COVID-19

Nonprofits are in double jeopardy during COVID-19. Many charities provide essential services to feed, heal, shelter, and care for vulnerable communities. The number of individuals who need their help is skyrocketing as U.S. unemployment rises, while charitable donations fall off and in-person fundraisers are cancelled, including galas, dinners, walkathons and more. Given that nonprofits comprise the third largest U.S. industry – only retail and manufacturing employ more people – adapting new strategies to cope in these challenging economic times is now as important as ever.

At Business for Impact (new window) we coach nonprofit leaders how to diversify their revenue streams through our New Strategies (new window) program. During the pandemic, we reached out to some of the more than 1,000 nonprofit graduates of the program to learn how their organizations are pivoting in these challenging times. Several nonprofits have successfully transitioned to online fundraising. Others are ramping up social enterprise earned-revenue models. All are doubling down on asking donors for more support. Here is how they are getting real results.

Make more than an appealUjamaa Place (new window) (UJ) serves economically and educationally disadvantaged African American men in Saint Paul, Minnesota. (new window)Recognizing that members of the black community are suffering greater levels of health and economic harm from COVID-19, Ujamaa Place CEO Otis Zanders appealed to donors on social media (new window), sharing how UJ still provides shelter, career, and life skills training while maintaining physical distance.Also, UJ is renovating programs, upgrading technology to provide online training to clients, offering two meals per day on site, and ramping up new services in response to the early release of nonviolent offenders from incarceration during COVID-19. A New Strategies alumnus, Zanders says the 47% increase in donor response was because he made more than an appeal. He educated donors about the challenges and costs of operating during the pandemic, and inspired them to support UJ’s efforts to provide innovative, timely solutions.

Ramp up earned revenues.The Viscardi Center (new window), a partner of Business for Impact working on closing the disability employment gap, is a New York-based nonprofit with 400 employees. Both of Viscardi’s big fundraising events were cancelled this year, including a gala with celebrity athletes. Viscardi CEO John Kemp says that the Center is ramping up  Abilities, Inc. (new window), its social enterprise subsidiary that trains and prepares persons with disabilities (PWDs) to perform essential jobs in cleaning and sanitation industries. The Center has special know-how in disinfecting protocols because many PWDs live with multiple health conditions. Viscardi is leveraging that expertise for a win-win: Employing more PWDs while increasing earned revenue for the Center during these challenging times.

Go Virtual, Go Viral.The COVID-19 pandemic prompted Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Berkeley Rep) to virtually host their April fundraising gala, OVATION. Traditionally, the event was a sold-out 400 guest dinner at The San Francisco Ritz-Carlton which generated nearly 15% of annual contributed revenue. The virtual event exceeded expectations, bringing in nearly $1 million from more than 700 “remote” guests and sponsors– almost double the number who would have joined in person.Other nonprofits are leveraging the internet to go viral. The veteran’s organization, Code of Support Foundation (new window) (COSF) supports members of the military, veterans, and their families. COSF has stepped up online email marketing, issuing a new COSF Covid-19 response (new window) which prompted the highest email open rate in six months.  (new window)COSF is also capturing new donors through peer-to-peer fundraising and leveraging social media: One “peer designed” workout challenge (new window) puts man’s best friend to work in a whole new way and inspired a first-time COSF donor to give $500.

Government and philanthropic backstops. The National Council of Nonprofits (new window) provides updated COVID-19 Relief (new window) strategies for how nonprofits can access CARES and Paycheck Protection Program funds. Many community foundation state listings provide useful local information. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation just launched the new PowerOf (new window) platform, which connects individual givers with opportunities to connect locally and donate time as well as money. Also, Independent Sector (new window) provides nonprofit leaders and supporters with templates to take action (new window) and advocate for better nonprofit policies.

Times are tough, but there is also reason for hope. Historically, we know from our research for the latest edition of Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits (new window) that national nonprofits such as Feeding America, Habitat for Humanity and UnidosUS not only survived but thrived after the 2008 global financial crisis. We are optimistic that many nonprofits will also flourish after COVID-19.We look forward to helping our next cohort of New Strategies nonprofit leaders diversify their revenue strategies in 2020, and we thank our corporate and foundation sponsors (new window) for making the program possible. Visit New Strategies (new window) to learn more or email Ernest Chico Rosemond (new window). And to every nonprofit worker serving on the front lines, we recognize and appreciate the sacrifices you are making to help others.

