Study: Nonprofits Must Connect with Donors During Pandemic

Despite the economic hardship brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, philanthropic giving has increased substantially nationwide. At issue, however, is the competition among nonprofits for charitable campaigns and the development of meaningful connections with donors.

A team of researchers, including Siri Terjesen, Ph.D., of Florida Atlantic University, says nonprofits need to implement several key strategies to successfully reach prospective donors during the pandemic. The strategies must envision and seize on bold new opportunities and emphasize empathy, solidarity and hope.

The most successful campaigns use precise, contextualized and detailed language around the nonprofits’ offerings, according to their study published in the Journal of Business Venturing Insights. 

“Nonprofits tend to focus on their messaging content, but not the linguistic style of delivery,” said Terjesen, a professor of management programs within FAU’s College of Business. “The potential funders receive numerous appeals for help, and their willingness to support a cause may simply depend on whether they ‘hear’ the ask.”

Terjesen collaborated on the research with co-authors Mohamed Farhoud and Pekka Stenholm of the University of Turku; Ewald Kibler of Aalto University; Maija Renko of DePaul University; and Sheeza Shah of crowdfunding platform UpEffect. 

The pandemic is dramatically transforming how organizations develop and enact strategies to weather these uncertain times. More than 1.6 million nonprofits employ 10 percent of the workforce across the U.S. and provide more than 11 million jobs in sectors as diverse as healthcare, higher education and food banks. Florida’s more than 69,000 nonprofits employ 6.2 percent of the workforce and generate over $90 billion in annual revenues.

While the researchers did not specifically study the reasons for the increase in pandemic-era giving, Terjesen said she believes it stems from a desire to help the less fortunate at such a critical time. Fidelity Charitable Giving reports that donors plan to give more during the pandemic, while the Center for Disaster Philanthropy highlights increased giving from foundations, corporations and high-net-worth individuals. 

Some nonprofits deliberately or inadvertently have paused their activities during the pandemic, leading to considerably less contact with stakeholders, ranging from the constituents served to the potential donors, according to Terjesen. Nonprofits must focus on their strategies and delivery and stay in close geographic and psychological contact with constituents, she and the other researchers noted.