Before this crisis, I would have told any fundraiser the best way to build a meaningful relationship with your donor is to be meaningful to them.
Fast forward to today.
We’re in a global pandemic.
It’s terrifying, sure. There is a silver lining though (says the town crier for donor love).
You, my fundraising friend, have a golden opportunity like you’ve never had before. Today you can choose to create deeply meaningful relationships (or deepen existing ones) with your donors.
As isolated and alone as we all feel we’re in this together. We’re all watching the same grim news reports, staying at home, just marinating in fear, worry and concern. Many of us feel alone, disconnected and unsure about the future.
Wouldn’t it feel great to feel listened to, cared for, connected to, and comforted right now?
You have the power to do that and show donors you care.
You, dear fundraiser. YOU!
How important is feeling connected? According to Dr. Jen Shang, the world’s first philanthropic psychologist and co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, connectedness is one of our most fundamental human needs. I had the pleasure to watch Jen in action in one of her recent webinars where she challenged fundraisers to think of donors as their people, not their donors, and reach out to them to make them connected, cared for, and comforted by you.
How should you do it? Call them to check on them. Introduce yourself, tell them you are thinking about them and grateful for their support and ask, “How are you doing?” Then listen. You have one goal here – just listen and let them know you care. This is not about impressing them. (It’s actually never about you impressing them, in normal times it’s about letting the donor impress you). A question like “how are you?” may seem small, but in times like this it’s loaded. If you aren’t comfortable with this level of empathy and openness with donors allow another staff or board member to make the calls. Listen and empathize. If you want to probe deeper you could ask what they appreciate the most or miss the most, or if there is anything they achieved during this difficult period that made them feel proud.
My friend Carol Weisman is a consultant and board member. As a board member she’s calling donors for the organization to thank them and check on them. She’s asking some thoughtful nonprofit strategic planning questions to donors willing to stay on the phone:
If you have a few minutes, I would like to get your thoughts on three questions as we look at strategic planning for the future.
- Do you think this could happen again? LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN
- How prepared do you think our organization was for this pandemic? LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN
- What should we be doing now if you believe this might happen again? LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN
- If a donor wants to know what they can do, have a list ready or refer them to the appropriate person in your agency.
What if you get voicemail? Leave a message. Here’s a sample script:
Call script voicemail:
Hello June, It’s Richard, founder of ________Forever Homes for Foster Kids. I am thinking of you and grateful for your support. (intro)
I’m just calling to check on you and ask how are you doing. (purpose)
I know you are facing challenges you never imagined. Worrying about your family and loved ones, keeping them safe healthy…[working from home or suddenly having to homeschool your kids etc]. (empathy/acknowledgement)
June, I’m thinking of you and want to make sure you’re okay. Thanks for being part of our family. If you like, please call me back or text me? I’d love to talk to you. (invite to call/text you)
Please know June that I am thinking about you and your family. (sign off)
These are not normal times. In a crisis we step up. These are the defining moments that can develop a friendship relationship from a transactional one. Now is the time for empathy, gratitude and vulnerability. This is not “business as usual.”
I’ve been doing a lot of free webinars on fundraising in uncertain times and the number one thing that is breaking my fundraising heart is how many fundraisers are not checking in on their donors and calling them. Many are paralyzed with fear. Some are afraid of looking “opportunistic” and choosing not fundraise right now. This is another missed opportunity that they will not recover from. Let your donors decide to give or not give – do not make the decision for them. Giving allows donors to help others, be the heroes that they are, and have a sense of agency and purpose. If your donors don’t want to give or can’t give they won’t but don’t forget there are generous donors who want to help.
Your donors loved you before and there’s no reason not to love you now, but you are the one who can make them feel loved and cared for by your organization. You must choose to do that. The first step is reaching out to them.
Choosing to stay silent through this crisis is a missed opportunity to develop deep, meaningful lasting relationships with donors that can prove to be fulfilling and lucrative.
As my friend Shanon Doolittle said the other day, “We will dance again” but until then I invite you to deeply show donors you care and know they will remember you for it.