May 10th, 2017


Currently, our only certainty is uncertainty. Planning around uncertainty is difficult but essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of your organization and the continued support of the community you serve.

To help you navigate through these unprecedented times, Philanthropica is posting a blog series on how to fundraise in the time of coronavirus. We prefer Love in the Time of Cholera, but like everyone else we have no choice!


Bring your Board together virtually to create a short-term strategic plan that will help your organization get through the pandemic.

Mission & Programs

Does your mission meet an immediate need amplified or created by the pandemic?

Some NPO’s missions are critical in the fight against COVID-19, such as shelters for victims of domestic violence who can’t self-isolate at home. If your mission and programming don’t meet core needs, a temporary program pivot during the pandemic may allow you to meet the immediate needs of the people that you serve. To be clear, we are not recommending a large scale or permanent change to your programming, just a temporary refocus that provides support and relief for people in need.

E.g. places of worship can offer spiritual care and support from a distance or libraries can provide online resources for home schooling or for old people experiencing social isolation.

Can you pivot your programming temporarily to meet different needs of your community during the pandemic? Are there other services you can offer that can support immediate needs?

If you plan to retain your staff but shutter your regular programming, temporarily pivoting to deliver an immediate need created by COVID-19 will give your organization a rationale to continue raising funds. It will also help ensure that your organization can ride out the pandemic by providing revenue to cover your fixed operating costs.

Managing Costs

A major worry of NPOs and corporations currently is how to survive the pandemic with no revenues coming in. For corporations with large balance sheets, they will likely ride out the storm on reserves. For NPOs without endowments and reliant on fundraising income, the situation is stark. We suggest:

  • Review this year’s budget and identify where you can cut costs or temporarily pivot programming to cover costs.
  • Identify eligible government COVID-19 support programs, such as the Canadian government’s support for retaining employees, low interest loans from the Quebec government, and tax payment deferrals granted by the City of Montreal.
  • Create a realistic budget for the next 3 months based on decisions made on programming, staffing and projected income through fundraising and all other sources.


Communication is important at all times, but never more so than in times of crisis. During this period of isolation, uncertainty and fear your community will look to your organization for comfort, reassurance and connectivity.

How are you reaching out to and communicating with your beneficiaries/participants, volunteers and donors during this period? What are your messages? Are you providing support and helping your supporters in their time of need?

For most NPOs, the relationship with their donors and volunteers is one of asking and receiving.

Today, your donors and volunteers need your support and need to know you care. The pandemic gives your organization a natural opportunity to build stronger relationships with your community by showing you care about them, as they care about your organization. We suggest:

  • Reach out to every one of your top donors and volunteers by phone and/or email to check in on them. Ask after them and their families and if there is anything you can do to help them. Create a call list and contact 5-10 people every day. You likely have the time if you’re stuck home like the rest of us!
  • Send weekly updates to your community to let them know what is going on with your organization. Provide outreach to tell people how you are helping others and how they can get help, as well as what you need help with including your funding needs.

Evaluate and Realign

As you know. the situation is evolving rapidly. Strategies that you put in place today may need adjusting as new developments occur, such as changes in government health and safety directives.

We suggest increasing the frequency of communication with your Board. Regular check in calls to evaluate your organization’s COVID-19 strategy against the evolving situation will help the Board to identify and plan around problems before they arise. The frequency of these calls will depend upon your organization’s response. E.g. new temporary programs responding to the pandemic will require more frequent evaluation and adjustment than shuttered programs.

Above all, stay safe, stay connected and do what you can to help those in need.

Written by Camilla Leigh, Partner, Philanthropica

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