Fundraising During COVID – A Blue Ocean Strategic View

Fundraising during COVID is presenting tremendous challenges. It’s appropriate to share as Blue Ocean strategic view.

As a refresher, Blue Ocean Strategy’s premise is that new customers/donors/constituents are found in an organization’s current non-customers. The product or service offering must be a value innovation. Value innovation implies the costs of the offering has come down while the value of the offering has simultaneously risen.

A negative impact

“Most fundraisers expect to see some negative impact into 2021, with close to 72% anticipating that giving next year will continue to be lower than in a typical year. Approximately 16% believe giving will be about the same, while 12% think giving will increase in 2021.”

“We expected to see a significant drop in giving as a result of COVID-19, and our data shows that it will be a difficult time for fundraising for 2020 and well into 2021,” said Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA, president and CEO of AFP. “However, it’s clear that at this point, giving continues as organizations are adjusting and continuing to hear from donors. In addition, the impact hasn’t been the same across all organizations—human service organizations are, by far, the most optimistic subsector, and larger charities seem to be doing a bit better as well.” From

For fundraising in 2020, the traditional “event” is gone. The Gala or big annual fundraiser has been supplanted by virtual offerings that aren’t carrying the same weight.

The question becomes how might an organization weigh and prioritize the effectiveness of a virtual event? I recommend the Blue Ocean Strategy Buyer Utility Map as one possible tool.

The Buyer Utility Map outlines a full range of experiences constituents of an organization have as they experience an offering. It is recommended that these experiences be considered fully prior to committing to a virtual fundraiser of any type.

Let’s look at an example of the Buyer Utility Map

Fundraising Buyer Utility Map

In today’s fundraising environment, virtual events are falling short of delivering the experiences patrons and donors loved pre-COVID.

The block to customer productivity in donations is obvious. The events are not happening. Delivery of a non-existent event serves as a block to donation productivity. You can’t support an event that isn’t taking place.

Blocks to convenience for donors and patrons are numerous. The delivery of virtual events is all over the map is quality of experience, platforms, and activities. Blockages to convenience are numerous. Delivery is via email and social and often times the virtual fundraiser is an activity and not an event. Convenience in use is blocked in many cases due to the nature of the virtual fundraiser. The events often times are self-curated and rely on reporting mechanisms that aren’t reliable. Supplements to the event, one example would be the wine for an auction experience or charity dinner;  has to be purchased independently by the attendee.

Blocks to fun and image enhancement are numerous in virtual fundraisers as well. How does one donate and increase their status amongst other patrons at a virtual event? What does a virtual event offer that makes it interesting, convenient, useful, and absent the need to buy supplemental items?

Obviously, these are challenges.

The implications?

More than 40 percent of development leaders said they expected a double-digit percentage drop in fundraising revenue by the end of fiscal 2020, according to a recent survey of 110 college fundraisers. That drop-off would be in line with trends during the recent recession. In 2009, college fundraising hit a record low, when giving fell 11.9 percent from the previous year’s level, according to the Council for Aid to Education. From 

Tips on navigating the current landscape: From The Blackbaud Institute

Consider how your organization is adapting to maximize digital engagement with supporters. As social distancing recommendations continue to keep many in-person gatherings on hold, organizations across all sectors are being forced out of their comfort zones with digital marketing and engagement.

You should embrace this opportunity to maximize use of social media and digital platforms to stay connected with supporters. If the organization’s doors are shut to the public for the time being, staff should consider how they might be able to deliver some of the same programming and events through Facebook Live or other online platforms.

Donors are more understanding than ever before that many are new to these platforms. It’s a great opportunity to loosen the reins and welcome people in however you can.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is one organization that has embraced this opportunity, developing a virtual Home Safari that had reached nearly 20 million viewers by late spring. “The Zoo is comprised of a team that is both focused and nimble.

We ground ourselves in our mission of creating adventure, conveying knowledge, conserving nature, and serving the community. These qualities and focus that we practice on a daily basis have been activated in refreshed ways during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Director of Donor Engagement Krista Powers. Read more about Cincinnati Zoo’s strategy in the Stories of Resilience sgENGAGE series.


Remember that retention remains one of the most important factors in fundraising success. Donors give because they believe in the organization’s mission and because they believe their gift can make a difference.

You should stay focused on communicating the continued value of your mission and stewarding your supporters. By this same token, you shouldn’t be afraid to be transparent with donors about challenges the organization may potentially face due to a crisis situation.

Supporters want to know how the causes they care about are faring. Earnest communication about the challenges you will face allows donors to engage and give the support that is needed.

For additional resources, visit:

Value-innovation on the horizon

nextupatthemic logoOne notable solution to COVID era fundraising challenges may be a company based in Dallas, TX. features a full entertainment solution delivered via its virtual platform. Note: The writer does have an interest in the company.

The company works with organizations to curate an evening of top-level live musical entertainment, live comedy, professionally hosted by another comic, and show host with each show featuring a curated spirit or wine. Each attendee, donor, patron, ticket buyer is sent a .750 bottle of the evening’s curated spirit choice.

With the Nextupatthemic model, groups, associations, alumni groups, and philanthropic organizations of all types may offer their supporters an evening of entertainment. The evening’s festivities may include the same annual reports, awards, recognitions, and celebrations that supporters are used to.  At the same time, the provision of entertainment, comedy, and curated spirits and wine are included.

Listen to a short chat between Buca Caron, CEO of and Sherman Mohr, CEO of Shared Spirits and The Blue Ocean Strategist as they discuss today’s fundraising realities.

The solution makes the traditional $250 and up ticket price to a fundraiser a fair and reasonable value proposition.

If you’d like more information about using Blue Ocean Strategy in your organization or would like an introduction to NextUpattheMic contact Sherman G. Mohr, the Blue Ocean Strategist by clicking here.