A major element of responsive fundraising includes solving for the hyper-connected world we live in. On one hand, it has never been easier to reach thousands of donors in an instant. On the other hand, competition for attention has never been more difficult.
This fact has never been more clear than during global events, especially now with the response to COVID-19 in America and around the world. The rapid circulation of information is both an incredible resource and a source of panic. As a strategist for Virtuous, any work I did would automatically risk adding more noise to already-flooded timelines and inboxes. It wasn’t something I was prepared to do. I needed time to process everything. Learn from experts.
Now that some time has passed, there are a few things that I think are important to say. These were the things that I realized our customers needed to hear the most. But, they can hopefully be applied to any fundraiser or person who needs to hear them.
You Don’t Have to be First. You Just Have to be Relevant
People want to be part of the group. We also want confirmation that what we think or feel is important to the group we’re in. Those simple and universal desires are the main reason social media platforms are so popular. Each one gives us the opportunity to speak up about the things that are important to us and get instant feedback. Unfortunately, during major events, the result can be a lot of noise without relevant messages.
You probably saw it happen in your inbox and on your social media feeds as the intensity of the pandemic grew. People rush to say something lest they be the only one who didn’t say anything. But in their haste, businesses and thought leaders likely sent incorrect, out-of-date or generic messaging to people who were only concerned with the truth.
What responsive fundraising teaches is to prioritize the meaningful and the relevant over all else. The best indicator for fundraising success and donor loyalty is trust. When you fill donor inboxes, social feeds, voicemails and mailboxes with noise instead of information they can act on, you erode that trust.
As you move through the weeks or months of change, be slow and thoughtful about sending your communications. Assume that people are more concerned with how to stay healthy, the status of their jobs and ways to educate and entertain their children. When you have something important, that they are sure to be interested in, please share it. But don’t clog communication channels with anything that isn’t helpful, true or relevant. There will be a right time for all your messaging. As a responsive fundraiser, and a concerned human, to manage the flow of that information so that people aren’t overwhelmed and ignoring the important things.
Show Your Humanity
On that note, showing your humanity during times of uncertainty is one of the best things you can do. The feelings you’re experiencing, as an individual or an organization, someone else is feeling, too. They will appreciate your honesty. More importantly, they will connect with you on a deeper level. That connection will drive loyalty and advocacy when you need it most from your donors.
For some, that will mean practical, productive tips to push your fundraising efforts into overdrive. To others, being human means acknowledging that this is a very weird time and it’s perfectly normal to need a second to adjust. For others, your connection might come from not saying anything at all, but rather simply listening.
Responsive fundraising practices remind fundraisers to connect with individual donors in an authentic way. As you craft your communications, don’t be afraid to lead with your humanity. Remind your donors of the individuals that make up your nonprofit. Be clear that you care about donors as people and you are open to doing things differently if it can be helpful during this time of uncertainty. Don’t cover what you’re truly experiencing because you think that is what donors want to hear. Instead, listen to what they want from you, and provide it in an authentic way.
Look for Opportunities
The silver lining to all periods of massive change is that challenges tend to spark creativity. Because things are different now than they were before, your nonprofit has new opportunities you may not have had.
For example, our team has been able to create exclusive online communities for our customers and partners to connect and help each other. We noticed that there was an immediate need for nonprofits to share ideas, obstacles and other questions that centered around our COVID-19. To help facilitate a conversation (and hopefully provide some answers) we created an online Slack community that fundraisers can use whenever they need expert advice, resources or just someone to hear their thoughts. It’s something we wouldn’t have prioritized in other circumstances, but it’s a daily source of joy and information.
As a nonprofit, you are doing good in the world on a daily basis. You have the opportunity to spread joy to your constituents, and the rest of the world, at a time when joy feels scarce. You have the ability to activate groups of people to make important changes at a time when all we can do is stay home. That’s a unique position to be in as a nonprofit, and one that you should use to help you reach your fundraising goals.
Rather than spend time doing more of the same work you’ve been doing, exhausting not only your donors, but your employees as well, look for new opportunities. Prioritize the unique circumstances of this moment to do something different. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. But trying something new that treats your donors to a better experience of your nonprofit will always inspire better relationships and loyalty.
Lead with Transparency
Economic uncertainty affects nonprofits in a very real way. There’s no getting around that. But, economic uncertainty doesn’t affect the innate human desire to be generous. Your donors want to help, to be part of the solution, but they need you to lead them. The best way to inspire the generosity you need is to be transparent and specific.
Transparency in your appeals means showing your donors the full picture. Let them see the results of their previous generosity in addition to what might happen if you don’t reach a specific fundraising goal. Remember, trust is the most important currency for the modern donor. If you don’t invest in trust, they will not feel compelled to support your organization, now or in the future.
Remember that responsive fundraising is about putting the donor at the center of your work. Empower them by giving them the information they need to give, share and advocate for you. Give them relevant suggestions, and don’t forget to show gratitude. Always thank your donors more often than you ask something of them. Let them know the specific ways they helped you this week, month, quarter. A little transparency will go a long way when it comes to recurring gifts and donor relationships.
Remember Your Goals
When things start to change rapidly, it’s easy to react. We’re primed by our hyper-connected reality for immediate opinions, actions and reactions. Often, those aren’t our most thoughtful or helpful choices. Before you send a communication piece to your donors, or write an appeal, remember your goals. Take a look at what you set out to accomplish at the beginning of the year, when things were more stable.
Of course, changes in the world might shift some of your priorities, but your core goals should remain the same. Try not to waste time doing things that don’t make sense for your organization, even if you see other organizations doing them. Instead, evaluate the donor retention, donor acquisition and fundraising goals you established at the beginning of the year. Shift your priorities so that you can make significant strides towards the goals that make sense now, and make a revised plan for how you will reach the others in the remaining months.
As a personal example, our team had plans to host a book launch party for our customers and local nonprofit professionals in April. We were excited about sharing our hard work and connecting with fundraisers who lived and worked in our community. We obviously can’t do that anymore. Instead, we are working to create a digital summit that we originally planned to host in September. The hope is that we’ll get to do both, like we planned, even if the schedule has flipped a little bit.
The point is, to be successful, you must stay true to your goals. Don’t let the chaos change who you are and the relationships you have with your donors. Remind them of who you are and why they support you. Be a source of stability and calm instead of a reactionary presence that adds to the confusion. We could all use a little bit more of that. I know I do.