Successful Nonprofit Fundraising Appeals in the Midst of COVID-19

If your nonprofit is feeling cash-strapped, stretched thin and uncertain about the future, you’re not alone. Organizations everywhere are feeling the pain of the COVID-19 and the resulting economic turmoil. 

Now is not the time to dwell on what you should have done differently to better prepare for this uncharted territory. It’s time to be decisive. How are you going to adapt to the new conditions and better serve your stakeholders? It’s probably going to start with shoring up your revenue, and how you approach fundraising during this time can make all the differences. While galas, charity walks, and most other in-person fundraising events are canceled or postponed, now isn’t the time to cut your losses. Instead, it’s the time to approach your fundraising through a new lens.

While galas, charity walks, and most other in-person fundraising events are canceled or postponed, now isn’t the time to cut your losses. Instead, it’s the time to approach your fundraising through a new lens. Click To Tweet

Since the government declared COVID-19 a national emergency, we’ve been closely monitoring how nonprofits are innovating their fundraising appeal to either show how their mission is tied to the crisis (if in fact it is), or to fundraise sensitively in the midst of the global pandemic if it is not. Here are some of the best fundraising appeals that we’ve seen this spring.

2020 Nonprofit Fundraising Appeals: Five of Our Favorites


Ignite (formerly Teen Living Programs) empowers youth by providing them with housing assistance, career guidance and mental and behavioral support. The nonprofit’s appeal email to kick off Ignite & Shine Online 2020 is a great introduction to their virtual event and corresponding week-long fundraising push. During this week, Ignite is giving voices to its clients by highlighting their courage and resilience, launching a new agency video and streaming CEO Jeri Linas’ gala speech. 

Whether your nonprofit is highlighting success stories or broadcasting your CEO’s speech, consider embedding audio, visual, video and other elements into your fundraising appeal to provide your audience with dynamic storytelling and a pleasant user experience. You can learn more about Ignite & Shine Online 2020 here and watch our webinar on transitioning an in-person fundraising event to a virtual one here.

VOA Illinois

VOA Illinois supports individuals, families, and communities who need it most through child welfare services, housing assistance, veteran affairs and more. Their appeal email offers a tasteful balance of pictures of the communities they serve and descriptions of the local impact of the organization’s work in the midst of the COVID crisis. The email delivers quick-hit storytelling that leaves the audience wanting to learn more about how they can help. President and CEO Nancy Hughes Moyer writes, “While I am as concerned as everyone else about when this will end and what the long-term cost of this pandemic will be, I also remain infinitely hopeful because I have a front row seat to all the goodness that exists in the world because of you.” The call to donate is subtle and it’s clear that this email serves more as an uplifting, stewardship-oriented touchpoint rather than a direct appeal. However, it’s effective on both fronts.

VOA Illinois’s fundraising appeal should remind you that asset-based messaging and telling positive, uplifting stories is as effective as ever in the midst of a crisis. Even as you communicate the impact of what COVID-19 is doing to your organization, you can uncover and share the stories that will bring some positive news to light for your audience and encourage them to get involved. You can read the email here.


JDRF funds research to fight and hopefully one day cure Type 1 Diabetes. Their fundraising appeal cuts straight to the chase by informing stakeholders that the organization has canceled over 40 in-person fundraising events planned for the Spring. JDRF conveys a sense of urgency that is not only alarming, but also compelling. Despite the canceled events, JDFF says, “we know this: our events do not raise the money we need to fund research, our community does.” This brilliantly simple line in JDRF’s email encompasses what we all should remember: the who matters more than the how when it comes to fundraising, and the show must go on. 

Now is not the time to downplay the extent to which your nonprofit is hurting. If you minimize the economic hardships that lie ahead for your nonprofit, you run the risk of cutting your donors out of being part of the solution. You can learn more about JDRF’s fundraising appeals here.

Greater Chicago Food Depository

Greater Chicago Food Depository’s mission is to combat food insecurity and hunger throughout the region. Their appeal in this email is a unique one. The organization sent an email encouraging individuals who are passionate about the issue of food insecurity to amplify their messages by becoming social ambassadors. The key here is that they don’t ask for any donations. However, when the organization makes fundraising appeals in the future through newsletters and social media, they will have their social ambassadors spread the word to hundreds or even thousands of people that were previously outside of the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s reach. 

Could your nonprofit benefit from social ambassadors? You can read the email here.

Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin

Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin protects, heals and cares for the most vulnerable people in the region through a variety of human services programs. Its fundraising appeal offers a simple, yet effective approach. Family Services explains the urgency and gravity of how COVID-19 is impacting parents’ abilities to provide for their infants. The email informs the reader that a $25 donation is enough to provide one can of formula to a family in need. Family Services also asks for item donations that go to families in need. This fundraising appeal doesn’t try to do too much by making appeals for each of the organization’s programs. They focus on just one area of their work where people are being directly impacted by the COVID crisis, and they keep their appeal short enough to hold a reader’s attention from start to finish. 

Donors appreciate knowing where their money is going, so never hesitate to let them know how their dollars will be spent, even if that means designating just one specific program or aspect of your organization to promote now. You can learn more about Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin’s fundraising initiatives here.