3 Nonprofit Crisis Appeal Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

I’ve already written encouraging you to ask supporters for help. Right NOW. This is a time people are actively looking for ways to make a difference. IMHO it’s almost criminal not to offer would-be philanthropists an opportunity to be a hero. And your mission doesn’t have to be engaged in what’s commonly considered a ‘frontline response’ or ‘essential.’ In other words, you don’t have to be directly engaged in COVID-19 prevention, mitigation or treatment.

Your mission matters! It mattered yesterday, right? That hasn’t changed. People still want to save the environment… rescue puppies… increase child literacy… listen to music… preserve architecture… help kids go to college.

Don’t go dark on folks when they most need to hear from you. Whatever your cause, your constituents deserve to hear from you about how this pandemic is affecting you and all those who rely on you. If you really don’t need donor support right now (perhaps thanks to a large endowment or huge ‘rainy day’ reserve), then… fine. Don’t send a fundraising appeal. I’m guessing, however, for most of you reading this article YOU DO NEED CONTRIBUTIONS to keep you afloat.

Since you need income now, your best communication bet for other than major donors is online. [With major donors you can set up a virtual visit or simply pick up the phone and talk to them.] For everyone else, digital is your best bet. Snail mail is too slow for crisis fundraising, plus some folks won’t have stamps at home or won’t want to go out to the mailbox right now. So… let’s take a look at how to put together a successful online crisis appeal.

UPDATE: My friend, direct mail guru Eric Waasdorp, tells me she’s actually been having good success with snail mail these days. Print shops and mail houses are apparently considered ‘essential businesses’ and are able to get you on their schedule faster than usual. Plus the post office can use the business. I stand corrected! Just remember there will still be folks out of stamps, so be sure to include your website donation page link in case they want to give online.]

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Should Your Nonprofit Legacy Program Be on Hold?

You may feel talking about mortality right now is a big ‘no-no.’

You’d be wrong.

I know some of you will argue with me. I’ve already seen one fundraising guru (who I generally admire greatly) say this is the only type of fundraising they’d not recommend right now. They called it ‘creepy.’

I understand the impulse to avoid this subject.

Especially now. Because it may feel insensitive. A bit like ambulance chasing.

Yet that’s not what legacy philanthropy is about. Not today. Not ever.

What’s Different in an Era of Pandemic?

Honestly, nothing. At least in this particular area of fundraising. Other stuff must be postponed or canceled, sure.

  • You may have to put your events on hold.
  • You may have to put planned spring and summer appeals on hold (assuming they were targeted for particular programs that don’t seem relevant or urgent at this point in time.)
  • You may have to put targeted legacy giving mailings on hold.

You don’t have to stop promoting meaningful legacy giving.

Why?

Because right now we’re all questioning the meaning of life. And our individual lives in particular. What can we do, as individuals, to make a difference? Not just today, but for tomorrow?  What will our legacy be?

Whether we live or die, we’re all thinking about what life will be like on this planet moving forward.  Yes, we’re in a pandemic. It’s scary and uncomfortable as all get out. Yet, let’s face it. People are seldom comfortable confronting the notion of their own death. Nevertheless death is as natural as birth. It’s inevitable, sooner or later, for everyone. Of course, we all hope for later.

Promoting legacy giving is not about actively seeking out folks on the verge of death and asking them to sign their estate over to you.  That would, indeed, be crass. Again, legacy giving programs are not ambulance chasing! And, anyway, most of your supporters are not sick. Most will survive. Yet…

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No-Nonsense Strategies for Nonprofit Crisis Fundraising

Balance. That should be your ‘today mantra.’

I’m talking about balancing self-love with donor-love.

You can’t help others unless you first take care of yourself.

This is really a truism you should carry with you throughout your life. But it’s never been truer than the times in which we’re currently living.

At the bottom of this article, I’m going to offer you some ‘don’t panic’ self-care strategies.

Since, however, you primarily look to me for fundraising advice, let’s begin with some specific strategies to try right NOW.

FIRST: Take Care of Your Donors

Donor at home under blanketConnect, Connect, Connect – with Everyone!

Talk to your donors about how they’re doing. It’s always been good practice to stay in touch with your supporters.  In fact, the numero uno reason donors stop giving is due to your poor communication with them. So use this time as your reason to – finally — get your donor love and loyalty plan off your back burner!