Business for Impact is committed to unleashing the power of business to help people and the planet thrive. In this edition of our e-newsletter on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and COVID-19, we focus on how companies are employing social marketing principles to promote both public health and their brands.

As a distinct discipline, social marketing aims to promote behaviors that benefit society as well as the individual. One key difference between social marketing and commercial marketing is that social marketing aims to influence people to change their behaviors for a greater good, while traditional commercial marketing aims to influence people to purchase a product or service.

Both kinds of marketing involve identifying a target audience, understanding what or who influences them, and creating persuasive messages designed to influence that audience’s thoughts and actions. Whether the goal of a marketing campaign is to reduce drunk driving, increase family planning in developing countries, or convince consumers to buy a specific brand, the objective in each case is to influence behavior change.

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For companies that sell health care products such as Tylenol, social marketing techniques to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 are a natural fit.Tylenol’s“Stay Home” (new window) advertising gives new meaning to an important behavior the company aims to influence. The ad emphasizes why physical distancing keeps health care professionals safe, prompting viewers to consider how their behaviors benefit the greater good, not just themselves. The ad also celebrates nurses, who are widely respected more than ever today, which creates a positive “halo” for Tylenol.Other social marketing campaigns are designed to shift social norms and attitudes, which lead to behavior change. 

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The Dove Health Care Hero campaign’s new ad, “Courage is Beautiful (new window), (new window)” (new window) features close-ups of health care workers whose faces are marred from wearing protective masks and reveal other skin imperfections.The ad prompts the public to see these flaws as marks of bravery. Like Tylenol, Dove is linking its brand with pro-social norm change messages and uses images of trusted front line health workers to engender positive associations with the brand. Dove is owned by Unilever, a global purveyor of soap brands and a leader in handwashing campaigns. The new COVID-19 campaign is an extension of Dove’s “Real Beauty” platform, which launched in 2004 with popular ads featuring regular women of all shapes and sizes (instead of models); the platform also has received criticism for a 2017 ad widely perceived as racist. Learning from past mistakes, Dove’s new COVID-19 spot celebrates health care heroes from diverse racial backgrounds.

Not every company has a clear social marketing angle. Surprisingly, Steak-umm, the frozen processed cheesesteak meat company, is trending during COVID-19 with social marketing messages targeting another consumer behavior: using data and science and rejecting disinformation. Steak-umm’s “nine-part soliloquy on Twitter is admonishing misinformation and advising on the importance of media literacy and reliable sources of data,” as Adweek reports (new window).

These days, it can seem that every corporate brand is converging toward the same messageIf you were among the millions who watched the Global Citizen concert to benefit the World Health Organization on April 18, then you saw a battery of social marketing-oriented ads. For example, Verizon’s ad shows the variety of ways children are e-learning during COVID-19 and concludes with a message to “stay home, stay connected (new window).”

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Watch enough of these, and a formula starts to appear. One compilation shows all kinds of companies employing the same basic elements in their ads: Dramatic music plays in the background,positive social marketing messages voice over, and emotional images of frontline workers appear culminating in a crescendo of hope, gratitude, and togetherness (apart). (“Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same” (new window)

The risk of so much feel-good advertising, even with well-intentioned social marketing memes, is customer disengagement. Consumers turn cynical when the same formula repeats over and over. And certain brands must be careful, especially if they are not in health-related industries. It’s one thing for companies that sell anti-fever medicine or soap to promote public health messages like physical distancing and hand washing. For others, it’s a bridge too far. Take the new Lexus COVID-19 ad that assures the public, “…we will do what we’ve always done: Take care of people.” This departs from the luxury carmarker’s established brand positioning around “curiosity” and “the pursuit of perfection.”

This is why Steak-umm’s  social media messaging has been so refreshing during COVID-19. The kitschy purveyor of processed meat is neither marketing feel-good platitudes nor trying to pose as a health food company. Instead it’s promoting pro-social behaviors like using real data, not anecdotes or disinformation, to keep consumers safe. And, let’s be honest, they want to sell more Steak-umms.

The good news is that the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for companies and brands to authentically engage with consumers on a deeper level to boost corporate credibility, brand equity, and the bottom line. To do this, marketers should employ the pro-social tenets of social marketing in future campaigns and avoid formulaic, superficial attempts to tug at their audience’s emotions.

