Adapting During Uncertain Times
First of all, the anxiety you feel right now — most likely related to the uncertainty of tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and the future in general — all fundraisers in Ireland, the UK, the US, and in most places around the world are feeling it too! At this stage, all of us know someone who has been impacted by this, and it’s changed all of our lives. The good news is that we work in a sector that can make a real impact in people’s lives, especially during this uncertain time. You just might have to adapt a bit.
This brings me nicely to the main thought I’d like to share with you today: In this time of crisis and uncertainty, the most effective thing you can do is to go back to the fundraising basics. Communicate with your donors/audience in a relevant and meaningful way to them. It’s not about you, it’s about them, so think about how you can add value during this difficult time.
We have heard for the past number of weeks concerns from our clients and from friends in the nonprofit and fundraising world, about what’s going on and the impact it’s having on our sector. While we don’t have all the answers, we do have recommendations that could help alleviate those concerns.
What do we do about internal pressure, and how do we communicate with donors?
Pressure is most likely coming from all levels of your organisation to ensure that fundraising continues, and that it’s impacted as little as possible. I’m sure you have always been under a certain level of pressure, and maybe you are even looking back now thinking that was nothing compared to the pressure you and your team are under right now.
From our team to yours: Hang in there.
This is especially tough when all forms of fundraising that need people to somehow interact and/or get together have been halted — for example, face-to-face fundraising, community events, galas, charity shops, etc.
With such a different landscape, the obvious consequence will be that certain fundraising streams will be put under pressure to help bridge the income gap — offline and online direct marketing included.
Fundraisers are dealing with this pressure in different ways.
1.Some fundraisers have decided that they are moving forward with the messaging calendar as planned.
Move forward but please, please, please don’t be tone deaf. Adapt your messaging and forms of communication as needed. Acknowledge to your donors that this is not a normal time before you move to an ask. Make sure that thank-you letters are up to date, i.e. reflective of the current moment. This applies to your communication calendar as well. If you have already spent the money, maybe it’s no harm in waiting a week or two? You could also start by sending an email to take a pulse of how donors are going to react to your message and then see if you should continue with the DM.
2.Other fundraisers have stopped a lot (if not all) of their campaigns and communications to donors.
Communicating is the most important thing right now. Keep all lines open in some shape or form. Don’t stop, but be transparent, genuine, and honest with your donors. Invest in the quality of the connection you are creating with your donors during this time — you’ll see the return later on.
3.And finally, others have launched an emergency appeal.
Ask for money if you need it right now. During a time that donors are stuck at home, some may be feeling a sense of frustration at not being able to help. You are offering them that opportunity to do so by launching an emergency appeal, especially if your charity is in the business of responding to this crisis somehow.
Essentially, the concern seems to reside in knowing if it’s appropriate to contact donors right now — and if so, in what manner and how much?
Use your resources. Discuss the stories that are relevant to share with your donors through a webinar, vlog, call, or email. Have your staff members and volunteers craft letters, emails, and scripts for phone calls and reach out to your donors. Just remember to have your supporters at the heart of your strategy, not the pressure you are under.
Prepare for the future
We know that right now we are all still adapting to a new normal — working from home, having the kids around all the time, and having to act as a teacher as well.
As we try to adapt to a new reality that (to make matters even worse) seems to be changing every day, it can be tough to think beyond what to do in this moment. I encourage you to use any extra bits of time you and your team have to think beyond today, because even if we don’t know how different the world is going to be in the next 3–12 months, we know for sure it will be different and we need, within reason, to prepare and plan while having that in mind.
Here are a few things you and your team could do:
1. Dive deep into your donor data to understand whom your donors are and their behaviour year over year. If your organisation has been through some sort of crisis, pay particular attention to the time period. Doing this type of analysis will inform donor communications right now as well as your overall fundraising strategy for the rest of the year.
2. Look at your digital transformation as a whole. What is your digital presence right now? Are you making the most of all your social channels? How equipped are you to receive donations (once-off and/or monthly) via your website? Is your database on the cloud? Digital is a key piece now and into the future, so start taking steps now to make that transformation.
3. Start thinking about pivoting your strategy — this is key! Your previous strategy was built having an understanding of the future and of a fundraising landscape that probably could not be more distant from the current reality. And even if you don’t know what the future is going to look like, there are still things you can start thinking about. For example, how diverse is your portfolio? I’m sure by now you are thinking how you shouldn’t have “all your eggs in the one basket”. If you already have a few streams going, that’s great. Can you expand more? Can you expand channels within each of the steams, for example including more digital or phone? Take this time to figure out ways to cross-sell and deepen your supporters’ engagement.
4. Are you documenting everything right now? If you are not, start now so you can revisit this at a later stage and think about how to be prepared for future similar crises. This will also show you if you are functioning effectively and able to move quite quickly if another crisis arises. For example, how prepared is your organisation for staff to work remotely? Do you have emergency appeal email/DM templates? Do you have an understanding of how to divert calls from your office to a call centre and/or your fundraisers’ houses?
In summary, it is not business as usual, but it’s most definitely not a time to stop. It’s a time to adapt.