Take this opportunity to connect with folks with sensitivity and empathy. Show you care about them. As people, not just donors. Let them know you’ve no idea how this pandemic may be affecting them, personally and professionally. Listen and empathize with what they tell you. Depending on what your organization does, you may even be able to help them. At least put out an offer of help, and a listening ear, should they need you in the coming weeks and months. Then – as appropriate — share with them the situation for your organization and those who rely on your programs and services.

NEXT: Take Care of Your Mission with Specific Strategies to Try Right Now

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Anatomy of a Coronavirus Nonprofit Email + Thank You

Not Today Covid 19Last week I shared a number of real-life examples from innovative nonprofits taking creative steps to connect meaningfully to their supporters during these trying times. While staying connected, some organizations are succeeding in stepping up both their marketing and fundraising communications to the next level.

Sometimes this means virtual events, online conference calls and hang-outs and, yes, asking for the philanthropy needed to respond to urgent needs and stay in business for the longer haul.

I promised today I’d share an example of a straight-up email appeal.  Actually, it’s more than an appeal.

Because every communication you have with folks today must be more than business as usual.

It’s got to be empathic.

Let’s face it. All folks are thinking about today is coronavirus. If you ignore this fact, you’ll come across as out of touch and even insensitive. So begin every communication with some acknowledgement of what people are going through. Not just you. Them.

Check in with people and ask them how they’re doing.  This is actually always a good way to begin. We do it more in our personal lives (oddly, particularly with strangers).  You ask the clerk at the counter “How’s it going?” You leave the store saying “Have a nice day.” In fact, one of the hallmarks of a culture of philanthropy is you’ll find staff always asking each other “How can I help you today?” [See “Fundraising Bright Spots”]

Silver lining of this pandemic? Rediscover the power of empathy.  Take this opportunity to connect the dots between the problem you lay out and the solution with which the donor can be helpful. This is solid, basic fundraising – the way it should always be practiced but too often is not.  Use this opportunity to be better.

It’s got to be innovative.

Remember, this is not ‘business as usual.’ Already every nonprofit and their dog are sending out messages related to this crisis.  What will get your messages to stand out? Lots of things come to mind, including great subject headlines, compelling images and graphics, engaging stories and an authentic tone. All the basics apply.

Practice solid fundraising, of course, but try to add in a little bit of something extra. Novelty. Fun. Inspiration. Prayer. Social action.  Whatever is best suited to your particular brand and community.

Silver lining of this pandemic? Many of your familiar, tired strategies were probably due for a change anyway. This is an opportunity to reject the status quo, develop new skills and consider fresh initiatives that may, ultimately, serve you far better than the ones you’ve been using.

TIME TO SHARE AN EMAIL EXAMPLE: APPEAL PLUS

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Coronovirus Fundraising: Steal these Ideas!

Now more than ever you must, must, must invest in your fundraising efforts.

Rather than spending time worrying – panicking? – why not turn your mind towards positive things?  Like creative ways to invite others to help keep your mission afloat?

In my post earlier this week, I shared some ingenious ideas implemented by other nonprofits  — all so you can resourcefully borrow their ideas. I will keep sharing, because that’s how we learn. And… that’s what Clairification School is for, right? [If you’re not yet enrolled, there’s no better time than the present!]

It’s a blank slate now when it comes to fundraising. Yes, use tried-and-true principles of donor-centered fundraising. But don’t be tone deaf to the unprecedented times we are in.

Coronavirus is all folks are thinking about right now. Even while they try not to think about it.

Stay relevant, or prepare to be ignored.

You can help people!

Here’s the deal.

I’ve never in my lifetime heard so many people asking: “what can I do to be of service?” 

Charities have the opportunity to answer this question.

Living in a pandemic sucks, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t avail yourself of this opportunity to (1) keep your mission, and those who rely on you, afloat, and (2) help would-be helpers feel helpful!

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How long… will this be going on?

Mona Lisa with face maskIf you’re like me, chances are every other email in your inbox has something referencing coronavirus. You can’t ignore it, avoid it or wish it away.

So… what is your organization going to do?

The inimitable thought leader, Seth Godin, recently had this to say:

React, respond or initiate?

That’s pretty much all that’s on offer.

What will you do next?

