Nonprofit organisations of all sizes and across sectors share the same question: how do we engage our donors, and what sort of outreach is appreciated and appropriate? With the COVID-19 crisis impacting the philanthropic landscape on a daily basis, the answer to that question has taken on new levels of depth and importance. The situation can appear paralysing to even the most experienced fundraiser. However, the most important thing we have learned in our 70+ years of work in the philanthropic sector is the power of communication. Right now, your focus as fundraising professionals should be on consistent and highly personalised donor engagement strategies.
Guidance for Communication
While it is important to remain sensitive to the current environment, it is not an effective strategy to cease communications with donors altogether during a crisis. In fact, it is essential for you to increase communications to keep key stakeholders informed and engaged during this fast-changing time. Focus on sending regular, concise and thoughtful communications. As you prepare your communication plan, consider how different constituents may be affected and able to respond during this time. For example, your messaging should be customised for individuals vs. corporate vs. foundation funders, as well as for generation, gender, and ethnicity. But regardless of the constituency, keep the following four points in mind to form the foundation of your messaging:
- Stay the Course: Your organisation’s mission remains the same, even during challenging times. Remain focused on your goals.
- Make Adjustments: When needed, tweak your strategy based on feedback and new information.
- Be Flexible: Given the present challenges, be willing to diverge slightly from your original plan.
- Think Long-Term: Donor engagement has always been about building and maintaining lasting relationships.
Prioritising Your Communication
As you plan your communication strategy, chart the stages of your prospect pipeline and accompany each stage with its own recommendations. You can begin by separating constituents into categories defined by their stage in the solicitation cycle: identification, cultivation, brief, ask, and steward. In the case of a crisis, stewardship is your highest priority. Reverse that order and begin with donors who are in your stewardship category. For each of these stages, you will want to consider detailed answers for the following criteria:
- Priority: Determine a timeline for communicating with each group. Who should you be engaging with first? How can you ensure ongoing communication – are there updates you can plan in the weeks ahead?
- Considerations: what are your goals for each person? Are there specific items you need to share at this time? What do they need to hear from you to move the conversation on in the long term?
- Personalisation: How personal should the communication be? Do you need to thank them, ask for their support, share how the crisis is affecting your organisations, show the development of a case for support?
- Communication channel: What is the most appropriate method of communication? A personal call, a handwritten note, an email, or a video conference?
- Lead: Who is the best person on your team to lead this communication?
Among the many challenges we are all facing, there are two issues you will want to pay particular attention to in your communication.
- Personal concerns: Health and the economy are likely front of mind for all donors. Always begin conversations by checking in and inviting donors to share their experiences or concerns.
- Technology: Be sure to run through virtual visits and test media ahead of schedule. Use the donor’s preferred platform for check-in meetings with volunteers and organisational leadership to get everyone comfortable with the functionality and features.
1. Lead with well wishes and care for the safety of the individual. Acknowledge that this is an unprecedented time and many are experiencing disruption to their routines and plans.
Sample Messaging: It is our sincere hope that you and your family are well, safe, and able to continue as much of your normal routine as possible in this uncertain time.
2. Provide a high-level summary of the organisation’s response plan. Focus on relevant expertise provided by your organisation and/or the way in which you are supporting your community through the crisis.
Sample Messaging: As a close friend of our organisation, we want to share with you…
- Consider sharing your organisation’s crisis response fund, useful resources, or opportunities to get involved.
- Do not provide medical advice. Aim to share resources that are nonpartisan.
3. Circle back to the organisation’s mission and sharing current needs.
Sample Messaging: Amidst the uncertainty of this moment, one thing remains clear, the need for our services within the community has never been greater.
4. Close with a sincere thank you.
Sample Messaging: As a supporter of our organisation, you empower our ability to respond to this crisis, continue services to our constituents, and advance our mission. Thank you.
5. Additional Engagement Ideas
Given work-from-home and social distancing regulations and an increased need to connect and engage with one another, now is a good time to think about creative ways to communicate with your donors.
- Create “in-person” online opportunities for engagement. Host virtual meetings with structure and speaking notes. Make the discussion tangible by presenting the host’s screen to share photos, charts, and digital booklets/case statements to bring the mission to life.
- Close the social distance. Consider hosting a cultivation “social hour” led by organisation leadership, campaign chair, and any subject matter experts (physician, teacher, curator) at the organisation.
Remember that throughout this crisis, your highest priority should be communicating with your donors. Nurture your relationships. Through past crises, donors continued to give to organisations they felt connected to, so it is imperative that you maintain those connections. Charitable organisations can persevere through challenging times with flexibility, creativity, and resolve. This time of challenge will pass and important conversations with key stakeholders and prospects will resume. Use this time to optimally position your organisation and build your reputation in order to facilitate successful future engagements.
During this challenging time, we are continuing to offer our perspectives and lessons learned from over seven decades of nonprofit advisory leadership. Click here to access our Resources for COVID-19 page. Here you will find resources that provide best practices and optimal strategies to help your organisation build a path through this crisis and beyond.