Check-Up Clinic: Donor Communications

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Making the Case: 1-on-1 Conversations in a Digital World

by Aly Sterling

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an uncertain landscape across all corners of society, and unfortunately, it seems as though the effects are sticking around for the near future.

When the pandemic first emerged, conversations in the nonprofit sector were built around “staying the course,” as in how organizations could continue pursuing their goals in spite of the crisis. Now, however, the conversation is changing.

With the current landscape a reality for the foreseeable future, it’s time to consider: How can you set your organization up for success over the next six to 12 months of uncertainty?

Strategic planning, and the ability to be agile when doing so, is going to be crucial during this time.

This article is going to focus on one aspect of nonprofit planning — creating an effective communications strategy. One-on-one conversations are especially crucial for staying connected through challenging times. However, nonprofit professionals must be flexible in their thinking about how these conversations may look during COVID-19.

Throughout this article, you’ll explore the continued need for one-on-one conversations in the current fully-digital world. Further, you’ll take a look at actionable tips and tricks to help your organization pivot its communications to remain successful. As you’ll see in the following points, it’s important that you:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of conversation.
  • Do your homework in advance.
  • Make the most of available digital resources.
  • Continue reaching out with relevant support and information.
  • Understand that compelling stories are still key.

Continue reading to fully understand one-on-one conversations in the context of your nonprofit’s overall communications strategy during COVID-19. Let’s get started.

Don't Underestimate the Power of Conversation

Credit: Aly Sterling Philanthropy

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Conversation

It’s understandable if reaching out to major supporters has been falling toward the bottom of your to-do list. As a nonprofit professional, your calendar has likely been full of pandemic response tasks (and it’s easy to assume that your supporters have been just as occupied with their own preparations).

With everyone under pressure, you may feel apprehension when it comes to asking for a few minutes of your major donors’ time in the name of your cause.

However, it’s not just a few minutes of time. We urge you to remember the power of conversations as the ultimate relationship-builder between supporters and your organization.

When you speak to potential major donors — not email, not tweet, not Facebook message, not text — it can open a two-way, collaborative conversation rather than a broadcast of information. By doing this, you can:

  • Ask supporters about their own wellbeing.
  • Share information about your mission.
  • Provide insight into your nonprofit’s COVID-19 response.
  • Answer any questions that supporters have.
  • Solicit feedback from donors and respond accordingly.

During these conversations, donors can see that your organization truly values them as contributors rather than simply as funders. Even if your organization isn’t soliciting donations at the end of these conversations, you are building relationships that lead to support and gifts down the line. After all, few major gifts are borne of tweets/texts/emails/messages alone.

The actions you take to build relationships with supporters today can be invaluable when it comes to ensuring your organization’s success a year from now. If maintaining these connections feels just out of reach for your organization at the moment, consider speaking with a fundraising consultant to develop your strategy. To learn more, check out this guide to hiring fundraising consultants to learn about bringing on an advisor.

Do Your Homework in Advance

Credit: Aly Sterling Philanthropy

Do Your Homework in Advance

Because there is no denying that conversations with your key supporters are crucial during COVID-19, you may be eager to dive in. However, you should do your homework before picking up the phone or sending out a Zoom link.

By homework, we mean conducting research on your donors. If you’re planning to continue stewarding supporters during this time — and perhaps even keep soliciting gifts — then you need to meet your supporters where they are. Supporters who had a high capacity and desire to give to your organization before the pandemic may be different than those who give during it.

Research key donors — whether prospects, existing donors, grant-funding foundations, or even donor-advised fund account holders — who may be interested and able to support your organization during this time. Consider looking beyond your existing community of support by reaching out to program officers and financial planners who can speak with their clients regarding donating to your organization. While this may be a pivot from your organization’s existing major gifts strategy, remaining agile is essential to succeed beyond the crisis.

Doing this research in advance will help you tailor your approach to supporters, asking those who can provide support today and laying the groundwork with others for gifts further down the line.

Make the Most of the Available Digital Resources

Credit: Aly Sterling Philanthropy

Make the Most of the Available Digital Resources

During normal operations, we’d encourage you to invite major supporters to your headquarters for a conversation. We might suggest giving them a tour of your facilities and perhaps even taking them out for lunch afterward.

