Every so often, a scandal puts a nonprofit all over social media, newspaper headlines, and the evening news. For those of us working within those organizations, it can be a heart-wrenching time.
Whether you are actively involved in communications, development, or administrative roles, a scandal can make the core foundation feel like it is shaking.
Still, you have a mission to fulfill. It can be tempting to stick your head in the sand or run away screaming, but there are people to serve, needs to meet, and programs to run.
So what can you do?
Follow these five steps to communicate effectively with donors and get out of lock-down mode when a scandal hits:
1. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. Acknowledge the issues. Be transparent about any direct impact on your organization as it unfolds. You are in partnership with your supporters and donors. Keep the conversation open to begin rebuilding trust and credibility.
2. Look carefully at your messaging. In spite of low budgets or desperate times, this is not the year to retreat to old communication materials that look and sound out of touch with current realities. Reusing old materials conveys a feeling that the problem does not exist and comes across as misleading to supporters and donors.
3. Recognize your donors, volunteers, and supporters for all they’ve achieved. “Because of you, we are able to…” “You make our mission possible.” This is a crucial time to show sincere appreciation. Reach out, don’t withdraw. Thank them through emails, postcards, social media posts, phone calls, and personal visits. This will help sustain your relationship.
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4. Focus especially on the top 20 percent. There is an observation in fundraising that the top 20% donate 80% of the money. It is known as the Pareto Principle. Make calls and visits to your top 20%. Do not ask for another donation. Simply say thank you. Show them that you care and appreciate their support.
5. Remember donor retention is much easier than donor acquisition. Research from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) shows average donor retention to be at around 45% in scandal-free times. That’s not great, and when bad news hits, that percent is in danger of dropping. Treat the supporters you have like they’re golden, because they are. Once supporters stop giving, they seldom return.
With clear messaging and open communications we can weather this storm. The jury is still out as to how church membership and donations will be affected ultimately, but this is definitely the time to be visibly grateful for who and what we have.