Connection is essential, especially during challenging times. When the going gets tough, we yearn to commune with people who will support us… teach us… commiserate with us… empathize with us… calm us… distract us… … entertain us… enable us to support them… and more.
Without connection, people can feel isolated. Yet today, as we prepare for the spread of coronavirus, we’re contemplating doing less of the things we normally do in person with others. And nonprofits are not immune.
What are you doing to reach out to your supporters when they need connection most?
Here are just a few messages received from local nonprofits in San Francisco within just the past two days:
Canceling a popular fundraiser that we depend on to cover the costs of keeping Public Glass open is not a decision we came to lightly, but it is critical that we do our part in helping to ensure that our Bay Area Community remains as safe as possible.
UNDER ADVISEMENT AND RESPECTING THE NEWLY ISSUED AGGRESSIVE RECOMMENDATIONS ANNOUNCED TODAY BY THE SAN FRANCISCO DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH TO REDUCE THE SPREAD OF CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19), THE MARCH 12, 2020 SFIC MONTHLY BREAKFAST IS CANCELLED.
We are very sorry to announce that, due to public health guidelines from the Mayor’s Office, our 2020 Benefit Art Auction, hosted in a city-owned building, must be cancelled. This event is a massive effort, involving over a hundred contributing artists, a dream-team of volunteers, and many beloved business partners. We were ready to create a wonderful celebration of creativity! We will continue to explore innovative ways to connect our community, but right now, this is the best way to take care of each other.
How about this haiku from my cousin, who is hosting his son’s wedding this week-end (at least as of this moment):
Last year seemed so bad
COVID-19 is now here
How I miss last year
While apt, missing last year and wringing your hands won’t help. As in-person gatherings are indefinitely postponed or canceled, as public spaces are closing, and as people are working from home, what can you do to make lemonade — and quench your supporters’ thirst?
Why not invite your supporters for some online gatherings?
While folks may feel hesitant about attending in-person meetings, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to connect with you. In fact, this may be more important than ever. Consider:
1. A web-based virtual, interactive Q & A session.
Begin with what you know are among your most frequently asked questions. Then open up the floor for audience participation! There are numerous webinar and video conferencing platforms you can use for this purpose [see webinars for nonprofits, video conferencing, webinars for small businesses, and platform comparisons for descriptions and reviews of different solutions]. Some are free; others are a modest investment, but once you’ve got the tool you can reach out and connect with supporters any time the spirit moves you.
2. A phone-based conference call.
3. A Facebook live meeting.
What I don’t prefer about this solution is it excludes supporters who don’t use FB. But if you use and like FB and have a large FB community it’s another way to interact with your supporters in real time. You can broadcast events or activities, take people behind the scenes, field their questions and invite commentary. [See here and here for tips.] BTW: If someone you know suggests you use a “Google Hang-out,” you should know this.
4. Last but not least… a one-to-one virtual meet-up.
Even without online meeting software, you can still connect with supporters via phone, email, text and social media. It’s not the same as meeting together as a larger community, but it’s still a human connection. And that’s good! For example:
- Have to cancel an upcoming event? Consider reaching out via email to all those who planned to attend. Send them a link to the video you planned to share. Slap your silent auction up online and ask folks to bid virtually.
- Donor prospect cancels a scheduled coffee or lunch meeting with you or one of your representatives? Consider offering to have a ‘virtual coffee’ via phone call. You can still chat about everything you planned to chat about. Just for fun, you might even send them a Starbucks gift card (or a coupon for coffee in your own on-site café) they can use later on.
Beef up your virtual meeting facilitation skills!
1. Use the technology most accessible to everyone on your team.
No matter how wonderful other folks believe a solution to be, if you have trouble using it you’ll never use it. I would add that you’ll want to consider how user-friendly the technology may be for your constituents. They’re part of your ‘team’ too!
2. Test your technology before the meeting.
This should be obvious, but… I’ve participated in more than a few meetings where the conveners clearly should have had more of a dress rehearsal. Consider options, like whether you’ll turn on video so people can see you and/or each other, and whether you’ll use a computer mike and audio, a headset or a phone. Test them all. And remember to use the mute button to suppress annoying background noise.
