To everything there is a season… Really? Right now, we’re facing a triple whammy—COVID-19, financial bedlam and major challenges to our democratic process. Is it any wonder why we’re all feeling uneasy?
One thing we can be certain of is that all three of these situations will be resolved. But when? And what impact will they have on your organization’s ability to function and succeed? Or on the entire nonprofit sector’s ability to deliver its critically needed services?
I’m quite certain that you have been reading the thoughts and opinions of some of our industry’s top thought-leaders in recent days. You’ve heard a lot of, “Stay calm”; “Stay the course”; “We have been through this before”; “Don’t stop fundraising”; and other inspirations from experienced professionals. I generally agree with what they’re saying, but let’s be clear—this is not “business as usual. “
This is not a time to continue your current course, hoping things will get better. This is a time to take decisive action, advancing your organization’s ability to not only survive this crisis, but to be positioned to achieve success when it subsides. That means breaking out of the box and doing the unexpected. In addition to all the good advice you’ve already read and heard, here are a few things I hope you will consider:
- Be more focused on your donors than ever. Build and execute a plan to enhance your stewardship efforts with donors at all levels. People are frightened. Now is the time to speak to them. Use multiple channels to keep them informed about what you are doing to address the current challenges. If possible, personally call your top donors, starting at the top and working your way down. This is the time to say, “thank you” for your past support and let them know what you’re doing to address the crisis. Keep them apprised of your progress during this time; and ask them, “Is there anything we can do for you?” A phone call, letter or email that reassures a donor—without asking for a donation—will have a dramatic impact on your future relationship with that person. I’m not recommending that you suspend your solicitation schedule, but supplement it with stewardship. Show genuine appreciation for each donor’s support without diminishing it by asking for more. And take the time to listen to your donors. Engage them.
- Consider partnerships and collaborations with other nonprofits. In this time of universal concern, and financial uncertainty, show donors that you are willing to innovate, stretching their donation even further. The Great Recession created dramatic challenges for all nonprofits. One of the outcomes was the creation of creative partnerships that put mission effectiveness ahead of institutional preservation. Consider all possibilities.
- Increase your marketing and communications. Stay in front of your donors and the people you serve. Amp up your social media, advertising and internal/external marketing. Do NOT cancel your organization’s newsletter (print or digital). Keep your website up to date with fresh content to demonstrate that you are continuing to successfully meet the needs of your audience. Remember, people don’t support you simply because you’re important and worthwhile–they support you because you are a priority, so use this opportunity to remind them of why they support you in the first place. This recovery could take a while. Make a plan and stick to it. Stay visible and relevant.
- Pay attention to demographics. Build communication and solicitation strategies for every donor audience. One size does not fit all. A looming recession means something different to a 70-year-old major gift prospect who has been through a dozen recessions than it does to a young person who is just about to become a first-time sustainer. Nuance your messaging.
Here at Schultz & Williams, we are responding to this crisis hand in hand with our clients, partners, friends and fellow citizens. We have implemented a work-from-home policy and, of course, are adhering to all of the guidelines and suggestions by the CDC and local officials. With staff and clients spread out across the nation, we are accustomed to working remotely and will continue to do so as needed. Our staff, associates, contractors and vendors, and our beloved clients, are family to us. We will do whatever is necessary to protect them and ensure that we come out of this crisis stronger than ever.