Donor Relations

NGOs (non-governmental organizations) come in all shapes, sizes, and mission focus areas. In many instances, they play the role of global matchmaker—identifying areas where there is a need and matching donor passions to support these specific needs. Some NGOs are closely affiliated with a larger institution—a faith community, a membership organization, or a governmental entity; while others are stand-alone entities. The one thing, however, that all NGOs have in common is that they are created or called on to fill critical societal needs where local or national governments cannot.

The Coronavirus is a global health crisis without a doubt, and its impact is increasingly felt in other areas of life: job loss, food insecurity, access to clean water, safe and sanitary living conditions. Shelter in place is only a viable option when people have a stable place in which to take shelter. Many NGOs provide necessary resources for those in need, and they rely on generous donors in order to fulfill their missions. So, as an NGO, how can you appeal to your donors during these difficult times?

A Message of Hope

  • Built into the fabric of most NGOs is the promise of hope. In fact, it may even be a key element of your mission statement. Your donors and your recipients alike need to feel that hope now more than ever. Be transparent, generous, and bold in communicating the hope your organization offers the world today. The Audubon Society has provided an unexpected message of hope as people are exploring their neighborhoods and local wildlife more.
  • Ask donors how you can help them feel hopeful in this time. Utilize any existing platforms/technologies to give them an opportunity to reach out to you and be sure to continue using these same platforms to reinforce that you hear them and are responsive to their needs and concerns. World Vision’s COVID-19 response page includes information on how to pray for those affected and how to submit prayer requests.
  • Act quickly to demonstrate how your organization is helping keep hope alive via your innovative responses to crises. Share recipient testimonials, infographics, and data that show the difference your organization is making, such as this example from Lutheran World Relief’s Thrivent Action Teams.

Demonstrate Immediate Reach/Impact

  • In the Great Recession, the US saw giving overall decrease, by 7.2% in 2008 and by 8% in 2009. However, even though overall giving decreased, giving to essential services such as food banks and homeless shelters grew by 10%. Identify ways your organization is solving immediate problems and make sure your donors know too. Project HOPE has responded by pushing out a number of press releases describing how they are responding immediately to community needs.
  • If you are a large global or national organization, you likely provide funding to specific communities. Target your messaging to your donors who live in communities which have been impacted the most directly by Coronavirus, so they know you are providing help in time of need. For example, No Kid Hungry provides food to kids in communities where schools have been closed.
  • Rising unemployment figures mean that there are even more people who depend on philanthropy to help them meet their basic needs now more than ever. Can you enhance or retarget existing initiatives to broaden your reach? Partnerships with private industry or governmental organizations are an innovative way to solve supply chain concerns. Air Serv International provides air transport to humanitarian organizations and will certainly play a key role in partnering with governmental, private sector, and other NGOs in the coming weeks and months.

Prepare for a Top-Down Recovery

  • If the lessons from 2008-2009 provide related insight for today, once we’ve passed the immediate crisis, those with higher incomes and broader social safety nets will recover more quickly, even if they experienced layoffs or other economic hardships.
  • Many NGOs have a fundraising structure that favors multiple lower-level donations over the course of the year, which may not align with the preferred methods of giving among those with high net worth. Diversify funding opportunities now so donors of all types/giving levels have an option to support you, and continue to invite your donors at all levels to partner with you in meeting critical needs at this time.
  • If you are feasibly able to do so, examine (or incorporate) proactive prospecting measures now so you are better able to identify high net worth donors as they engage with you. Examples include: reviewing gifts of unusual amounts or made at an unusual time, gifts of stock or from a donor advised fund, and exclusive giving to designated funds.

NGOs have long filled the societal gaps where governments and companies fall short. This crisis is no exception, except perhaps that the needs of the community this time are exponentially larger in size and scope than in other times in living history. Your organization’s mission is critical in this time of need. Your messages to donors and those you support is needed. Continue your tireless and essential work, and society will respond with gratitude.

At BWF, we are ready to serve as thought partners to advance the mission of your organization in periods of sustained growth or economic uncertainty. Thoughtful decisions, especially in these challenging times, are essential to meeting key organizational objectives and philanthropic goals. To learn more about the BWF approach, please email us at