Unfortunately, those types of interactions aren’t possible due to the pandemic. With necessary social distancing regulations mandating at least a six-foot distance between those who live in different households, we can’t recommend in-person meetings in good faith.

However, we can recommend making the most of digital tools to emulate those in-person meetings as closely as possible. Getting creative with these meetings will position your organization for success once the pandemic’s effects slow down.

Phone calls are a great tool during this time, but there is a certain level of disconnect that occurs when you’re not speaking face-to-face. Consider the following ways to maintain face-to-face communications with major supporters during this time:

  • Video conferencing calls with major donors. Rather than picking up the phone, share a Zoom line (or other software) with your key supporters.
  • Video recordings from board members or other key stakeholders. Ask these stakeholders to record a video expressing why they’re supporting your nonprofit during this time.
  • Livestreams, such as on Facebook Live, of your staff or volunteers at work. Give donors a look at how your organization is continuing to work and impact lives during this crisis.

If your team is working from home, you may already be familiar with video conferencing software and other nonprofit working-from-home tools. From there, it should be an easy switch to include your donors in the fun.

Continue Reaching Out With Relevant Support and Information

Credit: Aly Sterling Philanthropy

Continue Reaching Out With Relevant Support and Information

While you’re creating a strategy to thrive in this uncertain environment, that doesn’t mean you should reach out with tone-deaf solicitations.

It’s important to remain cognizant of current events when building a communications strategy for operations during (and after) COVID-19. There are three things you should aim to accomplish with each conversation:

  1. Check in on the supporter and offer your ear. How are your donors doing during this time? Have their lives, personal or business-related, been affected due to the pandemic? Offer your listening ear and what support you can; sometimes just having someone to vent to is enough. Your authenticity and concern are priceless. Learn more about expressing empathy in your conversations with this blog post.
  2. Offer your nonprofit’s experience and response. Show some solidarity by sharing your experiences. What challenges is your organization facing? What are some tough decisions you’ve had to make? Despite these, what is going well? What are the silver linings? Don’t let it turn into a gripe fest. The point is to let your supporter know they’re not alone and show them that good things are still happening.
  3. If appropriate, begin gift conversations. Only begin gift conversations if the donor seems receptive to such an ask. If they’ve fallen on hard times or are struggling emotionally, it’s not the right time to ask them to give to your organization.

These major donor conversations may be different than others you’ve had in the past. For example, you may have a supporter tell you outright that they’re unable to give financially during this time. It’s important to respond gracefully during these sensitive conversations.

Remember that if your organization needs help navigating communications during a crisis, there are consultants that can help work out the tougher scenarios. To learn more about fundraising consultants, check out this comprehensive guide.

Understand That Compelling Stories Are Still Key

Credit: Aly Sterling Philanthropy

Understand That Compelling Stories Are Still Key

Whether you’re cultivating existing relationships or seeking funding from new sources, it’s especially important to share a compelling story about your organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a challenging fundraising atmosphere — one in which many donors have been adversely affected economically at the same time as the need for nonprofit intervention rises. There is less funding available and more organizations in need of it! This means that when you ask a major supporter to give to your organization, you need to prove that your organization is worthy of the donation.

It’s time to turn to your case for support. It’s important that you’ve clearly articulated a value proposition for giving to your organization. Doing so helps potential givers understand that donating now is an impactful decision. This proposition should cover your nonprofit’s purpose, the work you do, and how funding is needed specifically to accomplish those efforts.

For a crash course on sustaining operations during (and beyond) COVID-19, check out this crisis response toolkit. Use this resource to cut through the noise, discover your organization’s most pressing messages and deliver these messages to your audience.

Ever since the pandemic first made headlines, nonprofits have been operating in an uncertain landscape. It’s now necessary to create a strategy to thrive through the pandemic, rather than waiting for its effects to pass.

Begin with your communications strategy, specifically when it comes to holding one-on-one conversations with major supporters. With these tips, you’ll be off to a great start.

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