Donor Engagement During an Ongoing Pandemic

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by Duke Haddad

David Dunlop, senior development officer at Cornell University, developed the idea of moves management and defines the concept as relating to changing people’s attitudes, so they want to give. In a normal environment, donor engagement is stable and predictable to a degree. In an ongoing pandemic, building relationships becomes quite a challenge.

Alford Group notes that because of COVID-related cancellations of traditional fundraising events and elimination of in-person meetings, nonprofits are elevating donor engagement strategies. The Alford Group believes you must have a truly centered donor approach that integrates donor engagement through personalized communication, providing donors with what they need before they need it, creating a system that allows you to focus on donors at the right time and ensuring the best experience possible for a donor despite current engagement challenges. You need to realize each donor has an investment with your organization. By personally knowing donor needs and wants, you are better able to understand a donor’s commitment of time, talent of treasure.

This pandemic is challenging nonprofits in new and dramatic ways. A PNC Insights article suggests that nonprofits are feeling the call for community action, challenging fundraising obstacles and heightened donor volatility. The continuing effects of the pandemic include a continuing focus in reduced in-person meetings, greater travel restrictions being created by organizations, donor concerns with cyber security, greater nonprofit budget constraints and economic market instability that affects a donor’s willingness to contribute and make larger gifts. Organizations must continue to engage greater numbers of donors using the telephone, video chat through various technological approaches, continuous email correspondence, a wider array of social media usage, plus greater use of webinars for informational updates.

Hubbub has provided suggestions for charities to consider on how to continue to deal with donor relationships. Start by saying thank you to all your donors. Inform your donors as to how they can help the mission of your organization through various ways of support. Use social platforms to highlight the impact of your organization and what you are doing during the pandemic to make a difference. Introduce virtual online giving programs and events online to stimulate awareness and involvement. Continue to seek new and innovative ways to connect with the various internal and external segments of the populations you serve.

Bloomerang states that these are unprecedented times. It highlights five important things you should do with your donors at this time:

  1. Inform your donors.
  2. Empathize with your donors.
  3. Only ask for money now if you need it.
  4. Postpone fundraising events.
  5. Engage donors and volunteers.

The Aspen Leadership Group is currently studying ways to reach donors and volunteers. Philanthropy may go down and shift, but it is unlikely to drop in a major way. During these times, donors and volunteers are looking for clarity, not only about how they can help, but how they can help now. For example, donors may be interested in supporting technology that allows more effective at-home educational opportunities for students whose technology is limited. Volunteers may assist organizations with food or housing. Always remember that donor relationships matter. One idea is to host a dinner with others on zoom. Ask your donors how they would like to be communicated with and how often the communication should take place.

With respect to communication, DonorPerfect suggests to ask donors how they are doing, offer your services if applicable, call for pre-COVID pictures from donors, invite them to share their pictures and stories about your organization before COVID appeared through a novel “Throwback Thursday” concept, or have donors implement a “Tell Us Tuesday” with others.

You should also give your donors the opportunity to help your organization by sharing social media posts, creating a crowdfunding fundraiser page and giving them volunteering ideas from home. The most important donor communication element from you needs to be empathy for them.

Volunteer Hub suggests that organizational representatives need to make personal calls to their donors. They must send ongoing and consistent emails that inform donors. A good idea is to send a handwritten note and record a video. Consideration should be given toward sending a book or other information, such as an impact report. You might also engage donors exclusively through a virtual event, drive-through activity or drive-in theater night. Survey your supporters to see how they would like to be engaged.

The pandemic continues to be with us. As humans, we are adjusting to this situation the best we can. As professionals, continue to talk to peers and colleagues. Find out what is working for others and employ it. You need resources from your donors and that is a long-term fact. A focus on donor engagement and moves management is a must, regardless of what form it takes. Be prepared to adjust. The pandemic may surprise you with the implementation of new ideas that you can continue to use, when prayerfully, the coronavirus is history.

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