It’s an understatement to say the world is going through a difficult time. I hope everyone is doing okay and staying healthy. Even though we’re practicing social distance, among other things, it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious during these uncertain times.
I had planned a post on donor newsletters, which seems trite given what’s going on. You and your nonprofit organization have a lot to worry about. Maybe you’re scrambling to figure out how everyone can effectively work from home. Maybe it’s hard to provide vital services to your clients. Maybe you’re going have to postpone or cancel upcoming events.
While we’re trying to take measures to stay healthy, the COVID-19 outbreak will most likely devastate the economy. Here in the Boston area and through the state, restaurants and businesses are closing and gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited. Theatres and museums are closed, and I know of several organizations that have to cut back on services. One organization had to cancel a huge walkathon that raises over $2 million.
During economic downturns, the need to provide vital nonprofit services increases. We don’t know how much the economy will suffer but expect that it will.
You may not be thinking that much about your donor communication at this time, but you should be. Here are a few suggestions to help you navigate these uncertain times.
Reach out to your donors
Please don’t cut back on your donor communication right now. Maybe you can’t send a print newsletter if everyone is working from home, but you can still communicate with your donors.
Check in with your donors. See how they’re doing and thank them for their support. Don’t ignore what’s going on. Let them know you understand this is a difficult time.
I hope you have a good CRM/database that everyone can access remotely so you can easily send messages. You should also think about calling donors who you know don’t use electronic communication.
I tend not to like the term transparency, but if there’s ever a time to be transparent, it’s now. Be upfront with your donors about how this will affect your work. Are you cutting back on services? How will that affect the people/community you serve?
The need for donations
You may need to ask for additional donations, and that’s perfectly understandable. You’re probably familiar with the concept – ask, thank, update, repeat. In this case, I recommend thanking and updating first and then asking.
Again, be upfront and honest about what you need. This is not a situation where someone mismanaged funds or didn’t plan accordingly. A few months ago, most of us were unaware something like this could happen.
Make an appeal that’s specific and easy to understand. As with most fundraising appeals, you’ll need to send it out more than once. Email is probably your best bet right now, but you can also use social media. This video gives some great suggestions.
Your donors are going through a lot and giving to your organization may be the last thing they’re thinking about. Some donors will be perfectly willing to give an additional donation and others won’t. These donors may be cautious with their finances for a while.
You could encourage donors to give monthly. This would be easier on their finances and provide you with a consistent stream of revenue.
Donors stop giving for a variety of reasons. You can’t control their financial situation, but you can control your donor communication. Do the best you can right now, and be sure to pour on the gratitude to anyone who gives an extra donation or upgrades to monthly giving.
This is an unprecedented situation that emphasizes the importance of planning ahead. I know it’s hard for small nonprofits with limited resources, but here a few ways to be prepared in the future.
Invest in good infrastructure, most importantly a good data management system.
Have a reserve fund. No matter how small your budget is, you want to have some money set aside in times like these.
Provide a caring, compassionate work environment that allows people to take care of themselves as needed.
I’ll keep sharing information that’s relevant as we work through this. Here a few links that may be helpful. Take care!