Getting your messages out is never easy. But in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, just like everything else, it’s gotten a whole lot harder.
Your nonprofit organization needs to continue communicating regularly with your donors. Information overload is an understatement right now. Besides, your donors are going through a lot. They may miss your initial message, if they’re even looking at their email and social media platforms at all.
Here are a few ways to make your messages stand out that are specific to our current situation.
Don’t ignore COVID-19 right now
Your messages need to acknowledge how the COVID-19 situation is affecting your organization and I would find it hard to believe that it’s not. This means no generic messages such as support our programs.
I’m surprised when I get irrelevant emails that haven’t taken into account what’s going on. I received a message from a B & B we’ve stayed at that had the subject line Happy First Day of Spring. They said they would be opening for the season on April 6 (I doubt that) and they were offering special deals on rooms. This went out on March 19, after our state started placing restrictions on restaurants and gatherings. I seriously hope this was something they auto-scheduled at least a week beforehand. This is a good reminder that if you have auto-scheduled messages that aren’t relevant, to cancel them or make necessary changes.
What’s your intention?
What’s the purpose of your message? What do you want your reader to do? Are you asking for a donation? Maybe you’re thanking your donor or sharing an update.
Don’t muddle your messages with too much information. Keep it simple and stick to one call to action or type of message.
Here are some examples of how to make a fundraising request, thank your donors, and share an update, in separate messages of course.
Your fundraising request needs to be specific and straightforward. This is an example of a need and how donors can help. Project Bread, a Massachusetts organization committed to preventing and ending hunger, had to cancel their huge walkathon that raíses over $2 million. At the same time, all schools in the state are closed, and some students rely on receiving free breakfast and lunch provided by their school. Project Bread is requesting donations to make sure these kids continue to receive meals, usually by picking them up at a certain location.
Your needs don’t just apply to the people you serve. Not everyone is able to work from home and you still need to pay rent and utilities. A local nonprofit movie theatre that’s closed sent out a note of gratitude emphasizing they’re continuing to pay their staff including hourly employees who sell and take tickets and work the concession stand.
Stay in touch with frequent updates. An organization that provides support for homeless families had to close their centers. They’re working to continue to provide food for families, as well as getting them gift cards to buy food. They’re also continuing to pay their staff.
Choose the right channels
Most likely you’ll use more than one channel to communicate. Pay attention to the channels your donors are using and focus your efforts there.
Email may be the primary way you’re communicating right now and there’s a reason for that. It’s fast, easy, relatively inexpensive, and almost everyone has an email address. You can quickly get a message out to a lot of people. Also, unlike social media, it’s something you can control. You don’t have to rely on a social media algorithm to hope your message ends up in your donor’s feed.
But guess what, people are getting a huge amount of email right now from a variety of different sources. The same is true with social media. It’s easy for your messages to get lost.
While I’m a huge fan of direct mail, that may not be feasible at this time. You could also communicate by phone.
This post will primarily cover email communication, but you can apply these suggestions to other types of communication, too.
Get noticed right away
Now more than ever, a good subject line is the key to getting someone to open your email message. If your donor doesn’t bother to open it, all your work has gone to waste.
Choose something specific like Help us provide more meals to kids. You can specifically address COVID-19 like these [COVID-19] 3 ways to help from your couch and Crisis Support for Homeless Families During COVID-19. You could also choose something nice and simple like Thank You to Our Community.
Keep it short
Your next step is to get your donors to read your message. Keep them interested. With email, yours may be one of hundreds they’ll receive that day, along with whatever else is going on in their lives, which right now is a lot.
Make it easy to read and scan
Besides sending a short message, use short paragraphs and lots of white space, too. Your messages need to be easy to read and scan (I’m doing a lot of scanning right now) in an instant. Don’t use microscopic font either.
Be personal and conversational
Write directly to your reader using clear, conversational language – no jargon. Address your message to a person – Dear Cathy and not Dear Friend.
This is no time for vague, generic messages.
Segment your lists
Personalize your messages by segmenting your mailing lists. You could invite your committed monthly donors to give an additional donation or encourage current single gift donors to upgrade to monthly giving.
Go the extra mile when you thank your donors
Create a thank you landing page and automatically generated email that specifically references your current situation if you can. Get rid of anything that looks like a receipt. Give your donors a real heartfelt thank you.
Sending a handwritten note may not be possible right now. My suggestion is when you can send one, do that for any donors who helped you during this crisis.
Think about creating a thank you video to put on your website and share by email and social media. This could be something where your executive director gives a short thank you or update.
You could also call donors to thank them. Have your board help with that. Email them a list of donors and a script. Leaving a voicemail is fine, but people may pick up the phone since they’re home. It would be a nice gesture to reach out to some of your older donors if you can.
Be a welcome visitor
If you communicate regularly and do it well, your donors should recognize you as a reputable source and are more likely to read your messages. If all you do is blast them with generic fundraising appeals, now is a good time to change that.
Make sure people know your email is coming from your organization. In the from field, put DoGood Nonprofit or Marcy Kramer, DoGood Nonprofit. If you just put a person’s name or firstname.lastname@example.org, people may not know who it’s from and ignore your message.
People want to help if they can. I’m amazed at how many nonprofit organizations are trying to adapt to our current situation. We are a resilient sector. Share success stories with your donors and thank them for their role in that.
Don’t be the person who hoards toilet paper at the grocery store. Be the person who writes encouraging messages in chalk on the sidewalk or gives a generous tip to the person delivering your groceries.
Support your local nonprofits, as well as your favorite local businesses by buying gift cards if you can. Be well, stay safe, and follow your local stay at home advisories.