Now is a time to communicate more, not less, to sustain and build mutually beneficial relationships with constituents. People feel isolated and frustrated about the fact they aren’t having the impact they used to have, in business or their community. You can help alleviate their exasperation!
Right now is still the ‘bump,’ not the ‘slump’ stage. Folks who love you haven’t stopped loving you. They really want you to survive and thrive. So, guess what? It’s still early enough in the crisis that people are still giving. Your donors, especially, are still giving.
- A study by Fidelity Charitable found 79% of $1,000+ donors plan to maintain or increase their giving, mostly to their current favorite charities.
- Lower to mid-level annual donors have remained the most steadfast through all economic uncertainties.
- AFP data suggests donors will support nonprofits during uncertain times.
The situation may change later. No one can predict the future. But right now the data shows you have a golden opportunity to ask for support. Don’t wait!
Here’s a simple 5-part strategic action plan to implement right now. It will help you (1) stay in touch, (2) convey what’s important right now, and (3) give your supporters an opportunity to help you survive and thrive.
Every step in this plan is a step toward sustainability. Trust that your peeps want to hear from you and want to help you. Make it part of your mission to engage with them and enable them to act on their values.
5 Action Strategies to Crisis Fundraising Success
You can always do more. Or less. Of course. I’ve cherry picked what I consider to be the top five strategies your nonprofit should be using right now. Why? Because they’re easy to accomplish without having to develop new systems, policies and procedures. And they’re doable even with a pared-down staff.
Keep in mind, as with all communications, it’s a best practice to segment your communications, as appropriate, for different constituencies. There are multiple ways to do this, ranging from their role in your organization… to size of gift… to purpose of gift… to recency of gift… to frequency of giving… to demographics… and more.
The more personalization you can add, the better. Beyond calling your donor by their name (important!), the simple act of segmentation helps accomplish your personalization objective. Just a slight tweak to your message shows folks you know them. It takes a little bit of extra time to do this, but it’s well worth the effort.
- Weekly Email Update to all Mailing Lists
The best way to ‘pre-suade’ donors to give to your cause when you ask is to give them the information and rewards they seek before you ask. Your relationship with supporters should never be just take, take, take. You also must give, give, give. And not just once. That’s a one-time transaction, not a lasting marriage.
Your weekly email should be primarily an update and a thank you. Donors want to know what’s going on, especially now, and they don’t want you to forget how important they are to you. Tell them! Show them (attached videos and compelling photos are great for conveying your story in a manner that’s easy for your readers to grasp and take to heart). This mailing is not a solicitation (though it’s fine to include a donate button at the bottom).
Your weekly email is also an opportunity to offer a little ‘gift’ – a ‘thank you’ for being part of a group of special folks who care about your work. People are social animals, and love being reminded they’re a part of your community and family.
Keep it brief. That’s how you can afford to send something weekly. It won’t take you too much time to write it. It won’t take supporters too much time to read it.
- Describe how operations and programs are being adapted.
- Suggest ways supporters can help. Don’t just focus on money. Propose other ways too (e.g., they can share calls to action; they can volunteer; they can participate in a survey; they can invite friends to watch any online programming, videos, zoom meetings, conference calls, etc.).
- End with another expression of gratitude, and even a token of appreciation (e.g., invitation to a virtual event; recipe for sheltering in place from a staff member, other VIP, or beneficiary; heartwarming video clip; inspiring poetry or quotation; funny meme, or just about anything that lightens the mood and makes folks feel good.)
If you do this well, people will actually begin to look forward to these emails!
- Thank You Calls to Supporters
Thank loyal donors for their steadfast support, yesterday, today and tomorrow. In other words, assume the best! Positivity can be contagious. While you’re at it, ask them how they’re doing. Find out if they need any help. Update them on how the organization is recalibrating. Promise to keep in touch. And… don’t ask for money. Make this a PURE thank you.
Ask your board members to help you. This is a way they can be effective fundraisers without having to ask for money. How? Research (which has been repeated over two decades by Cygnus Applied Research) shows donors who receive a prompt personal thank you call from a board member renew at a higher rate than those who are not called. In fact, thank you calls from board members yielded an average of 39% more in future gifts. McConkey-Johnston International in the UK found first-time donors who got a personal thank you within 48 hours are 4x more likely to give a second gift.
- Solicitation (Renew/Upgrade) Calls to Major Donors
Your major donors are already hugely invested in your work. They will logically want to do everything in their power to protect their investment through this challenging period. If you don’t ask them now, then when?
