Young minority business owner leading her nonprofit team

How Nonprofits Can Stay Afloat During the Coronavirus Pandemic

5 min read • May 02, 2020 • Derek Miller

Economic turmoil, mass job loss, and a plunging stock market are enough to make even the most financially secure nervous. People who spent the last decade-plus building savings are watching it dwindle because of COVID-19.  

When there is financial uncertainty, people tighten their wallets. While the pandemic is definitely hurting small businesses, it’s completely devastating nonprofits

Charities rely on monetary contributions, but money isn’t coming in like usual. Nonprofits need volunteers to support their operations, but they’re quarantined at home. These organizations use important fundraising events to drive awareness and donations, but stay-at-home orders have effectively canceled those.

If you operate a nonprofit and are struggling because of the pandemic, here are a few tips you can use to help make it through.

Tie Your Work to the Pandemic 

Over the past few months, donations to food banks have skyrocketed to meet community demand. With children out of school, millions of kids across the country have lost their main sources of food. With parents out of work, putting a meal on the dinner table has become an impossible task. 

Celebrities like Steph Curry and Trevor Noah are raising awareness and driving people to donate food and give financially when they can, and people are responding with local food drives and social media fundraisers. 

To raise awareness for your cause, try tying your fundraising efforts and initiatives directly to the pandemic. People are hyper-aware of COVID-19 and are more in-tune with news related to the pandemic. 

Show how your nonprofit is adapting to meet the needs of your community during this trying time. By aligning your efforts with the coronavirus, you can capture some of this attention and raise awareness and support for your organization.

Consider how animal shelters are fundraising for families who can’t feed their pets while pushing adoptions for quarantine companions. While animal shelters and adoptions might not be on your mind right now, if you have a pet, you can relate to the struggle that others are facing to keep theirs fed. 

This subtle and relevant connection can lead to more engagement and social sharing. In turn, someone may see your efforts and decide to donate pet food to help your cause or adopt an animal to provide some much-needed companionship during isolation.

Recalibrate Your Messaging

Most nonprofits have annual fundraisers that drive engagement for their communities. NPR listeners are likely familiar with their spring and fall drives, which encourage the support of journalism and public radio. 

If you plan to move forward with these campaigns and drives this year, evaluate your tone and brand messaging. Even if you had these marketing materials locked in, it’s not too late to change them and prevent a PR nightmare. 

For example, Alan Cantor at Harvard Business Review shared a story about a nonprofit that forgot to adjust its March marketing campaigns. It told fans and donors that “there’s no better time than now to revisit your estate planning.”

At best, that message is tone-deaf. At worst, it is predatory. 

The last thing your nonprofit needs right now is to turn your community against you because of poor planning or strategic oversight. 

Showcase Your Stewardship

Along with highlighting the work that your nonprofit does, showcase how it spends its donations.

“Of the 1.5 million in the United States, 65% have budgets under $500,000,” Joan Garry of The Nonprofit Leadership Lab, writes. 

“The domestic violence shelter, the food pantry, the local free clinic—these groups are typically run on shoestring budgets with volunteer staffs. Your jaw would drop if you knew how many executive directors work 65 hours a week and are paid for 20.”

Most economic experts believe there will still be financial instability after the pandemic ends, meaning donations to your nonprofit likely won’t bounce back immediately. 

Develop messaging that shows donors how every dollar is used to maximize its impact and how nothing goes to waste. This approach will help your nonprofit stand out as responsible stewards of funds when people consider donating again.   

Take Advantage of Government Stimulus Programs

You should not feel pressured to keep your nonprofit operating at this time so you can keep paying your staff members. If you are able to close the doors of your theatre, mobile library, or other charity in the short run, you can prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and help your community as a whole recover from this pandemic. Staying home saves lives. 

In the meantime, consider looking into the Paycheckl Protection Program and other stimulus options to help your staff. 501(c)(3) charities or 501(c)(19) veterans organizations with fewer than 500 employees are eligible for SBA loans that can be forgiven as grants. 

If you can secure one of these emergency loans, then you can continue to pay your furloughed staff members while closing your doors until it is safe to reopen.    

Be Flexible in Your Planning

Everyone wants to create plans of action for the next month, quarter, and year, but the fact is no one knows what the future will look like. Everyone wants society to return to normal tomorrow, but the effects of the pandemic could last longer than anyone expects. 

Planning is crucial, and you should evolve as quickly as you can to the new normal—but be flexible.

Be willing to change or cancel plans if necessary. If you and your team are flexible and willing to adapt your nonprofit during and after the coronavirus, you’ll be able to overcome anything!


Derek Miller

Derek Miller is the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at, the co-founder of Lofty Llama, and a marketing consultant for small businesses. He specializes in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing, and his work has been featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy,, and StartupCamp.