Donor engagement is always important, and it’s especially important right now. Your inclination may be to do less when you actually should be doing more.
I’d put your more formal newsletter on hold right now and send short updates instead. This will help you stay in touch more often. Aim for once a week, if you can, or every other week. I’ve been advocating for shorter, more frequent updates for a while and now is a good time to start doing this.
In the best of times, nonprofit organizations don’t do a very good job with their donor engagement. Both by not communicating enough and/or sending something that’s uninspiring.
The fact that you have a donor newsletter doesn’t mean you’re engaging with people. Most newsletters are boring and organization-centered. Often they contain articles that don’t interest your donors. That needs to change.
Here are a few ways to do a better job with your donor engagement – both now and in the future.
Your updates must be relevant to the current COVID-19 situation. Otherwise, it’s beyond clueless. Try to send updates in which you aren’t asking for donations. You can still do fundraising in separate messages. In fact, you should still be fundraising. Share success stories if you can.
Some organizations are sharing their 2019 annual reports. Doing this now emphasizes how quickly an annual report becomes out of date. If you had sent it in January or February, it would have been more relevant.
Perhaps your annual report was already in the works, so if you feel you must share it now, you have to reference the current situation.
Remember that an annual report is for your donors, and do you think your donors are that interested in what you did last year?
Your donors are interested in what you’re doing NOW.
Being donor-centered is key
After all, it’s donor engagement, not organizational engagement. Think about what your donors want to hear. Most likely it’s how you’re making difference for the people/community you serve during this time of crisis. Let your donors know how they’re helping you with this.
I realize nonprofits have gone to great lengths to change the way they do things. That’s great, but don’t brag about your organization. Maybe you run a community dinner every Thursday and now you have to serve boxed to-go meals. Instead of patting yourself on the back explaining how you were able to pull this off, say something like – Thanks to donors like you, we are able to continue providing much-needed healthy dinners to people in the community.
Focus on your mission
Why you’re doing something is more important than how or what. If your homeless shelter has to take on extra measures to keep it clean, emphasize the importance of the health and safety of your clients, many of whom are at greater risk of getting COVID-19. You want to continue to provide them with a safe place where they will be treated with dignity and respect.
If you decide to do your usual monthly e-newsletter, don’t give it the subject line April Newsletter. A better subject line would be – Find out how you’re helping families continue to put food on the table.
All stories/articles should pertain to the current situation. You can thank your major funders, in fact, you should thank all your donors, but bring your focus back to your mission.
Find ways to stay in touch
It shouldn’t be that hard to find something to share. Remember, shorter is better. Maybe just one subject consisting of a few paragraphs. Your donors don’t want something that’s going to require too much attention. You could also go the visual route by including a photo or video.
An organization that works with immigrants and refugees had a group of people make masks for health care workers and posted a picture of the colorful masks they made.
Museums are offering virtual tours. Some theatres are showing videos of performances. If you’re an environmental organization, you could share nature photos or videos. If you work with animals, pictures of our furry friends are always welcome.
You could send an advocacy alert. These are a great way to engage without asking for a donation. One organization is asking people to contact their federal legislators to make it easier for people to get food stamps, which would reduce the burden on food banks.
Maybe you could use some volunteer help. In my last post, I mentioned getting volunteers to help with thank you calls or personalized emails. Perhaps you have other projects for virtual volunteers. Give a shout-out to any volunteers who are helping you right now.
This is a good time to revise your communications calendar to help you plan ways to stay in touch during this time.
Use the right channels
Most likely you’ll communicate by email and social media. Monitor what channels your donors are using. If only a handful of people are on Instagram, don’t use it much. Pay attention to their engagement and track open rates, click-throughs, likes, comments, etc. Of course, people may miss your electronic messages, which is one of the reasons you should communicate regularly.
Send something by mail if you can. You could also use the phone if you’ve established a connection with people that way. Maybe they gave a donation to help you get laptops for your tutoring programs. You can let them know that the kids and their tutors are meeting via Zoom so they can continue their weekly reading time.
Be sure to keep your website up to date, too. It needs to address the current situation on your home page, donation page, and other sections that include updates.
Pay attention to your donor retention
Good donor engagement often leads to good donor retention. As the economy worsens, it will be harder for some people to give this year, but hopefully, they’ll give again when they can.
They may give less or cut back on organizations they donate to. Don’t let yours be one of them. They might decide between the organization that sends handwritten notes or the one that just blasts generic fundraising appeals.
The need for nonprofits will grow for a while. You’ll need your donors and keeping them engaged will help you get through the tough times ahead.
Stay safe, wear a mask when you’re out in public, be well, and practice random or not so random acts of kindness as much as possible.