Help your major donors feel necessary. It’s something human beings naturally want to feel. If you don’t ask now, they may wind up feeling you didn’t think they were important enough to be contacted. And don’t forget to follow through after they commit to make an additional or upgraded gift: (1) make it easy for them to complete the gift, and (2) make them feel like a hero. (Give serious thought to what will make this particular donor feel truly recognized and gratified).
Don’t worry you’re bothering people. That’s making an assumption; never a good working strategy. In my three decades of in-the-trenches experience, when folks are going through rough periods (e.g., divorce; illness; death; loss of a job), these are often precisely the times they most want to talk to other people. Avoid using such difficult times as an excuse not to reach out. People can screen their calls if they prefer not to be bothered. But people today happen to be more open to answering the phone due to social isolation. Your call may actually give them a much-needed connection.
- Solicitation Calls (Renew/Upgrade) to other Devoted Donors
A personal touch makes a difference. People are starved for human connection. Even just hearing a voice on an answering machine will be appreciated (don’t make the ‘ask’ via voicemail; simply say ‘thank you’ for your support, let them know you’d love to know how they’re doing and would appreciate the opportunity to talk with them because… they’re just that important to you.) Follow up via email. Tell them you’re sorry you missed connecting with them personally, and still hope to do so. Include your contact information so they can reach you with any questions and concerns. Ask if there’s a good time for you to call them again. Add a link to something compelling that just may inspire another gift. After all, a good email is a terrible thing to waste!
Priority donors may include:
- Above average mid-level donors. Look at all your donors within a certain grouping that makes sense as ‘mid-level’ for your organization (e.g., $100 – $499; $500 – $999; $1,000 – $4,999); divide by the number of donors in this group to find your average gift. Commit to call anyone who gives more than the mean.
- Loyal donors (e.g., have given 3+ years or have made multiple gifts during the course of the year).
- Monthly donors. Research shows these folks are among your most steadfast. Plus it’s relatively simple to suggest a modest increase in the amount they give monthly (maybe just add on the cost of what they previously spent to feed the parking meter each week?). Another strategy that gives folks an ‘anchor’ on which to base their upgrade is to suggest: “Other monthly donors like you are increasing their giving by $10/month on average.”
- Recent donors Research shows those who’ve given most recently are most likely to make additional gifts now, before too much time elapses. What about asking them to consider making their donation monthly? Just be sure not to make a second ask before positively reinforcing and celebrating the donor’s recent commitment (this is one of the reasons you’re sending the weekly update emails recommended above).
Donors who make above average gifts will appreciate being recognized, just as they will appreciate your personal concern for them right now. Plus you’ll get the opportunity to connect and, if they’re feeling chatty, get to know them a little bit better.
- Targeted Email Solicitations for Specific Needs
Do this frequently during this extraordinary time when ‘business as usual’ isn’t. Supporters want to know what’s going on, and also want to know how they can help. This brings them meaning, purpose and joy. Don’t deny them this opportunity! Most nonprofits don’t email enough in general.
There’s nothing compassionate about going dark on people. Show up! Many nonprofits are having success with even more than one email per week (e.g. one update and one appeal). Make sure appeals are segmented by constituency so asks can be as specific as possible (both amount and purpose). Rather than asking for gifts for ‘normal’ purposes, consider addition of a targeted “Coronavirus Response or Resiliency Fund.”
The smaller you are, the more you should reach out. While this may seem counter-intuitive, consider that small to medium-sized nonprofits are often like ‘family’ to their supporters. Family wants ongoing communication or they feel neglected. They want to know what you’re up to! And if you need help, they really want to be there for you.
When you address a need, and people in your community rely on you to do so, it’s your responsibility to engage in fundraising. Ask donors for their permission to invite them to be a hero at this time. Tell them you don’t know how much they might be able to give, but … you have a specific fundraising goal to meet. Together you will thrive. Would it be possible for them to support you today with a special gift? Let them know you value them, either way.
Now is your golden moment. Donors are an integral part of your mission; you serve them as much as they serve you. If you fall short right now, you’ll short-change those who count on you to find fulfillment. You’ll short-change your vision, mission and values as well.
Seize your moment. Please, don’t short-change anyone. That would sadly be a LOSE/LOSE.
Watch for my next article, where I’ll give you templates for crisis fundraising and communications success.