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4 ways to keep fundraising through a crisis

(Image: Omid Armin)

As your nonprofit adapts to life under outbreak conditions, you’re going to need new strategies for maintaining connections with your donors and inspiring interest from prospects.

While there is no quick and easy solution, nonprofits should view this as an opportunity to create deeper relationships with supporters and tap into the resources of philanthropists who are urgently seeking ways to help.

These four tips will help your organization continue attracting resources during these times of economic (and personal) uncertainty.

1. Express care and concern
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While corporations are bombarding us with COVID-19 updates, many nonprofits have gone silent while trying to figure out appropriate communication strategies. However, donors and prospects will appreciate a simple check-in to see how they are managing: You can’t underestimate the value of letting your supporters know you care for them. Whether by email, virtual meeting, or phone call, a direct, personal expression of concern makes a meaningful touchpoint, and will keep them feeling like part of the “family.”

2. Focus on stewardship
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The most effective development plans include at least five stewardship touchpoints between solicitations. Many organizations will have spent the last month implementing business continuity plans, caring for staff, and setting up virtual work environments, likely disrupting planned stewardship activities. As we settle into our new workplace norms, you can pick those up again: This is an ideal time to craft personalized communications for key donors, and general messages for mid-level donors, volunteers, board members, and other stakeholders.

Even if you’ve yet to follow up on end-of-year giving, donors still want to know how their funds were used and the outcomes their contributions made possible. Be sure to use photos and success stories to bolster impact; donor spotlights and client testimonials will add value to your stewardship messaging and inspire donors to stay engaged throughout the year.

3. Share evolving needs.

Organizations are finding that their operational and programmatic needs are shifting weekly, if not daily. Being transparent with donors about how your organization is assessing internal and external needs, and gaps in support, will build your supporters’ confidence in your efforts.

Openly share new procedures that your nonprofit is deploying in response to the needs of clients and employees. As you thank donors for their past partnership, do not hesitate to ask for support through this crisis; be sure to provide specific funding requests, detailing how new donations will support the mission as conditions continue to evolve. Be sure to provide regular impact updates regarding any solicitations you make for COVID-19 impact funds.

4. Create opportunities to socialize
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By now, most of us are becoming experts in virtual meeting protocols, giving us a great opportunity to arrange “just-for-fun” engagements with donors or other stakeholders – volunteers, board members, etc. – where they can connect and share how they’re coping. These online social engagements will help extroverts get the energy from others that they need, and give introverts an opportunity to learn more about their peers.

Consider a simple theme – “funky hat party” or “coffee mug show-and-tell” – to help unburden stakeholders from ongoing pressure to address “the issues.” Prepare warm-up questions that prompt attendees to share things others may not know. In this way, you will create a memorable experience that brings people closer together in a time of increased isolation, fulfilling their need for human interaction without adding to their challenges.

Although the COVID-19 outbreak has generated uncertainty and social distance, it has also, like other crises before it, presented nonprofits with an opportunity to deepen our connections with supporters and draw others into the fold. Nonprofits should take full advantage, doubling down on our commitment to transparency, accessibility, and strategic impact.

▶ Learn more about fundraising and donor engagement with upcoming courses from Nonprofit University, now presented online, including The Art of the Ask: Donor Cultivation on April 24 and Now What? Donor Stewardship on May 8.

Brenda Johnson is senior director of philanthropy at Year Up Greater Atlanta and a Nonprofit University instructor.

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