Stewardship Tips to Boost Donor Relations During a Pandemic

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by Gerald Tonti

It’s possible, and even probable, that your nonprofit is not having the most prosperous year it’s ever had. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on everyone. That means it has impacted both your organization and your donors. Everyone is struggling. However, while we all scrambled in the beginning, it’s time to adjust to the new normal so that nonprofits can get their fundraising strategies back on track.

The best place to start? Donor stewardship. Too many nonprofits completely halted their fundraising asks in the beginning of the pandemic. And, as a result, many organizations have neglected their regular contact with donors.

You need to show your supporters that you truly care about them, especially during a pandemic. By showing them that you want to build relationships during not only the good times, but also the tough ones, you’ll gain their respect and those relationships become stronger.

As you work to build these relationships and boost your donor relations, we recommend the following strategies:

  1. Keep your supporters in the know.
  2. Diversify engagement opportunities.
  3. Ask your supporters how they’re doing.
  4. Show additional appreciation for donor support.

Before you can get started with these strategies, make sure you have all of the information you need organized in a way that is useful for your outreach. This donor database guide explains how an organized CRM is the key to personalizing and succeeding in communications. Therefore, make sure you have effective data hygiene and the capacity to save the influx of new information you’ll receive while executing your stewardship strategy.

Ready to get started? Let’s dive in.

Keep Your Supporters in the Know

Credit: Salsa Labs

1. Keep Your Supporters in the Know

One of the most important things to remember about your nonprofit’s supporters is that they appreciate transparency. All donors, volunteers and even staff members want to be kept up to date with the latest at the organization so that they’re not left in the dark.

Especially during a time when there are so many uncertainties, it’s important to maintain an open line of communication with your supporters. We recommend you communicate with them to:

  • Tell them what you’re doing to keep staff and constituents safe. Explain how you’re implementing social distancing guidelines in your programming. This shows supporters that you’re still doing what you can to support your constituents, but that you’re prioritizing everyone’s health and safety.
  • Share how you’re supporting first responders and the community. During a crisis, philanthropy from institutions like yours is relied on by the community. Right now, first responders are putting their own health and safety at risk to help others. Show your supporters that you’re a team player by giving back to these groups.
  • Provide transparent context when plans change. You’ve likely moved your events to the virtual scene. Or maybe you’ve had to cancel regular get-togethers with your supporters. Plans will change. Be sure to pivot quickly and let supporters know about these changes when they occur. Providing additional context is also helpful to show them that you’re continuing to work through your strategic plan, but that it may change slightly due to external circumstances.

When you provide these updates, your nonprofit should be sure to use your regular marketing best practices. Use automation strategies to personalize outreach through segmentation and inclusion of personal details (like preferred names in the salutation). This will help make sure your message gets across to your supporters.

Diversify Engagement Opportunities

Credit: Salsa Labs

2. Diversify Engagement Opportunities

As we mentioned earlier, the pandemic has been tough on both your nonprofit and on your supporters. Diversifying the opportunities in which they can get involved is a great way to provide additional engagement that may be more accessible to supporters who are unable to contribute financially during these trying times.

Not only does this help engage your supporters, but it also helps your nonprofit maximize your impact on the community even on a limited budget. Here are some of our favorite budget-friendly opportunities (for both you and your supporters) that your organization can try out to engage your supporters and maximize your impact:

