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Tips on messaging, social media, and email marketing for nonprofits during the COVID-19 crisis

COVID-19 has presented unique challenges to all nonprofits. Many are in a place that is completely unfamiliar and requiring new skills and approaches in order to continue operations and stay connected. To lend a hand, last week we provided Information on Federal Loan Support for Nonprofits.

Since then, we’ve been reviewing a lot of surveys on the impact of COVID-19 on the nonprofit sector and the needs organizations are experiencing. One such survey by Catchafire found that 34% of nonprofits could use extra support with messaging, social media, and email marketing during the coronavirus pandemic, so we asked we asked Ben Barker, owner of Hoan Marketing and a proud Public Allies Milwaukee alum, to provide some tips on messaging, social media, and email marketing during the COVID-19 crisis.


In times of crisis, clear and constant communication is always important. What follows are tips for nonprofits to incorporate in each of their messaging, social media, and email marketing. Bear in mind that these tips are not rules. In a rapidly changing global situation, adaptability is key; a marketing practice that was effective yesterday may have different results tomorrow.

It is also important to note that no marketing effort will be perfect right now. Daily life has been upended for many of us and the most important communication is one that is authentic and, yes, human.


Messaging during and about COVID-19 will likely vary based on your nonprofit’s service offerings, but all organizations can draw on their unique missions to be a force for good during these uncertain times. Consider messaging around these topics:

  • Resources: Provide information that you think could be truly helpful to your supporters and their loved ones. Resources could include healthcare, food, financial relief, and or other resources.
  • Priorities: How is your organization responding to the pandemic? Let supporters know what they can expect from you during this time, be it a dramatic shift to help with the crisis or a promise to stay the course.
  • Impact: Share how your organization is making an impact on the pandemic or, conversely, how the pandemic is impacting you. For example, if you are delivering food to the homeless, share a link for volunteers to join the effort. On the other hand, if your after-school program has been shut down, share a link to collect donations.
  • Gratitude: Your supporters have likely buoyed you both before and during the pandemic. Take a moment to let them know how thankful you are. We could all use a little gratitude right now.
  • Events: Update supporters on whether your in-person events have been postponed, cancelled, or retooled to take place online.
  • Inspiration: Pass along a message, photo, or video for the simple purpose of brightening spirits and promoting self-care.

Social Media

Basic social media outreach principles remain effective during the pandemic, including:

  • Strategy: If you don’t have a social media outreach strategy yet, now is a great time to develop one. Start with a few simple SMART goals that you’d like to achieve during a period of time and follow them as closely as possible.
  • Channels: Determine which social media websites your supporters use, be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or something else. Focus your energy only on the channels where you have an audience. (For more tips on selecting the right social media channel for your organization, see here).
  • Content: Plan posts ahead by using a content calendar. Consider various media formats and messages that posts can alternate between and always follow the 80/20 rule (20% of posts can promote your organization, but the other 80% should be focused on meeting the needs or interests of your audience).
  • Reach: Utilize built-in advertising tools to get your message out to the people who will be most receptive to it. Even twenty dollars can go a long way.
  • Moderation: Stay on top of comments, mentions, and messages. In these uncertain times, supporters will appreciate you being present and listening to them.

Email Marketing

Just as with social media, basic email marketing principles remain useful, including:

  • Strategy: Like with your social media strategy, set a SMART goal or two for your email marketing and stick to the plan.
  • Contacts: Now is a great time to be as personal as you can be in your email communications. By matching names and other information to your email contacts, you can send messages that feel authentic and tailored.
  • Design: Less is often more with email, be it the length of your message or the complexity of your graphic design. Structure your messaging with AIDA: capture Attention, develop Interest, create Desire, offer Action.
  • Deliverability: Before hitting send, be sure you have permission to send to your recipients; when in doubt, ask again!
  • Performance: Monitor open rate, click rate, bounced emails, and unsubscribes. These metrics provide great insight as to how well you’ve approached the first four steps in this list.

For more tips, advice, or to schedule a free consultation, please contact Ben Barker at Hoan Marketing by clicking here.

Public Allies