3. Think through the purpose of your virtual meeting; design flow accordingly.
Consider what you want to accomplish, and create a meeting outline that gets you to that goal. Pure reporting? Information dissemination/teaching? Brainstorming? Problem solving? Discussion? If you’re going to engage in discussion, you’ll need a moderator. The same holds true if you’ll have a speaker; then engage in Q & A.
4. Prepare for engagement.
Remember why you’re doing this! Hopefully you want to meaningfully interact with folks, and bring your supporters some joy. So why not make this fun? Just like with an in-person conference, you may want to include an ice-breaker and/or some energizing interactive polls. You can even share the results of your poll in a word cloud – how fun is that?
5. Embrace techniques for virtual brainstorming, voting, and feedback.
Again, it can be pretty boring to simply listen to someone talk. If you want supporters to stay engaged, give them something to do. Beth Kanter’s article includes links to some terrific tools.
6. Prepare to handle technical issues that may arise.
Nothing will derail your virtual meeting faster! So you’ll probably also need someone to troubleshoot technical issues (Beth shared a great infographic of common snafus and useful tools). Also think through how you’ll want to use technology before, during and after the meeting.
Remember to follow through so your meeting has meaning and meets its purpose.
A virtual meeting is a terrible thing to waste! Be sure yours meets its anticipated objectives, and merits your investment of resources.
1. Send a follow-up to participants.
The absolute worst thing you can do the day after any event is nothing. You worked hard to put it together, and you don’t want that work to swirl down the drain and disappear. That’s like working super hard to create a delicious soup you simmer over the stove for hours, maybe even days, and then take one little taste before you pour it out and start all over again with a new one. Endless work. And no one really gets to enjoy the meal. Remember: A huge part of your goal in meeting virtually is to strengthen your bond with your supporters. Imagine ahead of time what you can do to continue this strengthening process. Aim for transformation, not transaction.
- Send a thank you email to those who participated.
- Send a recording if you have one.
- Send supplementary information to which you referred in your meeting.
- Send an FAQ summary of the answers to most frequently asked questions.
- Send a survey to ascertain what folks liked/didn’t like.
- Calendar a subsequent follow-up report on issues discussed in the meeting.
- Send an invitation for your next virtual gathering.
2. Evaluate what worked/ what didn’t.
Do this right away, before you forget the details. Schedule a debriefing meeting with staff who participated. If you surveyed participants, incorporate their feedback into your evaluation. Write down what you learned so you can incorporate it into plans for next time. Celebrate success. And remember failure is success too, as long as you learn and grow.
3. Plan for your next virtual event to keep up momentum.
Meaningful, regular donor communication can hugely impact your bottom line. So don’t let current events derail your best laid plans to instill donor love and loyalty. Most of the top reasons donors give for not renewing their giving have to do with how you do/don’t communicate with them. Don’t despair. There’s always a silver lining. Let’s be grateful we live in a time when virtual connection is possible!
My best advice?
Be there for your supporters today; they’ll be there for you tomorrow.
Honestly, I’ve long held that donors are a central part of your mission. They need you as much as you need them. The relationship is symbiotic. In fact, the very reason your mission resonates with them is because you’re addressing a problem or issue about which they’re concerned. And you’re enacting values they also value.
You need to show donors you truly value them. Not just for their money, but for their generous souls. Think hard about why you’re grateful to them; then spread some of that gratitude back to them.
There’s no better time to soothingly communicate with your loved ones than when the world seems scary. In times like these, donors find out who their friends really are.
Have other ideas for being a true friend and staying connected with supporters? Please share in the comments below.
Want to Connect More Meaningfully with Donors?
Grab the Donor Retention and Gratitude Playbook. It’s filled with everything you need to make a great first impression — and then a terrific second, third and fourth impression — by thanking, praising and engaging with your donors in a manner that makes them want to stay loyal to you. And if you can increase retention by just 10%, you can double the lifetime value of your current supporters.
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Questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay.