Don't let COVID-19 stop your donor outreach

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed nearly every aspect of daily life, including nonprofit operations and fundraising. In this strange new environment, how can nonprofit leaders and fundraisers keep going when it comes to our donors? Although the path isn't totally clear and the challenges are many, there's one thing I know for certain:

If there were ever a time to reach out to your donors and most important constituents, this is it.
Please notice that I'm not advocating that now is the time, necessarily, to SOLICIT your donors--though it may very well be. The overall message I'd like to offer is that ongoing, transparent communication and words of thanks are paramount at this time. Here are some actionable ideas for you to consider.

1. If your nonprofit is on the front lines of fighting COVID-19 (e.g., hospitals, clinics) or supporting people through the pandemic (e.g., food banks, shelters), you have an extremely strong case to make that now is the time for emergency giving. The chances are high that your closest donors have already made gifts, knowing your mission's urgency and value. But now is also a good opportunity to make the wider community aware of what you do to help others--not just now, but all the time--and encourage their financial support. This can be done through social media campaigns, emails, and news media pitches, for example. Thanking, thanking, and thanking donors for all that they have done and continue to do is just as important as asking for a new gift.

2. If your nonprofit is not on the front lines of fighting COVID-19 in any way (e.g., every other kind of nonprofit organization), you have an extremely strong reason to check in with your donors, board members, volunteers, and other constituents to keep the lines of communication open. Perhaps you're thinking, "We're an arts organization, not a hospital. How could we possibly connect with donors at this time?" The answer is two-fold. 

First, it is a wonderful service to check in with the people and businesses closest to your organization to ask how they are doing, thank them for strengthening your mission, and inquire whether there's any way you or your nonprofit can help them out. The act of checking in and authentically saying, "We consider you part of our organization's family. We want to make sure you are doing okay, and we appreciate you," is a worthy action that you and your colleagues can take. 

Second, although the financial needs for the frontline fight against COVID-19 is very palpable and concrete NOW, this immediate emergency will subside and the focus will turn to those organizations who have been economically impacted by the shutdown. People who care about museums, about helping those with disabilities, about cancer support, about other diseases, about the environment, and many other critical causes will be eager to make sure that these missions do not disappear forever. Keep your supporters informed and confident that your mission goes on, no matter what other forces are at play in the world. I guarantee they will be there for you now and in the future.

3. Outreach does not necessarily mean asking for money. No matter what role your nonprofit may or may not play in overcoming the current pandemic, donor outreach doesn't have to involve solicitations. This is true now, and it's true in general; very little of a nonprofit's relationship with a donor should ever be squarely focused on money. It's about building and maintaining meaningful relationships that help a donor fulfill their own interests and passions, while furthering your worthy cause. 

4. Rethink how you reach out. A handwritten letter, email, phone call, text, Zoom invitation, Twitter shoutout...all of these methods count, and you know best how to approach each individual based on your existing relationship with them. Think about launching a marketing campaign to reach new constituents online, or scheduling a virtual stewardship event on Zoom, or updating followers live on Instagram TV or Facebook Live. Please don't be afraid to experiment with these tools and see how you might elevate your message in new, unexpected ways.

Sarah J Consulting wishes you all the best as you and your nonprofit navigate these unprecedented times. Please contact us for a free one-hour consultation if you'd like guidance on any aspect of your fundraising efforts.

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