Nearly 80% of nonprofit organizations expect their fundraising returns to decline in 2020 because of the pandemic, with 63% already experiencing a drop in contributions, according to a new survey.

Nevertheless, most organizations will continue with pre-existing fundraising campaign plans, the survey found. Conducted by consultant CCS Fundraising, and surveying 1,183 nonprofit organizations, the research showed that only nine organizations reported canceling campaigns because of the health crisis. That is less than 1% of respondents.

The survey drew responses with an online questionnaire sent to the company’s client organizations and other charitable groups from April 20 through May 1.

In one sign of the severity of the health crisis on charitable organizations, 15% of nonprofits reported making modest or significant reductions in fundraising staff. Another 10% said that fundraising staff cuts are “under consideration.” Cultural and performing arts organizations were the most likely to have reduced fundraising staff in the wake of the coronavirus.

“It’s the most difficult and challenging nonprofit operating environment I’ve seen in my career,” says Bob Kissane, CCS’s chief executive, who’s been in the fundraising profession since 1979.

While the fundraising toll of the pandemic is substantial, 14% of charitable organizations in the survey, mostly hospitals and human services organizations, did report modest increases in contributions.

To cope with the crisis, more than half of organizations in the survey said they had launched special fundraising appeals, with frontline charities like hospitals among the most likely to do so. However, high percentages of other organizations such as colleges and universities—among the nonprofits that have suffered the most in the pandemic—have also made special fundraising solicitations.

Other findings from the survey:

  • Religious, advocacy and environmental organizations were the least likely to report making special fundraising appeals in the wake of the pandemic.

  • More than a quarter of nonprofit organizations have expanded fundraising appeals in the health crisis, while an equal number have reduced or eliminated solicitations. Not surprisingly, charities with the largest operating budgets were most likely to expand solicitations.

  • The most common types of pandemic-related solicitations were personal phone calls, cited by 929 organizations.

  • The next most frequently used solicitations were general solicitations to all stakeholders, direct personal appeals to major donors, and social-media appeals.

Since the coronavirus pandemic first took hold, we’ve been documenting how the immediate consequences and unfolding economic downturn have been impacting fundraisers, and the ways many of them are suffering, coping or adapting as a result. For example, there’s an ongoing debate among development officers about when it’s appropriate for organizations to ask for money at all, and how to approach the ask when the time comes. As this new survey shows, layoffs and furloughs have already become inevitable for some outfits, forcing nonprofit leaders to grapple with the most difficult decisions of their careers. At the same time, the pandemic has driven many fundraisers to adapt and evolve, with arts institutions in particular leaning heavily on donations and seeking out creative ways to fill huge losses in revenue.

There will no doubt be further evidence quantifying the extent of the damage this crisis is inflicting on the nonprofit sector, but these latest numbers add chilling detail to what we’re hearing from people in the field.

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