Engaging Donors & Volunteers: Maintaining Momentum Bulletin 2
As we see the world responding to the COVID-19 situation, we know that there is a significant amount of uncertainty, and even fear, about what it all means and what we as organizations and professionals should be doing in our response. To help organizations answer those questions, KCI has created a Bulletin Series to provide timely advice about how you should navigate this situation as it evolves while continuing to maintain momentum in your fundraising programs and activities.
Communicating and Engaging with Stakeholders
In this Bulletin, we focus on communicating and engaging with donors, volunteers and other stakeholders during times of crisis, and in particular at this moment when “social distancing” is the directive and the norm.
- Don’t stop talking and connecting. At times like these, it’s natural to think “people have other things on their minds” and “we don’t want to be a nuisance”. But, important to remember that you are in a relationship with your donors and volunteers and in any relationship, we keep in touch, particularly when times are tough. Create a regularly refreshed communications plan that identifies who (you need to talk to), what (you need/want to say), how (you will connect e.g. phone call, personal email, general email etc.) and when (timing and how often).
- Speak directly and personally to those closest to you. While you should be communicating with all your stakeholders and can do that through a variety of means, it is critical to connect personally with those closest to you. That must include your top donors (how that’s defined will differ by organization, but should be your top 50 donors at minimum). Engage a small army of the right people to make those connections, including senior institutional leadership, board members and senior fundraising staff. Where appropriate to do these conversations in groups (e.g. volunteer committees), set up special briefings or conference calls.
Your stakeholders want to be kept in the loop on what this situation means for you, both related to your ability to function in the short term as well as what it means from the point of view of your mission
- Talk about what this means for you. Your stakeholders want to be kept in the loop on what this situation means for you, both related to your ability to function in the short term as well as what it means from the point of view of your mission. For many organizations, this crisis means they will become more relevant than ever to the communities they serve and could necessitate a shift in organizational focus and priorities in its aftermath. As that becomes clear, be sure to keep your key stakeholders in the loop…or better yet, involve them in your deliberations and discussions.
- Also talk about what it means for them. Guided again by how to behave in any relationship, it’s also important to ask and understand what this means for those closest to you. This type of conversation is obviously most appropriate with your closest friends and largest donors, but important in those instances to authentically reflect your concern and reinforce that you care.
- Be ready that conversations about giving may shift. Likely goes without saying, but part of the conversation with major gift prospects is to understand what this might mean for their giving intentions. What we know is typical in times of uncertainty is that donors often want to pause on decisions or they are not keen to make multi-year commitments. But, also important not to simply make that assumption. Go into these conversations with an open mind, knowing that everybody’s situation will be different. So, be prepared to communicate with empathy and meet people where they are at.
- Solicitation conversations can be appropriate. While there are likely times better suited to solicitation, the best advice is to not make a blanket decision but to again use your judgment on a case by case basis with each donor and each mass solicitation. Having said that, don’t universally stop asking. If you are in a campaign, important to maintain momentum and show that what you are funding is still an organizational priority. And many healthcare and social service charities are appropriately creating appeals to make a special case for support given the nature of what they are doing and will be called up to do. Here are a couple of examples:
- Leveraging technology to engage and demonstrate relevance. In addition to communicating with stakeholders, use this time as an opportunity to engage with your stakeholders in an demonstration of your mission and relevance. From the Art Gallery of Ontario letting its members know they can access collections remotely to McGill University doing a webcast for alumni to ask researchers about COVID-19 to zoos and aquariums helping to fill the void of children’s activities with “home safaris,” virtual tours and webcams, this is a great opportunity to engage your communities in ways that genuinely connect with them while demonstrating your value. For a fun example, check out this video shared by the Shedd Aquarium of two penguins wandering through the facility!
While there are likely times better suited to solicitation, the best advice is to not make a blanket decision but to again use your judgment on a case by case basis with each donor and each mass solicitation.
For additional tips about communicating and engaging stakeholders at this time, her are links to two articles from The Chronicle of Philanthropy:
4 Ways to Engage Major Donors During the Covid-19 Crisis – The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Experts Urge Charities to Communicate Their Needs Clearly to Their Donors – The Chronicle of Philanthropy
And we will end all of our bulletins with these overall reminders…
- Prepare and respond…but don’t panic. Do what you can do. Much will be out of our control, so important to focus thought, effort and energy on what we can influence.
- Stay focused, positive and confident. Convey stability, confidence and capability in all your activities and communications, both internally and externally.
- No singular strategy. While steered by guidelines and best practice, the best strategies will be customized to individual institutions and their constituencies.
- We’ve been here before. Apply the learnings from previous emergencies and disasters. We’ve made it through times of crisis before and we will make it through.
- Don’t shut everything down. Maintain the course while making prudent adjustments to strategy and budget. We know from previous experience that those who do will emerge more strongly.
- Communicate. While not inundating stakeholders with unnecessary communication, now is not the time to go silent. Keep your constituents, both internal and external, engaged and informed.
We look forward to supporting you through these next few weeks and months and our next bulletin will focus on implications on event fundraising.