Engaging Donors During Quarantine: Tips for Successful Marketing & Messaging

Just yesterday I shared one of my latest webinars, “Planned Gift Marketing During & After COVID-19: A Chance to Pivot or Truly Change” with 70 development professionals from the Northern Ohio Planned Giving Council. Today, I’d love to share some of the takeaways from that talk on the blog. To view the full webinar now, click here.

We know exactly where the majority of your donors and prospects are right now: At home.

We’ve been adjusting our marketing plans—and the way we work and live—to fit a “stay home” frame of mind. But let’s face it, Zoom meetings just aren’t the same as the real thing. Getting real with donors in this virtual age is a challenge.

So how can your nonprofit continue to deliver content that sparks a feeling of connection, while still practicing social distancing for months on end?

Before we dig into different strategies for quarantine marketing success, let’s start with the basic question: Is now an appropriate time to talk about planned giving?


There is no script for our current situation, as nothing in modern-day history compares to this pandemic. What we do know is this: The organizations that best weather economic storms plant seeds years in advance. Case in point, nonprofits that survived the Great Recession planted “planned giving seeds” years prior.

Our situation today is different, yes, but people are 1) taking a personal inventory of what’s most important, and 2) doing their estate planning.

As we’ve heard from industry experts like Dr. Russell James and Michael Rosen, there is no better time to communicate your planned giving messages than the present. Their bottom line for success: “Keep talking about legacy giving, but do it in the right way!” Some other takeaways from Russell and Michael’s recent white paper, “Legacy Fundraising: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?”:

  • We are inundated with death reminders. Everywhere you turn there is media around death tolls, death projections, etc.
  • “Death just got way more offensive.” Reminders of death typically cause one of two responses: avoidance or finding a way to live on after death—aka leaving a legacy.
  • “Now is the time to be ‘top of mind.’” Will writing and updating are at record highs. It’s time to be a resource and advisor for those that count on you.
  • There are still many ways to engage donors. Thank-yous, check-in calls, collecting and sharing stories, showing the impact of legacy giving and surveying may all aid engagement.


Fundraisers nationwide provided a variety of engagement ideas in response to Stelter’s recent pulse survey. Check out three things that are working right now. (Hint: Stewardship seems to be the common thread.)

1. Pick up the phone—And also find a way to continue to make these chats special. Things like sending an organization branded coffee, as a precursor to a coffee chat, may really resonate with donors at home.

2. Build relationships for their own sake—Be there for your donor to simply connect and listen. A formal ask doesn’t always have to be a part of your planned giving conversation. Try sharing the impact of a planned gift through storytelling.

3. Combine approaches—It’s time to get creative. For example, one of our arts and culture clients sent mailings and enlisted their musicians to do the follow-up. Talk about teamwork!


Okay, we’ve covered the who, what, when, where and why. Now let’s talk about the how. Here are some strategies for successful marketing:

  • It’s always about the list—Now more than ever!
  • Appropriate messaging continues to be critical—Consider the context of your messages in today’s world. Avoid radioactive words and images when communicating with your donors.
  • Outreach may vary by nonprofit vertical and audience—Messaging can differ depending on your nonprofit sector and the type of donor you’re trying to reach.
  • Simplify your messages—During this time, messaging must be succinct, narrow and focused.
  • Provide value—Serve as a resource, provide tools others have found useful and use as social proof.
  • Be authentic—Move away from corporate lingo and don’t be afraid to use different voices in your organization other than leadership.
  • Be mindful of tone—Match the mood. Acknowledge and show empathy (but don’t dwell).


Above all, it’s important to remember that planned giving is about the long game. Use this time to continue to deepen your relationship with your donors and prospects. Some other opportunities to connect:

  • Survey— Face-to-face meetings are on an indefinite hold. Content consumption and interaction are up. This is an opportunity to extend your discovery through surveys.
  • Collaborate with internal teams—There’s never been a better time to think plannual. Use this time to educate and join forces with other giving teams or your board.
  • Legacy challenge—Work with your donors to find solutions that meet their needs today and help to achieve their long-term philanthropic goals.

And remember: Planned giving is about the journey, not the destination.

While we as fundraisers may have a ‘destination’ in mind (i.e. a specific gift vehicle or gift goal), that’s not what’s most important. What is paramount is the donor’s journey, and the experiences they have with you and your organization. Over time, the memories created inspire donors to further extend their values and hard work with a gift that perpetuates those ideas at your organization.

For more on successful marketing while in quarantine, watch the full webinar, “Planned Gift Marketing During & After COVID-19: A Chance to Pivot or Truly Change?

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3 thoughts on “Engaging Donors During Quarantine: Tips for Successful Marketing & Messaging

  1. I have a question. When advertising with ads in magazines or social media should you reuse an ad several times in a row or should you create a brand new ad every month.

    For example we are advertising Charitable Gift Annuities. We have been creating a new ad each month to place in magazines but have wondered if it would be better to use the same ad several times in a row so people would be familiar with what we are offering.



    1. Hi, Kent. Great question! I would suggest reusing the ad multiple times. It’s easy to forget that our audience isn’t as familiar with our marketing as we are. Most likely, they aren’t memorizing your ads or tracking them from month to month. Running the same ad for consecutive months will save your team valuable time and increase marketing repetition—a key to effective marketing. Here’s a helpful article from True Sense around this phenomenon: https://www.truesense.com/blog/does-your-fundraising-bore-you-good.

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