changed in 2020;

as mentioned already, trends regarding donations have been surprising. You’d typically expect donations to slow down in uncertain times, but COVID-19 has been an anomaly compared to other times of crisis.

Why? There hasn’t been a recession. Although some businesses have suffered, the stock market is booming, and real estate has gone crazy — donors feel wealthier than ever, and they want to give their money to good causes.

Plus, because of the pandemic, these donors have fewer options about how to use their time. There’s less going on in general, and fewer fundraising events. So, if you’re one of the few nonprofits still going ahead with events (even if they’re online), you stand a good chance of getting a decent turnout and a healthy fundraising total.

Other trends

We’ve also noticed that people are getting a lot more comfortable with things like video calls, QR codes, and paying by card online. There was always an age barrier to these kinds of tasks in the past, but COVID-19 has forced just about everyone to adapt.

However, just because most people are now comfortable with video calls, it doesn’t mean they always enjoy them. Zoom fatigue is real. Many people are tired of novelty video calls for fun (when was the last time you enjoyed a Zoom quiz?), but they often use them instead of phone calls since they let you see the face of whoever you’re speaking to.

Also, when video calls are necessary, people are reluctant to hang around for hours. We’ve all had our fair share of bad experiences.

The takeaway? Don’t shy away from video calls completely, but make sure you opt for a short time slot — one hour is usually a good bet — to encourage attendance.

How to plan an event this fall

Fall is coming around fast, and we can expect covid cases to rise in the colder months. This means more uncertainty when planning events.

One of the biggest decisions you’ll face is whether to base your event indoors or outdoors. We recommend asking your audience what they’d prefer — but don’t just focus on the loudest voices and assume they speak for everyone. In our experience, indoor events have often done well, even when attendance is low (thanks to the generosity and wealth of donors in this climate). So, a lower turnout doesn’t necessarily mean less money raised.

Another choice you’ll face is how far to go with safety measures. Most event holders have decided against compulsory masks since nobody wants to police the rule, so vaccines requirements, rapid tests, or social distancing measures are often the preferred options.

As said already, many people are now bored of video calls, but you could consider a hybrid event instead. Watch parties (which involve many small groups of people getting together to watch a livestream) can be a great option — just make sure you have someone prepared to keep the participants on track, or you could end up with everyone being too distracted to donate.

Besides, even if virtual events aren't fun (we’d argue otherwise), they are effective, inexpensive, and easy. Don’t rule them out.

How to plan an event for spring

We’d all like to imagine that pandemic concerns will be over by spring, but sadly, there’s no guarantee that will be the case. How can you plan an event without knowing?

It’s all about choosing the right venue. Go with vendors and a venue that are flexible about dates and cancellations; thankfully, most now fit into that category thanks to the pandemic.

And if things do go pear-shaped, be prepared to adapt rather than cancel or postpone. Converting from an in-person event to its virtual equivalent is easy, even just two weeks before the event. Switching from an online event to a physical one? Not so much.

General advice for planning an event

Finally accepted that a virtual or hybrid event could be on the cards? Great. Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what you should keep in mind for the before, during, and after of your event.


As with an in-person event, you’ll need to prepare your content, but there’s a heavy focus on videos and speakers when everything is virtual.

Another big difference between the two is that getting attendance is much harder for online events — even if people register, they might decide not to log in on the day. Make calls to as many registered participants as possible to remind people that their attendance and donations matter.

This is a far better focus than trivial details like fonts and colors.

During the event

If you’re carrying out an online event, it’s important to keep things moving quickly and ensure everyone is engaged. Don’t make them log out before it’s time for donations!

As for hybrid events, take advantage of technology by letting people check in and out on their phone instead of waiting in a line. This can really make a difference to the overall experience.

After the event

Just because an event is over, it doesn’t mean you should stop trying to get donations.

Tell people that you're still x amount of money away from your fundraising goals to encourage some extra cash flow, either by phone or email.

In the case of auctions, flash sales of items that didn’t sell at the event often go down a treat.

The road ahead

Whatever you do this fall and next spring, don't do nothing. We might just be living through the golden age of fundraising — it’s never been cheaper to hold an event, yet donors have never been more generous. Don’t miss out on that just because of your false assumption that online events are too difficult or not popular enough.

Instead, make the most of this opportunity by doing everything you can to drive traffic and work on your relationships with donors.

If you don’t agree that virtual events are easy, it might be because you just haven’t found the right software. DIY Zoom events can’t compare with a dedicated platform like PayBee with all the features you need for fundraising. Fortunately, you can sign up for our free demo if you prefer to test the waters first. What reason is there to not give it a go?

Nonprofit Fundraising
Charity Fundraising
Hybrid Fundraising
Sarah Bromley

Sarah is a freelance writer with experience writing for clients in the commercial and nonprofit world alike. To find out more, visit her website: https://sarahlbromley.com/