  • Launch an advocacy campaign. Advocacy campaigns encourage your supporters to inform legislators, CEOs or other community leaders about your nonprofit’s mission, particularly when related to pending regulatory or legislative activity. This guide explains how your nonprofit can implement various types of advocacy campaigns — petitions, click-to-call, social advocacy and events — to rally your supporters to contribute their time to your cause.
  • Make an in-kind giving wishlist. Rather than ask for monetary donations from your supporters, make a wishlist (like a registry) on sites like Amazon. This way, supporters know exactly what their money is going toward and the impact they’ll have on your organization. Like a registry, you should be sure to offer item options at all different price ranges so that your supporters can give within their comfort levels.
  • Sell unique branded products. Selling products is a unique way to collect some funding because you’re not asking for much from your supporters, plus you’re providing something valuable in return. During the pandemic, we’d recommend a branded face mask fundraiser. Face mask fundraiser providers like ABC Fundraising allow your organization to raise funds, spread brand awareness and promote the safety of your supporters all in one fell swoop. Plus, it’s an inexpensive giving option for them and offers a product they’ll need anyway.
  • Provide virtual event opportunities. Chances are, you’ve at least considered hosting a virtual event at this point. Virtual events are becoming an important part of the new normal that nonprofits are becoming accustomed to. Host concert events, cupcake decorating courses or even a book club to provide an opportunity for supporters to virtually gather together and stay connected while social distancing.

Keeping your donors engaged is an important aspect of stewardship. It’s not enough to talk at supporters over the phone, email and social media. Getting them to do something and take action in the name of your organization will make them feel closer to your cause.

Ask Your Supporters How They're Doing

Credit: Salsa Labs

3. Ask Your Supporters How They’re Doing

One way we recommend that your nonprofit establish a connection with your supporters is to have a discussion with them on the phone. For your major or mid-tier donors, you may consider scheduling a video meeting to make this connection, but for the majority of your donors, a phone call will work splendidly.

When you call your donors, you have the opportunity to hear their voices while they have the opportunity to hear yours. This makes for a more meaningful and personal conversation that results in a stronger connection. And the one thing you must do on every call? Ask your supporters how they’re doing.

Open up the conversation with this question. And don’t use a generic, “How are you?” because this results in the responder just saying “I’m fine,” and you move on in conversation. However, if you get more specific in the way you ask, your supporters are more likely to answer honestly and more in-depth, creating a conversation starter rather than social politeness. We recommend a question phrased more like this:

We understand that things have been challenging for so many individuals, how are you handling all of the changes brought about by COVID-19?

This opens up the conversation for the supporter to say as much or little as they please on the subject of their personal lives. Plus, it provides the following benefits:

  • Shows supporters that their wellness is your priority. Open up each phone call with this question. By asking first, you show that they are more important than any other topic of conversation you have on your mind.
  • Provides a segue into contribution opportunities. By asking how they’re handling everything, the caller can respond sympathetically and then easily segway into ways your organization is handling the COVID-19 pandemic and provide opportunities for involvement.

Of course, you should make sure the person calling your donors personalizes the question and makes it their own. But feel free to add a little more detail and specificity to the standard “how are you?” to really show your donors that you care.

Show Additional Appreciation for Donors' Support

Credit: Salsa Labs

4. Show Additional Appreciation for Donors’ Support

During a time when you know that it’s hard for supporters to contribute to your cause, it’s even more important to show immense appreciation for any contributions they offer. While it’s always important to be appreciative, hard times make it that much more valuable.

By showing additional gratitude for your supporters, you’ll make them feel more appreciated and increase your retention rates. Keep in mind that this is an important strategy for all contributions — not just fundraising. When supporters contribute their valuable time volunteering at your organization, participating in an advocacy campaign, purchasing something off of your wishlist or other engagement activities, be sure they know how important those actions are to your nonprofit.

Try to personalize these thank-yous as well. Here are some of our favorite appreciation strategies for nonprofits:

  • Send handwritten thank-you notes.
  • Schedule video meetings with supporters.
  • Set up an appreciation letter campaign.
  • Call your supporters on the phone.
  • Send emails with impact information.
  • Provide small trinkets as a thank you.

During a pandemic, it’s important to note not only those who are giving to your nonprofit now, but also those who have given in the past. Retrospective appreciation can go a long way to ensuring supporters who find it hard to give now will continue to give in the future (potentially after the pandemic).

Stewardship is always an important part of a nonprofit’s strategy. However, during a pandemic, it becomes even more necessary to keep up with your donors. These strategies will help you continue building relationships and create a long-lasting support system. Good luck!

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