In this challenging public health crisis, our community has been impacted in many unexpected ways. Nonprofit communications should be carefully considered to have the best results.

Donors Want to Know Three Things:

  • How has your organization been impacted?
  • What you are doing about it?
  • How can they help?

First of all, it’s important to assess your situation. You need to be able to communicate your needs; how is the COVID-19 situation affecting your:

Ongoing Programming
How are you continuing to serve your target population? How have you shifted or adapted your programming to meet critical needs? If you’re not meeting critical needs, keep blanket messaging minimal and instead focus on communicating one-on-one with your closest stakeholders. Segment and then communicate. Consider the volume of messages you’re getting right now as an individual.

Fundraising Strategy for Events
Communicate often as you progress with your plans. Evaluate other formats or postponing before cancelling. Develop a strategy for sponsors, especially for events moved online.  Virtual events will need extra reminders and outreach to pierce the extra “noise” online right now.

If an event is a trigger for a regular donor to give, contact them personally and ask them to renew their commitment. If you have donors that normally make their gift at the event, reach out to them individually and ask them to renew their support. Come up with targeted or personal outreach to those donors to drive their engagement to events offered in a different format.

Fundraising Strategy for Appeals
For many organizations, this is the time their annual spring appeal is going out. Before you send your appeal, make sure your content is relevant to the now. If you are meeting critical needs, share the increased need for support based on the way you have adapted/stretched to meet new or different needs in the community.

If you are not offering programs or services right now and are not meeting critical needs, you should still communicate with your top supporters. Communicate the need for operational support so you can resume your programming once the pandemic has passed and ensure you can continue to serve the community.

Capital Campaigns
Now is the time to share or re-share your vision for the future. Those who are in the planning phase should minimize outward communications and focus on project development. If you are already in the fundraising part of the campaign, talk about the project, not the campaign.  Communicate directly with major donors who have already committed, and with those who have pending asks. Let them know if you’re pausing or continuing the fundraising. Continue to talk about what you’re doing and the need/impact. Develop current talking points to share. Timing may not be good for a public phase to complete your campaign. Communications should not conflict with your current operational needs. Consider how donors and volunteers are impacted. It’s a good time to ask how they’re doing.

Make sure to let the inner circle know first about any changes in the campaign. You want the board, staff, and campaign leadership to be well-informed before pushing information out to others.

Major Disruptions take two different forms – External and Internal Challenges.

External challenges include broad disruptions such as COVID-19, 9/11, 2008’s Recession. Recognize that essential needs will take the lead — and always stay calm, and keep moving. Remember that this is temporary.

Internal challenges may include a change of leadership, such as your Executive Director retiring. When leadership is changing, donors still want to know that you have a good plan for finding their replacement and that there will be no disruption in delivery of the mission. One-on-one outreach to the top tier of your donors and “friends” is critical. Consider:

– Honoring them with a special fundraising initiative
– Communicating once you have a plan for hiring or once you have found the new leader

Communicating with Internal Audiences
Keep your board, volunteers, and partners informed during challenges. Be sure you have current information on the situation that you can share with staff/board/volunteers. If they don’t feel they can communicate your situation, they will hesitate to be an ambassador. Keep it simple and up to date if the situation is fluid.

You don’t want a Cabinet member or major funder to hear you’re making a significant change in the scope or timing of your campaign from someone other than YOU, so work from the inside out as you roll out messaging.

Challenging times require a strategic and flexible communication plan. How and when you share your story can make the difference in helping your organization come safely through the storm and ready to hit the ground stronger than ever once things settle out.