It’s hard to believe we are more than three months into this new reality. Our communities are beginning to cautiously re-open, but to think that things will just go back to the pre-COVID 19 “normal” is incorrect.
Our consultants have been spending their time in triage mode since the first stay-at-home orders were put into place. These closures meant many of our clients were forced to pivot their programming in a matter of hours or days. Schools transitioned to e-learning, churches and synagogues stumbled into online services (or none at all), museums and theatres closed temporarily, summer camps were canceled, and our health and human services partners were pushed to the brink as the unemployment rates meant more people were hungry, losing their homes, seeking both medical care and mental health support.
As the programs shifted, fundraising in many cases came to a halt. Our clients canceled or postponed major fundraising events, stopped direct mail appeals and put major gift visits or solicitations on hold. Our phones and emails blew up with requests for video coaching sessions. Although all of my senior consultants had been working during the 2008 recession, this situation was new to all of us and required us to take a step back and rethink how we could continue to build and maintain donor relationships from our home offices and ensure that our clients had the information they needed to be successful.
Through our webinars and individual coaching sessions, we have been able to assist many of our clients through this difficult time, by refocusing their efforts on basic donor communications and personal outreach. Now, as states are re-opening and some services are resuming, we have been spending a great deal of time thinking about what’s next and answering questions from our clients about how to plan for the future. We thought you’d be interested to see what they are asking and how we are answering their questions:
Should I be meeting in person with my donors now?
Not quite yet. While many of us are stir crazy and looking for ways to see people again face-to-face, there are an equal number of people who are taking a very conservative approach to this re-entry process. Our best advice is to take a “watch and wait” approach for the next month when it comes to visits. In the meantime, you should make a list of the donors you will need to visit first when it is safe, and be ready to put that plan into action.
I haven’t been in touch with my donors for many months and I’m afraid they may have lost their jobs and not be able to support our organization. Shouldn’t I just wait a few more months to see what’s happening?
Don’t wait! It’s important to check in regularly with your donors during this difficult time. Clients that were on the phone right away report speaking to more donors than ever before and having longer, more engaged conversations. Make sure to thank them for their past support and be ready to tell them what you need and why you need it. That means having data ready! You can’t make assumptions about what is or is not happening to your stakeholders or how they feel about philanthropy.
If I’ve stayed in touch with my donors during the past few months. What should I be saying now?
Continue to highlight how your donor’s support is relevant to the COVID-19 crisis for the organization if at all possible. How are you pivoting during this time to help those you serve? How are you continuing to work toward mission fulfillment?
Also, think about whether it makes sense to create an emergency appeal/fund (targeting your top donors based on your needs). If your organization does decide to do this, position the appeal to showcase how your organization is making a difference or utilizing funds differently during this time of crisis. However, be careful not to paint the picture that your organization is unstable or in a state of chaos. Philanthropists may give a one-time gift to an organization in trouble, but long-term, they want to invest in healthy, stable nonprofits that are able to pivot to meet the needs of those they serve during turbulent times.
What can I do to engage donors right now when events and in-person visits are still (for the most part) on hold?
Be creative! How can you engage top donors virtually? Were you planning on hosting a salon dinner or another cultivation event? Can you still do so in a unique way? Can you offer a fireside chat to your top donors and the Executive Director via Zoom? What about asking a program officer to provide an update to top donors via an exclusive invite?
As we look to the future, the Evolve team is optimistic that donors will continue to support the organizations they love to the greatest extent possible. It’s your job to keep them informed and to let them know how they can help. The people you serve are counting on you to continue to seek philanthropic support in order to fulfill your important mission.
Please reach out to me with your questions so that I can answer them in Part II next week. We are always here to help. Our team continues to offer nonprofit professionals and volunteers complimentary 30-minute coaching sessions during this uncertain time to help keep your fundraising programs on track.