During a crisis is no time to be passive. Build a list of audiences, prioritize contacts among those lists, and develop a step-by-step written PLAN to reach out. With updates, engagement opportunities, little gifts of content folks can use, and opportunities to contribute and make a demonstrable difference.
Sharing is caring too. Do you have a plan in place to regularly share what you’re up to, and offer opportunities for donors to engage? Are you communicating with donors as if they’re a part of your family or favorite group of friends? If not so much, what are you waiting for?
Establish templates with talking points in advance of your communications; then let the reaching out begin. First determine your purpose.
- Do you want to say thank you?
- Do you want to simply check in to see how your donor is doing, and whether they have any questions about your organization’s status and work right now?
- Do you want to ask them to volunteer their time?
- Do you want to ask for a philanthropic gift?
- Do you want them to complete a survey?
Figure this out first, because the more you know where you’re going the more likely you are to get there! If you’re light on staff right now, ask your volunteers and influencers for help.
These communication templates can be used for phone (or other online) conversations and emails. Got that? Conversations! Merriam Webster describes a conversation as “oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.” In other words, you want to prompt two-way participation on some level. This is not about you delivering a monologue or formal dissertation. Think of your communication as you raising an issue for discussion. You want to pique your donor’s interest and ask open-ended questions that invite their engagement.
Start with your top priority donors who have the highest likelihood of making an additional gift to get you through this crisis. I suggest leading with one communication channel and following up with the other. The telephone and email are generally the most used channels right now, but you can certainly use snail mail and social media as well, depending on the demographics and habits of your supporters. We’re in extraordinary times, and once is simply not enough. People are easily distracted today. They mean well, but… things can get in the way. Reminders are necessary.
If you’re comfortable on the phone, and have the bandwidth to make calls to donors, I’d suggest beginning there. If no one picks up, leave a warm message including your phone number should they want to talk (more people today do want that human connection!); then indicate you’ll also be sending an email.
If you’re more of an introvert, it’s okay to begin with email. These can get a discussion started. But I’d still suggest you follow up by calling at least some of your donors (e.g., major donors; consistently loyal (especially mid-level) donors; donors who tend to make multiple gifts throughout the course of the year). And, of course, if the donor responds to your email, please follow up with a prompt, personal thank you. If you can do this by phone, the warmth of your voice (smile while you talk!) can mean a lot to the donor on the receiving end of your call.
Crisis Fundraising Communication Templates
Templates for saying thank you
Yes, this is a form of fundraising because it ‘pre-suades’ donors to respond positively to your subsequent appeal. There is something magical about a PURE thank you call! Research (which has been repeated over two decades by Cygnus Applied Research) shows donors who receive a personal call from a board member within 48 hours will give an average of 39% more than those not called — even after 14 months. Calls, it seems, have a real lasting value. And they’re particularly meaningful when they come from board members. They’re also pretty fun for board members – once they get over the hump of picking up the phone and getting into the groove. Why? Because donors are so surprised (relieved) you’re not calling to ask for money but just to say thank you.
The script goes something like this:
You begin with:
Hi _____ (donor’s name). This is _____________. I’m on the board of the (organization’s name.) I’m NOT calling to ask you for money. I’m just calling to thank you for the donation you made (recently; last year) and for standing with us during these difficult times. It really means a lot and I wanted to tell you personally how grateful we are.
Donor says something like:
- Uh, okay.
- It was my pleasure.
- Wow! I’ve never had anyone call just to thankme!
You close with:
Just want you to know we don’t take your support for granted. I don’t want to take up a lot of your time. I just wanted to thank you again for (making this first gift/increasing your giving this year/your longtime support). We honestly couldn’t do this work without you. Have a great day!
If the donor doesn’t answer the phone, leave a message. (After all, you took the time to place the call; don’t want to waste that energy!)
Hi _____ (donor’s name). This is _____________. I’m on the board/staff of the (organization’s name.) I’m NOT calling to ask you for money. I’m just calling to thank you for the donation you made (recently/last year) and for standing with us during these difficult times. It really means a lot and I wanted to tell you personally how grateful we are.
That’s it! If you have any questions feel free to let me know and I’ll try to get you some answers. You can reach me at (phone number or email), and I’ll also be sending you an email to make it easy for you.
Subject line: (Your name) from (your organization’s board/staff) following up as promised in today’s Voice Mail
Body: Sorry I missed you today. I would have loved to thank you in person! As promised, I’m sending you another BIG thank you for your steadfast support. Even with our doors closed, your support is helping (brief blurb about how their giving makes an impact today). I hope you’ll check out (link to something you’re doing now, a new video, a list of useful tips or a recent e-newsletter).
With support from friends like you we will (stay strong/meet the increased need/be back)!
P.S. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let me know and I’ll endeavor to find you answers. Thanks again.
Templates for having conversations with major donors and prospects
Now is the time to connect with current major donors like you’ve never connected before.
