Shawn Reed, Executive Vice President  ●  11/30/2020

Hopes and Fears About Fundraising This Holiday

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My favorite Christmas Carol has always been “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  I am drawn both to the melody and the imagery from the lyrics:

Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight


That final line gives me pause, because we’re so used to considering whether a thing is either “good” or “bad” — so it seems confusing to expect both hope and fear in the same moment or, in this case, the same Person.

When it comes to funding your mission, you may often describe your work as both hopeful and fearful! — and this might be especially true during this unparalleled year.  But — as the carol goes — there is a light in the darkness of 2020, and we have seen it play out all year long.  Will donor generosity continue into 2021?  It could depend on a few factors, some of which are still in your control.  An early look at our Salvation Army Divisional clients’ FY2021 giving through the middle of November reveals that donors’ hearts are still big, as they respond to meeting need.  On average, Divisions were up in direct response revenue (direct mail, online, white mail, and phone) by 8–10% over the same six weeks in 2019 (FY2020).  This is encouraging, as many Divisions are seeking to replace diminishing Red Kettle and event revenue.


Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you work to ensure that every opportunity for support continues strong into the coming year:

  1. Are you delivering on services, and telling that story?  Most development staff we have been talking to have told us how long the days and nights have been, working to communicate the message of their program delivery during the pandemic.  Indeed, with very few exceptions, Corps, Command, and Divisional ministry has happened like never before, and will continue to happen as the economy continues to contract.  Donors see this, and respond.  And while everyone appreciates hearing “thank you,” it is just as important to be transparent and consistent in reporting back to your supporters.  They ARE making it possible for your needs to be met, so don’t let them forget that.
  2. Are you asking for specifics?  Donors respond to specificity.  Is there a temporary feeding site that needs to be funded?  Are you helping to coordinate at-home learning in your community?  Donors we talk to are interested in making particular impact, in particular ways.  Your finance leadership is always big on unrestricted giving, and we are too.  But during a time of mind-bending crisis, deployment of specific asks is usually very successful.
  3. Are you telegraphing your punches?  While none of us know just what the coming months will bring, you DO know that your operations will not be ceasing.  How are you setting up your outreach?  Who else in the community are you working with?  And what outcomes are you expecting?  Donors love to know about intentionality and collaboration.  By telling them what you are planning in 2021, you are telling them that you are credible, and can be trusted to carry their support to the front lines of their town.

The year has been remarkable in so many ways.  We have all felt sadness, fear, anxiety, and frustration.  Yet, we have also seen hope come in the form of others who care.  As fundraisers and ministry leaders, may we see our fears turn to hopefulness, as we trust in the kindness and grace that has led us thus far.


To learn more about how TrueSense Marketing is partnering with our Salvation Army clients through the pandemic, and about our 2021 action plan, review our special report: COVID-19 Impact Executive Report.


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