The Importance of Communications During Times of Uncertainty

In the world of fundraising and development communication is the bedrock of a successful program.  At its core, successful fundraising is built upon strong personal relationships.  Our best donors don’t just see themselves as checkbooks or ATMs for the organizations they support.  They consider themselves partners and friends who want to make an impact on your noble mission.  The more that organizations engage with donors about who they are, why their work is necessary and impactful and what donors mean to that work the more they will be interested and inspired to support that work. 

As we find ourselves in a time of uncertainty, with the onset of the Coronavirus, these are the times when the development community can strengthen relationships and bring much needed stability to our closest and most generous benefactors.  Philanthropic organizations are often trustworthy institutions in the minds of their donor community and can provide a calming and familiar voice.  This can be a time that allow development professionals to listen to donors and learn about their beliefs and priorities that will be a strong foundation to increased trust and loyalty.  The following are some ways organizations can stay connected to their donors that will reinforce and strengthen relationships now and will lead to greater connection and investment in the future:

  1. Acknowledge Donors’ Feelings and Communicate Hope:  Whatever the donors’ state of mind, communications should not ignore the real and perceived fears that confront them.  Digital and more traditional communications to donors should acknowledge that there are difficulties that we are all facing and that the donors are not alone.   Messages should communicate an understanding of donor perspective but then turn to the ultimate goals of your organization that won’t be stopped because of an unexpected turn. 
  2. Let Donors Hear a Familiar Voice: Times of uncertainty are an opportunity for Major Gift Officers to strengthen relationships with top donors over the phone.  If we truly care about donors, then we should attempt to check in and provide a different and hopeful perspective.  These calls are an excellent opportunity for Officers to practice the art of listening.  Officers can learn about a donors’ financial outlook, philanthropic priorities, passions, concerns and hopes if they ask leading questions that simultaneously strengthen trust.
  3. Offer Virtual Opportunities to Come Together:  Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to be in front of donors without the burden of travel.  Podcasts, Webcasts, Conference Calls and Digital Premiums (articles, essays, reports) are always good opportunities to share your organization’s vision and impact.  During times of uncertainty, they are another opportunity to build community around a common mission.  With a little preparation and coordination, organization leaders can present new and informative messages to donors or re-purpose previously recorded or created content that reminds donors about the important mission that their support makes possible.
  4. Ask for Donor Input:  It is always a wise practice to ask donors for their input about your work and why they support your mission.  Times of uncertainty are particularly good times to hear your donors’ sincere and frank feedback on why and how they prefer to support your cause.  Sending digital and mailed surveys are very valuable tools that development offices can utilize for this purpose.  Major Gift Officers should also have a list of prepared questions that they should try to bring into conversations.  In addition to questions about your organization’s mission try to include questions about how donors prefer to make gifts.  Do they prefer mail to digital?  Do they prefer multiple solicitations or one annual request?  Have they included or ever considered including your organization in their estate plans?   

The coming weeks will be a challenging time for many organizations and donors as they react to the uncertainty of an ever changing environment.  It is a time when communities need to come together and rally around the bonds that will strengthen resolve against a common foe.  Philanthropic organizations are an important community for the individuals that support them financially.  Those organizations that hope to come through this period stronger on the other side should develop a communications plan that utilizes the tools they have at their disposal.  When they do they can engage with them in a natural and informative way that solidifies relationships today that will be the basis for stronger relationships and greater investment in the future.

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