The first gives us visceral satisfaction and emotional release, and it almost always leads to bad outcomes.

Responding is smarter. It requires each of us to think hard about the action and emotion we seek to create after something is put on our desk.

And the third? Initiating is ever easier and leveraged than ever before, which, surprisingly, also makes it more difficult to move up on our agenda.

In normal times, it’s easy to get into a rhythm of simply responding. Someone else setting the agenda.

When things are uncertain, it’s easy to react.

But now, right now, is the single best time to initiate. We’re in for a slog, but there will be an end to it.

Make things better by making better things.

Taking this advice to heart, I’d like to share a couple of examples of organizations who have initiated some inventive strategies to stay connected to their supporters in these challenging times. Usually I would share these in my “Don’ts vs. Do’s” feature. But both of these are big ‘Do’s,’ so I want to highlight what’s brilliant about them. You can ‘sincerely flatter’ them through imitation — and a bit of your own innovation.

Ready to be inspired?

OMG, What Will We Do About Our Upcoming Event?

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How Nonprofits Can Connect Virtually During Trying Times

Virtual meeting PixabayConnection 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?

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How to Improve Your Nonprofit E-Newsletter

Does your nonprofit have an email newsletter?

I’d rather see you rock a blog, but let’s talk a bit about your newsletter. Since you already have one, you may as well make it better.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

[BTW: If you don’t have an e-newsletter, go read the article above about creating and rocking a blog. Also read this. A blog can serve the purpose of an e-newsletter, and do so in a more donor-centric, user-friendly fashion. IMHO.]

Okay. Back to improving your newsletter. You can always evolve it into a blog (and doing so will make sense after you read the rest of this article).

Guess what most donors simply won’t tell you about your newsletter?

It’s boring them to tears!

Or at least most of it is.

Actually, let me rephrase. Not to tears. That would mean they’re feeling an emotional connection. Sadly, they’re not.

Why?

Most Donor Newsletters Are Boring To the Point Of Numbness

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LEAP Day Resolution: New Nonprofit Board Leadership Model

Tomorrow is “leap day” — that little something extra we’re given every four years, just to slow things down a bit and make February last a bit longer.

Leap day has something in common with nonprofit boards of directors — that little something extra we’re given — volunteers put in charge of the business; something that sometimes has an unfortunate tendency to slow things down and make decision-making take a lot, lot longer than it should.

Sound familiar?

Work in a nonprofit organization for any period of time, and you’re likely to hear yourself or someone else complain:

” My board is driving me nuts! 

When asked by BoardSource, more than 1,000 nonprofit leaders gave nonprofits boards a “B-minus” grade in overall performance. Almost a third of nonprofit CEOs reported being unhappy with their boards’ support of them in their role as leader, and many of these folks were considering leaving their positions.  When it comes to community relations and fundraising, CEOs rated their board members even worse — giving them a C!  This is barely a passing grade.

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Fundraising Don’ts vs. Do’s: Major Donor Cultivation Strategy

Fundraising Do's & Don'ts logoHere comes my occasional “Do’s vs. Don’ts” feature, where I share with you something arriving in my mailbox that seems a good ‘teaching opportunity.’

Today we’re going to review a major donor engagement strategy.

It arrived as an email. There’s a subject line, preview pane, the email itself, and what happens if/when you click through.

We’ll take a look at the various elements; then assess what works/doesn’t work.

I’ll ask you some questions.

  1. Would you open this email?
  2. If yes, why?
  3. If no, why?
  4. What looks good about the email?
  5. What looks not so good about the email?
  6. Would it inspire you to click through?
  7. If yes, why?
  8. If no, why?

First, I’d like you to think about your answers and jot them down.

Second, I’ll tell you what I think.

Really take the time to notice what you like and don’t like.

I promise you’ll learn a lot more this way. We learn best by doing.

Seriously, I mean it.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Subject Headline

Claire, tell us what you think

Preview Pane

We’d like to hear from you

This may help: Take three minutes and jot down your answers to the first three questions on a piece of paper or your screen. I want to know if what was in the subject headline (“Claire, tell us what you think”) or the email preview pane (We’d like to hear from you”) would have caused you to open the email or hit ‘delete.’

Okay.  Ready to learn what I think thus far, and also see what else we’re working with?

Let’s begin!

Does this Email Say “Open Me?”

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