Why? Because everyone is at home! And they actually want to talk. Additionally, people are in a reflective mood. They’re thinking more about their values. Invite them to a virtual ‘coffee date’ to talk by phone or video. Take time to be grateful first and find out how they’re feeling. Then let them know what’s going on for your organization, and show them how they can help sustain your organization.
Thank you so much for always being her for us. Your support means the world, truly.
How is this affecting you?
[At this point they may ask how the crisis is affecting you, which is your opportunity to give a bit of an update about your organization’s response.]
Tell me a little bit about why you’re connected here. Which of our programs/services speak the most to your heart? What are you most concerned about right now?
It’s also a great time to qualify prospective major donors for future major gift cultivation.
These may be folks who’ve been referred to you by board members or other major donors. Or they may be above average mid-level donors you’ve had on your back-burner cultivation list. Or they may be folks sitting inside your own database who you’ve purchased screening information on and have high ‘major gift likelihood,’ but you’ve just never gotten around to reaching out to them in a more targeted fashion than the bulk of your database. Whereas in ordinary times many of these folks might not have had the bandwidth or inclination to respond to your outreach, today is extraordinary. They just may want to build a relationship with someone right now; it might as well be you!
Whether renewing (or upgrading) previous major donors, or qualifying prospects for future major gifts, simply tell your organization’s ‘today’ story.
Here’s a fool-proof three-step donor crisis communication plan:
(1) First, explain the effect on your revenue.
(2) Then, describe the impact on those who rely on you.
(3) Finally, be really clear how the donor can help you.
Transparency and specificity are key. If you’ll experience a shortfall, let folks know what it is and what it might mean. Explain the sources of lost revenue, including earned (e.g., canceled services for which you can no longer charge) and contributed income (e.g., canceled events; unemployed donors giving less; people shifting to more front-line response charities). Then explain the effect on your daily work. How does this crisis affect those who count on on you, including staff, clients, patrons, members and other beneficiaries? What new opportunities have opened up? Describe how seizing these opportunities will require an extraordinary investment — one that will pay off today and in the long run.
We expect our earned income to be down 85% due to the fact we’ve cancelled most of our programming through the end of July. That means $2.5 million in lost revenue.
And we anticipate our contribution income to be down 20% because some of our donors are also experiencing unanticipated hardship. And we had to cancel our spring fundraising event. Combined, that’s another $400,000 in lost revenue.
We’re able to recoup some of our losses by making budget cuts, but a lot of our costs are fixed. Rent. Insurance. And, of course, health benefits – which we hope to keep intact. We’re trying to keep on as many staff as possible, at least part-time, because they rely on us too. And we want to be able to start up again quickly once we get through this. We can’t afford to lose all their extraordinary talent and institutional knowledge. If everyone scatters to the winds, by the time this is over we could be an empty shell.
We need to figure out how to make up enough lost income to stay afloat. Your generosity and past support has meant so much to us. This year, it can mean even more. You are one of our most committed supporters, and the need right now is extraordinary.
[Option 1] If you’re in a position to give right now, would you consider making a gift of $XX, XXX? I know this exceeds your past giving, and want to assure you your generosity will not be taken lightly. You can be one of our heroes in any number of ways by choosing to apply your gift where it means the most to you (e.g., cover our deficit; invest in our ‘Coronavirus Resiliency Fund;” invest in our ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fund;’ cover the costs of new technology, online infrastructure, equipment, etc.).
[Option 2] I can’t presume to know what your ability to give right now is, but our fundraising goal is $XXX, XXX. Can I ask if you could match last year’s gift – or even give more to help us make up the 20% we expect to lose? This would hugely impact our ability to come out of this strong. Of course, if you could give the full amount of our goal, or a percentage thereof, that would be awesome!
Thank you so much for your generosity, your support, and your understanding in these times.
Templates for having conversations with mid-level donors
All donors matter!
While it’s tempting in a period of crisis to focus only on major donors who can give you the lion’s share of the funding you need right now, you won’t sustain your organization over time by relying on just a few cash cows. Cows, even rich and loyal ones, stop yielding milk after a while. Maybe because they die.
All donors share a desire – and a need – to help. Donors want to be heroes. Don’t deny them this opportunity by going dark on them right now. If you simply send update communications, or a single generic appeal, you won’t meet their need to feel really connected and joyful about participating with your cause. Nor will you learn anything more about them so you can cultivate their future giving.
Many mid-level donors consider their gift to you to be major – because for them it is.
That $500 or $100 may mean one thing to you and entirely another to the donor. And if you’re lucky enough to have first-time donors who made gifts last year at this level, by all means don’t ignore them. They are future gold! The same holds true with donors who give monthly, as they’re indicating their loyalty and ongoing commitment by so doing
The best course of action is to identify the ‘major donors in hiding’ you have the bandwidth to call. If you’re small, this may be all of them. Try to stretch yourself. It’s well worth the effort, and will make you stand out from the crowd – in a good way!
What do you say?