The International Social Marketing Association (iSMA) is hosting a series of webinars to discuss how social marketing practitioners can use science-based strategies and behavioral interventions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Business for Impact Project Director Gael O’Sullivan, a global expert in social marketing and behavior change, will serve as a panelist. Register and learn more here (new window).We invite you to tell us what companies are doing, including what’s working, what’s not, and what business can do better. Please share your stories by emailing us: businessforimpact@georgetown.edu (new window).

Business for Impact is committed to unleashing the power of business to do good. In this second edition of Business for Impact’s e-newsletter about corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the coronavirus, we focus on the workforce and how corporations are supporting one of their most important assets – employees.

Former Chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corporation Anne Mulcahy said, “Employees are a company’s greatest asset –they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.”


During a global health and economic crisis like COVID-19, CEOs can deploy a range of approaches to meet the needs of employees while operating under austere conditions. For companies fortunate to remain in business, leaders can hire more staff to address increased consumer demand and take pressure off existing workers; increase salaries and bonuses; provide workplace protections to prevent the spread of the virus; allow flexible work schedules; promote creative solutions such as job-trading and volunteering; and more.

While no large company has a “perfect” solution, Comcast NBCUniversal (a Business for Impact partner) sets a promising example. The company owns and operates television stations, theme parks, resorts and more, employing more than 140,000 people. It has committed $500 million to support employees “where operations have been paused or impacted (new window)” by temporary closures – including its Universal Orlando resort and hotels in Florida, where employees continue to receive full pay during the shut down. Actions like these can explain why Comcast NBCUniversal has been ranked among the “Fortune Top 100 Companies to Work For.”

Here’s how other companies are supporting their workforces during COVID-19:

  • Increased salaries and benefits: “Essential” businesses such as Albertsons, Amazon, Best Buy, Comcast, CVS, JOANN, Kroger, H-E-B, PepsiCo, Rite Aid, Starbucks, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart announced temporary pay increases or one-time bonuses for select hourly workers. Some of these retailers are also hiring thousands of more workers to meet rising demand.
  • Skilled Volunteering: Many employees want to use their unique skills to respond to the pandemic. Merck & Co., Eli Lilly, and Pfizer have redeployed medically-trained staff as health care volunteers, while keeping those employee volunteers on the payroll—with full pay and benefits—until they return to their previous jobs. General Mills has allowed some corporate employees to switch temporarily into manufacturing to meet higher production demands.
  • Furloughed but still paid: Businesses like Apple and Nestlé face store closures and work stoppages but continue to provide full salaries and benefits to the affected employees.

Small businesses: Even local businesses that lack corporate-level resources can still put employees first in times of crisis. Compass Coffee, a Washington, D.C. café chain, closed stores and laid off 80 percent of its 189 employees in March. Compass co-founders chose the least damaging of bad options to allow their workers to quickly apply for unemployment benefits.The few remaining workers receive a flat $15/hour from the CEO to the cashiers, according to one local barista.

Essential Workers: “Essential workers” risk their lives to serve others during COVID-19, and many are economically disadvantaged. These workers earn lower wages and carry less health-related insurance than the median wage earner in the United States. Approximately 145 million workers who qualify as “essential workers” earn a median salary of $18.58 an hour. The Brookings Institution recently published recommendations on “How to support essential workers during COVID-19,” including urging the federal government to provide “essential workers” with free life and health insurance and to expand the definition of “essential worker.”


Gig Workers:Approximately 57 million people – more than one third of the U.S. workforce – are paid as gig workers by companies like Amazon, Postmates, Uber, Lyft and more. More must be done to support this critical workforce, both to protect them from risky exposure while on the job now and in the long run. Gig workers lack social safety net protections that traditional employees enjoy, such as health benefits and retirement savings programs. Business for Impact is studying new approaches to providing today’s gig workforce with access to “portable” benefits. To learn more, email us.


Nonprofits: With more than 12.5 million employees, the nonprofit sector is the third largest private-sector employer in the United States, after retail and manufacturing. Nonprofits provide critical services that feed, heal, shelter, educate, and nurture. Many nonprofit workers are on the front lines and all are impacted by COVID-19. Business for Impact’s Philanthropy News Digest piece “No Money, No Mission” offers advice for nonprofits employers in these challenging times. 

We invite you to tell us what companies are doing, including what’s working, what’s not, and what business can do better. Please share your stories on Twitter, using the hashtag #CSR+COVID-19 or email businessforimpact@georgetown.edu.

Thank you.

Business for Impact is here to support you and all of our partners committed to unleashing the power of business to do good – especially in these challenging times. We are heartened to see so many of our corporate partners responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with generosity and innovation. While this lethal virus is devastating communities, crushing the global economy, decimating entire industries, and putting millions out of work, businesses are launching new corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives to help families, workers, and communities fight back.

In this first installment of Business for Impact’s e-newsletter focused on CSR and the coronavirus, we feature some of our corporate partners’ early responses to the pandemic highlighting what works across various industries – from retrofitting breweries to manufacture hand sanitizer to ramping up pharmacy telehealth, and more.

Woman putting hand sanitize on her hands.

In times of crisis – whether due to a pandemic, earthquake, hurricane, wildfire, or other disasters – the best CSR efforts first meet urgent needs of people most impacted. This includes the employees and customers who are part of the local communities where a business sources and operates. Smart CSR strategies leverage all of the assets in a business’ arsenal, including not only real-time philanthropy but also brand power, operational capabilities, supply chain leverage, customer networks, nonprofit partnerships, and more. Let’s look at how some of our corporate partners are deploying these CSR best practices today.    When disaster strikes, vulnerable communities need cash to address immediate needs. Bank of Americacommitted $100 million to communities impacted by the coronavirus. Business for Impact was proud to see our founding partner act quickly after the pandemic was announced on March 11 by the World Health Organization. Funds will bolster medical response, food insecurity, access to learning, and support for vulnerable populations in Bank of America’s local markets.

Woman checking out at Target.

Other generous cash donors include our New Strategies for Nonprofit Leaders program sponsors JPMorgan Chase, who committed $50 million globally to communities impacted by the pandemic; American Expresswho pledged $5 million to support groups like International Medical Corps and Feeding America; and Wells Fargo who will give $175 million.Some industries are well-positioned to help fight the virus on thefront lines, including pharmaceutical and goods retailers like CVS HealthandTarget.

CVS Healthis using all the tools in its arsenal to make a positive impact on customers and communities during the crisis. CVS Health remains committed to keeping its stores open. To meet exploding demand, CVS Health is ramping up capacity to serve customers, including hiring 50,000 more workers and giving $500 bonuses to employees who work during the COVID-19 crisis. Also, CVS Health is pivoting to help communities in need by ramping up no-cost home-delivery services, waiving co-pays for subscribers to Aetna insurance, lifting refill limits, and more to promote social distancing.

Targetis also scaling up while investing more than $300 million in added wages, introducing a new paid leave program, offering bonus payouts, and relief fund contributions. In order to respond to community needs quickly and effectively, Target is inviting its “guests” (customers) to direct which local nonprofits receive its corporate donations.Companies are rejiggering manufacturing capabilities to produce urgently needed supplies and ensure that essential goods flow through supply chains.

Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABInBev) operates breweries worldwide, including in China where COVID-19 first surfaced. ABInBev quickly pivoted to manufacture hand sanitizer and disinfectant to donate to hospitals and frontline healthcare workers, using alcohol extracted from the brewing process of its non-alcohol beers. Here in the United States, ABInBev’s Budweiser is redeploying its sports sponsorship investments to keep stadiums open for American Red Cross blood drives.

Stock image of water bottles.

The global food company Nestlé is laser-focused on keeping products moving through sustainable supply chains and into local markets and stores.Nestlé has promised to pay full salaries to employees affected by work stoppages for a minimum of three months and has temporarily raised wages for factory and distribution center workers in order to protect them from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Also, Nestlé is donating food, bottled water, medical nutrition, and cash to impacted communities.These are a few examples of effective corporate responses to COVID-19. We will share more highlights from our partners in future Business for Impact e-newsletters throughout this crisis, with insights into both how companies can best respond in real-time and how they can aid longer term relief and recovery. We know from our experience working in and teaching CSR here at the McDonough School of Business that fighting a crisis like COVID-19 is not just a sprint – it’s a marathon.

We invite you to help us understand what else companies are doing, including what’s workingwhat’s not, and what business can do betterby sharing your stories with us on Twitter using the hashtag  #CSR+COVID-19 or email businessforimpact@georgetown.edu (new window).

Finally, a heartfelt thank you to all of our partners – especially our New Strategies nonprofit leaders who work in health, medical, and social service fields risking their lives to fight on the front lines every day.

Thank you.