Nonprofits: Restarting the conversation with your supporters
April 27, 2020
April 27, 2020
The global impact of COVID-19 has shined the brightest spotlight on nonprofits providing key healthcare services and addressing food insecurity. If your nonprofit doesn’t directly address COVID-19-related health and financial challenges, it can understandably feel like your work has less urgency now.
Yet, the need for the vital services your nonprofit provides hasn’t disappeared. As soon as it’s safe for people to return to some version of life before the coronavirus, your organization will need to step up for the people who depend on you. Now is the time to ensure you are ready to meet that challenge.
There are a host of undeniable challenges currently facing the “third sector”: many nonprofits are dealing with the loss of much-needed financial support from now-canceled spring galas with no time to recoup losses before the end of the fiscal year. Meanwhile, COVID-19 response emergency funds have attracted most of the attention and donations over the past two months. Still, other donors may be worried about their own financial security as retirement funds have lost value and businesses large and small have furloughed and laid off a record number of employees.
So how do you talk about your mission in a way that breaks through, and how do you ask for support for your work? It comes down to staying true to your brand voice while refining the messages that demonstrate why your work is as essential now as it’s ever been. The necessary adjustment is to be sensitive to how COVID-19 may have altered the present and future circumstances for your key stakeholders.
Real friends are there for you when you need them most. The same is true of friends of your nonprofit, i.e., your major philanthropic supporters. They support your organization because they believe in your mission and your ability to make an impact. That hasn’t changed in the context of COVID-19. Most donors say they just want to know there’s a need and how they can help. Like you would with any friend during these challenging times, call or email to see how your longtime supporters are doing. If they ask how you and your organization are getting through this crisis, be candid about the financial challenges you face. Be as specific as possible about what can’t get done because of funding shortfalls, and tailor your comments to the level of support you feel is realistic for them.
Before embarking on any far-reaching communications, seek feedback from trusted staff, board members and advisers. Ask if the tone is on-target, if the timing is right, and if the message would likely cut through the glut of emails we are all receiving now. Pay attention to your email subject line, which needs to be intriguing enough to capture attention but should never be sensational nor misrepresent the message you are sharing.
Remind your supporters of your impact. Consider an email that shares a powerful recent story of your mission in action, or several bullet points highlighting specific achievements either during the pandemic or in “normal” times. If you pivoted to providing services virtually, highlight how quickly you mobilized to do this and the results. If you include a fundraising ask at the bottom, be sure to do so with sensitivity and compassion because with so many Americans struggling, it’s likely that some on your list have been furloughed, laid off, or suffered the loss of a friend or family member to COVID-19.
If you’ve had to put your work on hold during the shutdown, perhaps this isn’t the right time to ask for financial support. But that time will come again soon and you want to be ready. Can you use this time to build your organization’s networks? Can you get ahead on a project that will require attention once you reopen your doors, such as a fall event or an annual report? Can you line up a challenge donor willing to match funds you secure up to a certain amount or plan other ways to fundraise?
Coronavirus fatigue is setting in and people are looking for messages of hope, inspiration, and even humor where and when appropriate. Nonprofits are ideally suited to fill this need. Find your voice and connect with your community in the coming days and weeks to ensure your organization is well-positioned to emerge from this unprecedented shutdown ready to deliver on your mission. And consider participating in #GivingTuesdayNow, a new global day of giving and unity that will take place on May 5.