Check-Up Clinic: Stewardship

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Non-Donor Conversions During COVID-19: Are You Planning Your Follow-up Stewardship?

by Robin Cabral

The current pandemic has presented us all with some very life-threatening challenges. For once, the entire globe is under siege by a crisis impacting us all. It is simply unprecedented.

However, that does not mean that we cannot look back at past crises and begin to see patterns and similarities that correspond to what could happen—albeit on a much larger scale—as a result of our present times.

One of the trends that occurred during crises in the past was the emergence of first-time donors, which we are now seeing during this pandemic as well. I recently witnessed this happen with nonprofit charities in Australia during the bushfires of Southeast New South Wales, but this pattern of giving has been demonstrated in a multitude of other disasters in the past.

It is interesting to note that my 40 or so coaching clients are seeing a marked increase in the number of new donors who have sat in the organization’s files for several years.

As noted in a recent issue of F&P Magazine, Australian philanthropy is seeing this occurrence frequently in current times: “Stirred by the calamity unfolding on their TV and mobile screens, people respond emotionally. They want to help their fellow citizens through the dark times.” This is the definition of impulse philanthropy. People are reacting to a very real sensory experience that is impacting them and their loved ones directly. There is no greater motivation for donating than this.

I would further extrapolate that in the case of the coronavirus, many have felt helpless about their own set of circumstances and feel this is one way to take control of those circumstances and play a part in making a change for the better. We are all in this together this time.

As with all new donors, the challenge is to convert these crisis givers (or episodic donors, as I call them) into long-term donors. It is often the case that their giving falls off precipitously in the months following the disaster.

If you look at the findings from other past disasters, you will see that first-time donors who respond to a disaster don’t usually continue to donate — they are mostly one-time givers. These donors are the most difficult to convert.

So what is one to do? Is there a way that the passion that compelled them to give could endure into the future?

I recommend a post-crisis stewardship plan that may help convert some of these givers into repeat donors. The following are effective action steps to include in your plan:

  1. Make a timely acknowledgment. Although getting acknowledgements out may be more difficult these days, it must be a priority, especially now.
  2. If someone gave online, then an online acknowledgment is warranted. If someone gave through the mail, work to get that acknowledgment letter out ASAP. Keep stationery at your home office, and ensure that you have systems in place so that the appropriate signers can do their job, and the letters can get out quickly.
  3. Acknowledgment turn-around time during disasters and crises is even more critical. People are giving as a response to an urgent request, so thank them urgently!
  4. Ensure that the acknowledgment is highly personalized, specifying what the donor gave to and what impact their donation may have had.
  5. Be sure that the acknowledgment letter now references the new tax-deductibility of up to $300 that was put into place by the recent CARES ACT.
  6. Consider crafting a highly-personalized welcome package for this donor. It could be a digital welcome series, for instance. You will want to reference the crisis, share knowledge and perhaps nurture a more significant investment in the overall work of the organization, while keeping it tied to their primary reason for giving. Maintain that central theme.
  7. Since we are all working from home, now is the time to begin using the telephone again. Get going — start calling your donors to thank them. Also consider using alternate methods of technology, such as text messaging.
  8. Be sure to tier these donors by the level of giving and develop specialized stewardship techniques of donors at each level, moving from highly personalized to more generic.
  9. Steward these donors, and then ask them to give again before the crisis is over and before the economic slump hits.
  10. Prepare your post-disaster communication and stewardship plan BEFORE the next disaster or crisis.

While we are in the middle of a crisis, let us not forget the basics, especially with new donors who are now giving to our organizations as a result of the current circumstances. We need to act immediately to put together strong donor care responses that work to convert these first-time givers into recurring donors.

Being prepared and acting fast is the only solution that will increase the conversation rate.

If you don’t have your coronavirus stewardship or donor care plan in place, get it ready now. You must plan and engage quickly before too much time has elapsed.

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