How These Nonprofits Pivoted During the Pandemic


The word "pivot" has become an all-too familiar part of our shared lexicon over the past COVID-plagued year. Nor have "pivots" been something that we only talked about; they've been an indispensable part of the way that we've conducted our lives and business.

This has been especially true of the nonprofit sector, which, in the previous 12 months, has had to adapt in a variety of ways. For instance, in normal times, many nonprofits raise a large share of their donations through face-to-face fundraising — knocking on doors and engaging people on the street.

The pandemic, as one might expect, raised obstacles to that practice; it did not, however, altogether put a stop to it. A number of charities adapted their approaches to face-to-face fundraising, adopting rigorous safety protocols, and managed to find success with it.

One way of conducting to face-to-face fundraising during the pandemic has been through so-called private-site fundraising. In this approach, the nonprofit's representative sets up a kiosk in a public place that welcomes passersby to get acquainted with the organization's mission and, ideally, donate. In COVID-19 times, these kiosks are constructed in such a way as to insulate the person in it from the passersby.

Other organizations have resumed door-to-door fundraising. This has been the approach taken by the nonprofit Oxfam, a confederation of 20 independent charitable organizations focusing on the alleviation of global poverty.

Under the current conditions, a masked Oxfam representative knocks on someone's door, leaves a selection of literature on the front porch, and, before the door can be opened, promptly backs away six feet.

From that safe distance, they can engage the homeowner and guide him or her through the literature. That literature includes a QR code that the reader can take a picture of with his or her phone to access a giving portal online. This approach eliminates all opportunities for the kind of physical contact that could spread disease.

The flesh-and-blood representatives weren't the only features of nonprofits that had to pivot; so too did the imagery in their creative materials.

People wanted to see accurate depictions of themselves, for example. A research study conducted by Giving Sciences-One & All demonstrated that donors preferred to see images of masked subjects in these materials as opposed to unmasked ones — and by a wide margin.

On average, the study's respondents preferred images with masks 72 percent of the time. Even a majority of conservative-identifying respondents (57 percent) preferred the images of masked subjects.

Perhaps the most dramatic pivot made by nonprofits in 2020 had to be undertaken in the execution of large-scale events — events such as the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day. Instead of holding in-person gatherings and marches in city streets, EARTHDAY.ORG and its partners executed the international observance virtually. This effort took numerous forms, which included:

  • A virtual march on Washington in which two million participants chose avatars to represent themselves in a digital rendering of the area in front of the White House.
  • A broadcast that featured Italian musician Zucchero Fornaciari and Bono, the singer for the band U2, who performed while the Earth Day logo was projected onto the Coliseum in Rome.
  • A 12-hour digital livestream that featured speakers from all corners of the world, including public figures and celebrities such as John Kerry, Al Gore, and the musician Dave Matthews. In total, the livestream engaged 20 million people, either directly or through social media.

Thanks in part to these pivots, the nonprofit sector as a whole was — shockingly — able to avoid massive losses, despite the COVID-induced recession that descended on the U.S. in 2020 A Blackbaud study found that offline-only giving held steady with 2019 levels and online-only giving actually increased by 11 percent.

It turns out with some adaptation and innovation, combined with some public generosity, a nation's charities can continue to effectively pursue their missions, even in the face of a pandemic.


"How These Nonprofits Pivoted During the Pandemic," ANA, 2021.