Pretty much the same thing you would say to the donors you deemed ‘major.’ Your style and tone may vary a bit with three and four figure donors than with five, six and seven figure donors, but the core message should be how very important the donor is to your cause.
With monthly donors, this is a great opportunity to ask if they will consider adding something extra to help you through this transition period:
Thank you for your ongoing commitment. Our monthly donors mean the world to us, because you understand better than anyone how important it is for us to have a dependable source of income in order to plan ahead and sustain our mission all year long. We don’t take that for granted; especially not now. You are our rock!
If you’re in a position to do so, would you consider increasing your monthly commitment to help raise the $XXX, XXX additional support needed this year due to the fact many of our core income sources are temporarily suspended? [You can then suggest and additional monthly amount, depending on what they give now and what your fundraising goal is. You can try something like: “Other monthly donors like you are giving an average of $XX more/month. Is this something you might be able to do?”]
Templates for having conversations with ticket buyers
For canceled or postponed events, simply ignoring the fact your event is not going to happen is a really bad idea.
Recently I discovered an event I had calendared, and realized I’d heard nothing – zippo – from the organization. They must have assumed I understood there’d be no event, and didn’t care about the fact I’d purchased tickets. Wrong. I did care! When I saw the event on my calendar, I became annoyed I’d heard nothing from them. It made me feel I didn’t matter to them. They were happy to take my money and run – even though they weren’t fulfilling their end of the bargain. I’d have been happy to convert my ticket payment into a donation if I’d been asked. Now? I’ll never buy a ticket from them again. This gets back to the fundamental with which I began this article: “During a crisis is no time to be passive!”
The same holds true for folks who pledged to buy tickets, or perhaps to underwrite an event, in the future. Maybe this was for a fundraising gala or walkathon or golf tournament. If you’re an arts organization, maybe it was to help sponsor an upcoming performance or exhibition. You did all the hard work to secure these pledges; don’t ignore them now! While you may be thinking you’re doing your donors a favor by not calling them in, you’re not. Your donors are sitting there wondering what will happen with their pledge. Will you ultimately schedule the event, and do you want them to give at that time? Do you need the money now, and would you like their permission to allocate it towards something else? Ask them!
If you don’t communicate with those who’ve purchased tickets or pledged future support, you’re likely to wind up missing their support for the current year. Or, because you ticked them off, for future years. They’ll think you don’t need their money.
Let’s look at a template you can use for a phone call or email. And, by the way, issuing refunds is not your only option.
We’re sorry we had to cancel our event this year. We’ve all been hit hard by the fallout of this situation.
We know the reason you (purchased tickets/pledged support) in the first place was because you care about supporting the work we are doing. And we still need your support, especially now: our community continues to depend on these funds.
We also know many people are finding themselves in financial hardship at this time. Of course, if you need a refund, we will provide you with one.
[Option 1] However, we kindly urge you to consider instead, converting your ticket into a 100% tax-deductible donation to continue supporting our vulnerable community in these hard times. Your donation would make a huge difference!
[Option 2] However, we kindly urge you to consider instead, converting your ticket into a credit voucher to be used for a future event, or redeeming merchandise in our store [If you have some old swag hanging around, consider putting this up on your website for sale.] This way, you would continue supporting our vulnerable community in these hard times. Your donation would make a huge difference!
[Option 3] We can also offer partial refunds if that helps.
If you’re wondering how else you can support our organization in this time, we do have several non-monetary ways you can get involved and make a difference. We invite you to sign up for a volunteer shift / send us the following in-kind donations / view our Get Involved page here [link].
Thank you so much for your generosity, your support, and your understanding in these times. We hope you’re staying safe and healthy.
Committed consistent supporters want to stay that way! It’s actually one of Robert Cialdini’s Principles of Influence that affect human behaviors. Folks are social creatures bent on creating and sustaining social bonds. If they’ve said “yes” to you once they’re more likely to do so again to demonstrate their consistency and commitment. This principle is also known as “foot in the door.” Current research backs this up. A study by Fidelity Charitable found 79% of $1,000+ donors plan to maintain or increase their giving, mostly to their current favorite charities.
With supporters with whom you have a foot in the door, now is the time to hold your door wide open. At least if you want your donors to stick with you. As tempting as it may be to let your donor communications and fundraising slide because you’re short-staffed, or just not sure what to say, do not succumb to this temptation. Welcome donors in with thoughtful, sensitive, authentic communications that treat them like members of your family. Show them you love them and care about them and really want to stay in touch.
Have a conversation.
“Really acknowledge the value of these donors because those people will stick with you,” she said. “If they have to give a little less, they’ll give something because it’s important to them, and then when this is all over, you’ll have all these donors to move forward with.”
— Melissa Wyers, Executive Director, EveryAction
More Fundraising Communications Resources You May Find Helpful
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This is a simple, step-by-step guide to crafting a killer donor thank you letter. Writing a meaningful nonprofit thank you can be tricky. But it’s not rocket science – it’s something you can easily learn. It’s just not something most of us are taught.
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Image above is found art, on a storefront, in San Francisco.