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Communicating with Donors in a Crisis: 4 Nonprofit Strategies

November 19th, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

Nonprofit professionals like yourself understand how important it is to develop relationships with your donors.

By developing relationships, you can encourage supporters to continue contributing in the future and to get involved with other aspects of your organization, such as volunteering or attending events.

The most important way that you can build the foundation for and continue developing these relationships is through effective communication. Historically, you may have used platforms like email, social media, direct mail, phone conversations, or even face-to-face meetings to keep up with your supporters.

Now, the tides of communication have shifted slightly. The COVID-19 crisis has created an environment where communication is even more important, but yet it is different and (in some ways) more difficult to accomplish than before.

Communicating with donors during a crisis requires additional planning and likely some adjustments to your nonprofit’s strategic plan. In this guide, we’ll be covering some top tips that you should use to best maintain communication with donors during a crisis and continue building relationships. These strategies include:

  1. Increase your use of virtual communication platforms.
  2. Openly explain your nonprofit’s circumstances.
  3. Directly ask for support.
  4. Tell donors about this year’s work and future plans.

If you haven’t yet adjusted your communication strategy to adhere to the COVID-19 crisis, now’s the time to start. If you’ve already adapted your communications plan, these tips can still help you continue to improve your strategy.

1. Increase your use of virtual communication platforms.

Crises change the daily habits of individuals. In the case of COVID-19, this means that everyone needs to stay home, cancel plans, practice social distancing, and wear masks. However, this change of plans isn’t unique to the coronavirus pandemic. In the economic crash of 2008, many people changed their plans to practice frugality, avoid going out to purchase items, and put their vacations on hold. No matter what the crisis is, when people panic about an external situation, their habits, and plans also change dramatically, meaning keeping in touch with them through these changes can be difficult, yet vital, to maintaining relationships.

That’s why the first strategy that’s important to remember when a crisis occurs is to meet your donors where they are—in this case, by increasing your use of virtual communication platforms.

We have constant access to communication devices, from our phones and computers. Not only that, we have those devices with us almost constantly. We recommend increasing your use of platforms such as the following to make sure you stay top of mind for supporters even in the midst of a crisis:

  • Email. Email is like the bread and butter of nonprofit communication strategies. When you increase the use of email to communicate with supporters, you’ll also want to reinforce your segmentation strategies to ensure each email is personalized for its recipient. For example, if a nonprofit uses Bloomerang for donor management, they should be sure to use deduplication features and make sure everything is up-to-date before revisiting segments to ensure they’re best suited to reach the donors. Then, that organization could sync data with Mailchimp to send the perfectly crafted emails.
  • Phone calls. While email allows your organization to send a lot of messages very quickly, it doesn’t have the same personal touch that a phone call has. Personalized phone calls to thank supporters for their contributions or simply to check in on how they’re handling the crisis allows you to have a conversation that’s as close to face-to-face as possible for our current times. For some of your more prominent supporters, you may try to schedule a video call using Zoom or Facetime to create an even more intimate connection.
  • Social media. There are several ways that your organization can use social media to amplify your communications with supporters. Reach your entire audience by posting directly from your profile; or, you can use direct messaging for a more personalized approach and call supporters to action; finally, you may decide to foster your community of supporters by creating a group on social media where they can share their experiences with one another.

We recommend using as many personal platforms to reach your audience as possible. Bloomerang found that in a random sampling of 4,000 users, those who reached out using personal methods increased their fundraising revenue substantially:

If you meet with donors frequently in-person to discuss their involvement with your organization, you can’t just stop communication because these meetings are no longer possible. Increasing your use of virtual technology will fill these gaps and maintain your connections.

You should not only use these virtual platforms more often, but you should also adjust your content for the messages you send to better explain the newfound situation your organization finds itself in.

2. Openly explain your nonprofit’s circumstances.

Too many nonprofits feel the need to “put on a brave face” and only tell supporters part of the truth when they come across hard times. For instance, consider the following example:

Last year, an animal shelter started a capital campaign to raise the funds necessary for building a new facility where they’ll be able to host over 100 more animals. They raised their funds in the quiet phase impressively quickly and moved to the public phase within a year. However, just as they thought they were hitting their stride, COVID-19 hit. They suddenly found it much more difficult to obtain the funds they need to finish out the campaign. It threw them off schedule.

