The recent social distance requirements in response to Covid19 have presented major gift fundraisers numerous challenges. Interpersonal relationships are the foundation of strong and growing major gifts programs. If major gift officers are unable to meet donors in person it could create obstacles that at best slows that process down and at worse prevents relationships from ever being established. As the spread of the virus subsides and distancing requirements loosen, it’s important for major gift officers to be proactively working to engage donors while being cognizant of public restrictions and the personal preferences of individual donors. The following are some things to consider as you plan donor engagement in the near future:
Follow Their Lead: Distancing requirements vary from state to state and community to community. If you live in New York City, you may be able to meet donors for coffee in outdoor settings but you won’t be hosting indoor events there in the near future. In South Dakota, however, you may be able to host an in person gathering for a larger group. Once you know what the local ordinances allow you should be asking donors about their comfort level for in person meetings. In my work with donors I’m finding that many donors are comfortable meeting in person. In those cases I encourage you, while taking all necessary health precautions, to meet donors in public areas (restaurants, coffee shops, cafes, etc.) to reestablish those important relationships.
Develop Hybrids: Larger events are coming back slowly and there are creative ways to ensure your events reach broad audiences. Once you’ve reviewed local guidelines for in person events you can set up your location with distanced seating arrangements and prepackaged food and beverage options. Livestream options will allow you to expand attendance. You can also create a sense of urgency for attendees to purchase or reserve a limited number of seats. For those who are unable to attend in person it is very easy to set up a laptop with a camera to stream your events. The streaming option also provides creative ways to highlight sponsors during events with slideshow advertising or banner ads. Sponsor benefits have also provided personalized stewardship opportunities with organizations sending sponsors food and beverage packages that allow them to be a part of the event while they participate in their homes.
Just to See Your Face: One of the benefits of the digital age has been people’s ability to engage more personally through video chat options. Although meeting in person for important conversations and solicitation is always the preference, setting up video chats with donors can help make the conversations more personal and allow gift officers to read donors reactions as they present their case. If donors are not comfortable meeting in person and understand video chat technology, I encourage gift officers to utilize these tools to improve engagement with donors.
Pick up the Phone: Even if donors are not comfortable with in person engagement or digital technology, gift officers still need to be in communication with them. As older donors have been more isolated during the recent quarantines, they have also been more likely to pick up the phone. Gift officers should continue to check in on donors over the phone and gauge how much or how little they are comfortable receiving regular updates.
The Importance of the Written Word: The best major gift officers learned long ago to master the art of written communication. A thank you note after a visit, a birthday card, a Christmas card are all unique ways for you to set yourself apart from your competition. As Amazon and FedEx have been increasingly delivering packages to doors over the past few months, people are paying more attention to what they receive in the mail. You can ensure that your donors are feeling appreciated for their generosity when you take advantage of this time tested form of communication.