For nonprofits, effective communication in a crisis is crucial. Not only to encourage those that rely on your services but for donors, employees and other nonprofits as well. Here are five communication tips to assure you are putting your best foot forward.

According to a survey of 544 global nonprofit organizations, the Charities Aid Foundation of America (CAF) found 97% of responding organizations have been negatively affected by COVID-19, affecting supply chains, operational costs, and serving those in need.

Now is the time to communicate, communicate, communicate.

There’s no playbook for how to react to a crisis of this magnitude, but staying in close contact with your organization’s supporters is the best way to keep your community engaged and informed. By now, many organizations have shifted their focus to virtual programming and fundraising, which also means they’re likely evaluating and reinventing their once tried-and-true marketing and communications strategy. 

Maintaining relationships with your donors is crucial, and in a post coronavirus era, silence and inaction are unacceptable. The world is navigating through this new normal together. Yes, there are sizable economic hurdles for many, but do not assume that your donors aren’t willing to support your organization in a time like this. But it’s up to you to effectively tell that story. 

Tips to pivot your email messaging in a crisis

1. Don’t go silent

Stay in contact with your supporters throughout the crisis, and personalize your messaging. At this point, the entire world is aware and reacting to the pandemic. While it’s true that we’re all in this together, there are nuances as to how this affects you and the communities nonprofits serve. Avoid repeating what has already been said and tailor your message to your organization. 

This example below from Friends of Trees effectively reassures their community that despite event cancellations and shifts in work schedules, they’re still planting trees. Sometimes that’s all your supporters need to hear! 

2. Be real

Your emails should look and feel like they were designed and written by humans, with real people in mind. Because that’s the truth. Avoid coming off as tone-deaf and save the mass-marketing campaign emails for later. Your recipients are likely experiencing various stages of anxiety, so hone in on thoughtful messaging that supports your community through a difficult time. 

This is an example of a strong email from Meals on Wheels, an organization whose mission is to enrich the lives of seniors, ensuring no senior goes hungry or experiences social isolation. Serving meals and assisting a particularly vulnerable population means they cannot carry out their mission virtually. This email has a positive tone, highlights easy (and free!) ways to continue to support those at risk, and includes a subtle call-to-donate at the end of the email without feeling pushy. Simple yet effective. 

New call-to-action

3. Lead with a plan.

Determine what your organization can do differently to continue effectively carrying out your mission while adhering to coronavirus safety protocols. Gain inspiration from fellow nonprofit organizations, and tailor your messaging with these examples in mind. Please note – Whatever you take on, know it won’t be perfect, and no one can strive for perfection when we’re all faced with a first-time hurdle of social isolation. 

How can or are you pivoting your programming to meet the needs of your community? Project Koru, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of cancer survivors through the outdoors, canceled all of their in-person events in light of the coronavirus outbreak. So, in order to stay connected and come together while apart, they launched Koru Communities. 

This announcement outlines how this new programming will continue to meet the needs of their community and address the major challenges that young adult cancer survivors face every day, albeit virtually. This addresses the reader directly, “YOU are a part of our community” which effectively reassures the sense of connectedness we’re all hungry for right now. 

4. Review messaging for relevance and clarity

Avoid accidentally sending out an automated email promoting an in-person event and take a pulse on what ready-to-fire communication your organization may already have in place. Edit your new donor welcome series as needed, and dig up any automated emails that may slip through the cracks. Avoid insensitive words and phrases that may have seemed harmless just a few weeks ago, like “infectious/infected” or “spreading like a virus”, which could cause confusion. 

5. Share resources

After you’ve reached out to initially reassure your donors, giving them tools to stay connected is the next step. Offering resources for your community is one way you can give back to those who give to you year-round, and it shows that you’re there for your community during a difficult time.

Just this week, charity:water launched a new weekly email newsletter exclusively for monthly donors called “The Drop.” This seamlessly ties in with their monthly giving program called “The Spring.” Monthly charity:water donors have access to on-demand information regarding where their money is making an impact, and they can read stories from those that they’ve helped serve. “The Drop” appeals to a segment of their donor base that was already highly engaged, providing regular updates on what their organization is doing to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. These helpful updates are cleverly disguised as stories of those they serve, bringing both impact and resources to the donor’s fingertips. Win-win. 

Above all, the most important thing nonprofit organizations can do is stay connected and keep donors informed. Your supporters aren’t expecting you to have all the answers right now (who does?), but being open about your response and offering ways for your community to stay involved will make all the difference. 


CauseMic is a digital marketing agency that empowers nonprofits to leverage technology, storytelling, and design to raise money and awareness online. The CauseMic Crew is made up of fundraising and marketing professionals from the nonprofit sector who’ve helped organizations like the Oregon Humane Society, Team Rubicon, and the USA Basketball Foundation raise millions to fund their missions. To learn more, visit