The options this organization has are to pretend that everything is going well and it won’t be much longer until the campaign is wrapped up or to either come forward and explain to their supporters why the campaign has hit a small bump in the scheduling for the build. Let’s explain why each of these is tempting:

  • If you pretend that everything is going well, you may feel that your organization is maintaining supporters’ confidence. However, the truth is that supporters are more likely to see through the little fib (or missing information if you hold back the truth), which will make them lose confidence in the organization. That’s the opposite of what you anticipated.
  • If you explain what’s going on and why your organization is running a little late with the campaign, your supporters may appreciate the honesty. They’re experiencing the same crisis that you are and won’t blame you for the changing time period. Plus, when you explain the situation, you can turn the explanation into a call-to-action and ask supporters to help your organization get back on track.

The obvious choice here is to openly explain your supporter’s circumstances in order to maintain the trust of your supporters and maybe even obtain some additional support.

In a crisis, what your supporters want to see is transparency and your plans to get back on track. Therefore, when trouble hits, honesty is the best policy. Then, keep them looking forward to your new plan to get everything back on track. From there, you’ll need to keep everyone informed about your progress on the project. You may choose to:

  • Include a new progress section of your email newsletter.
  • Send an additional personalized thank-you to supporters..
  • Post progress reports on social media platforms.

When you make a realistic plan to get back on track and communicate that plan to your supporters, you’ll not only restore their trust in your organization, but you’ll also be held accountable to create and follow a set plan to achieve your goals.

3. Directly ask for support.

Fundraising is only effective when you’re not afraid to ask for support. During a crisis (especially an economic crisis), many fundraisers become embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help from their supporters because they assume that those individuals must be feeling the financial strain that so many others also feel.

When you assume that supporters won’t give and fail to ask, you guarantee they won’t give to your organization.

Keep asking! You may adjust how you ask or how much you ask for, but don’t stop asking altogether. Make sure you continue creating content that informs supporters of the various ways they can get involved. For example, make sure you communicate with supporters about:

  • Digital fundraising platforms. Cornershop Creative’s digital fundraising guide explains that digital fundraising encompasses any and all contributions made through online platforms. When you ask for support using email, social media, or other digital platforms, link them directly to your online giving pages to make sure it’s easy to find where to contribute.
  • Mail-in donation options. In your donor database, you might have a list of supporters who prefer to contribute using direct mail. You can bet that these people will still prefer giving this way during a crisis. Be sure to adjust your fundraising letters to mention the crisis and explain why this is an especially important time for your organization to obtain funds. If you’re having trouble putting together a new fundraising letter, use resources like this one to make sure you’ve hit all of the important points.
  • Volunteer positions. Undoubtedly, some of your supporters will find it difficult to give during a crisis. Therefore, make sure you have another way that they can contribute to your organization, such as through volunteer work. Provide opportunities where they can still contribute time to your mission rather than money.

Don’t assume that your fundraising will automatically be lesser this year than in the past. In fact, many Bloomerang users have raised more this year than in previous years when they’ve proactively reached out to supporters:

You never know how supporters will respond to your ask until you actually go through with it. Be sure to invite an open conversation with your supporters. If they’re not able to give financially, make a note of that and invite them to stay involved in other ways such as volunteering.

4. Tell supporters about this year’s work and future plans.

As we approach the end of a year full of crisis, you probably have a few different things on your mind. How can you make the most of year-end fundraising? What adjustments still need to be made for your various events and activities? How can you prepare for next year?

During an ongoing crisis (such as this one), it’s important that you look back over the data you’ve collected during the crisis itself in order to inform your future decisions. Consider how you’ll handle this year-end with COVID-19. For instance, you may leverage resources such as your annual report to communicate any strategic changes.

As you prepare your annual report for this year, consider the following:

  • Don’t ignore the crisis. Create a report that reflects the changes we’ve seen in society. When you look back and communicate campaign results with supporters, be sure to mention how the crisis impacted those results.
  • Look towards the future. According to this Bloomerang guide on annual reports, sharing your future plans as a part of your annual report generates excitement in your supporters. Just confirm your plans are realistic and don’t set an assumptive end date for the crisis.

While not every crisis will last as long as the COVID-19 pandemic has, communicating both past and future plans is a key aspect of ensuring your donors are caught up.

They’ll appreciate being kept in the loop and will feel more secure in your organization’s ability to react to a changing environment.

Communication is always important to maintain relationships with your supporters. During a crisis, it becomes even more vital. When you communicate effectively, your supporters will realize that you’re not only trying to build a relationship when it’s convenient for you. You want them to know that you’ll stick by them through thick and thin. By incorporating these four tips, they’ll know for sure that you care!

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