Coronavirus Pandemic: 5 Strategic Changes for Nonprofits

The Coronavirus has brought about something new that no one was quite prepared for. 

Between the cancellation of events, the downturn in the economy, and social distancing, nonprofits have been hit hard in their fundraising efforts. Plus, with so much chaos, it can be tough to realize where to turn next. 

Coronavirus 5 Strategic Changed for Nonprofits

Try not to panic. Take a few deep breaths, analyze your data, and consider what your nonprofit can do at times like this. 

The changes you need to make to your strategic plan will help your organization stay afloat and show your supporters that you care.

We recommend the following strategic changes for nonprofits in response to the Coronavirus pandemic: 

  1. Check In With Your Supporters.
  2. Communicate How Your Org Encourages Safe Behavior
  3. Cancel or Postpone Your Nonprofit’s Events
  4. Ask For Help From Supporters 
  5. Keep Up Personal Communication

Many nonprofit services are more necessary now than ever, but the impact of the Coronavirus threatens the funding to back them. Fortunately, with some strategic planning, your organization can make the most of these uncertain times. 

1. Check In With Your Supporters

The Coronavirus is affecting everyone. Record numbers of people are applying for unemployment benefits, many are stressed about the virus itself, and everyone is trying to adjust to working from home and additional time spent in the house. 

Your supporters are not exempt from this stress. Simply checking in with supporters and acknowledging that they may be struggling can go a long way in showing that you care. 

When you reach out to supporters, be sure to: 

  • Ask them how they’re doing. A general check-in with your supporters provides them the opportunity to explain in broad strokes how they’re handling the pandemic. They may tell you about trying to homeschool children, financial stress they may feel, or simply express boredom of being home so much. 
  • Acknowledge the difficulty of the situation. Show donors that you understand how difficult this is for everyone. Empathize with the situation that they’re in. Consider sharing some of the tips and tricks that you’ve picked up to help them ease individual stresses or concerns. 
  • Provide downloadable resources. While supporters are stuck in their homes and practicing social distancing, they’re often looking for ways to entertain themselves and their children. Resources like reading material about your mission or coloring pages for kids are both great ways to keep supporters engaged without asking for anything. 
  • Thank them for their past support. Show appreciation for everything supporters have been able to contribute to your organization in the past. This gratitude indicates that you’re thankful for what they did in the past, no matter what the future might bring. 

Making a personal outreach phone call or message can seem time consuming. In times like these, you need to make sure your organization has its priorities straight so that you can time your outreach accordingly. The last thing you want is to forget or fail to reach out to an especially valuable supporter.  

Analyze your donor segments in your CRM to determine which supporters are your top priority for outreach. Then, pick up the phone, start drafting a letter, or otherwise get in touch with your supporters. 

2. Communicate How Your Nonprofit Encourages Safe Behavior

As a cause-based organization, you have an opportunity to lead by example and reiterate the importance of following guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). 

Communicate measures that your nonprofit is taking to remain safe during this time of crisis. For instance, you might talk about how: 

  • Your staff members are working from home. While staff may be at home, make sure supporters know how they can get in touch with your staff for any questions or additional information regarding your nonprofit’s continued operations. 
  • You’ve increased sanitation measures (if applicable). You’re probably cleaning and sanitizing your facilities very frequently. Make sure to tell supporters about this. Also mention if your staff members are using gloves, face-masks, and other protective equipment for sanitation purposes. 
  • Your team practices social distancing. How are you practicing social distancing? You may still have members out and about for programming purposes for instance to help hospitals, to provide goods to the homeless, or otherwise protect the community. Tell your supporters about the measures these individuals are taking to maintain 6 feet of distance from others. For instance, you may have organization t-shirts that specifically ask for distance. 
  • You’re staying in-the-know with the latest reliable updates. Dedicate a page on your nonprofit’s website to Coronavirus updates. Compile educational and trustworthy resources so that supporters can do research of their own. Plus, this shows them that you and your team are all well-informed and understand the severity of the situation.  

Reiterate all of these ideas in your regular communications such as your nonprofit newsletter, on your website, on social media, and in other messages to supporters.

For example, you might post a picture of your team practicing social distancing by meeting over a web conferencing platform like Zoom. Or, you may dedicate an entire page of your nonprofit newsletter to Coronavirus updates and your nonprofit’s response. 

3. Cancel or Postpone Your Nonprofit’s Events

We recommend your organization postpone or cancel the event you had planned for next month or so. 

How long have you been planning that event? Probably for quite some time. 

In some cases, like when events are right around the corner, your nonprofit is likely better off cancelling the event altogether. However, other times, you may consider other options like moving the event online or postponing it. Remember that if you do cancel or postpone the event, you can reinvest that time into planning new campaigns moving forward. 

Reach out to those supporters who had registered for the event and be sure to apologize for the inconvenience. 

Explain your reasons for this change. You want to keep your supporters and your staff members safe. Make sure supporters know that this is for their sake and that you’re cancelling or postponing because you care about them. 

When you cancel or postpone events, be sure to: 

  • Explain why you have made this decision
  • Thank them for registering in the first place
  • Give supporters the option to turn their registration into a donation or have it refunded
  • Explain what will be done instead (if you are planning on holding the event virtually or by some other means.

Your nonprofit’s event isn’t worth risking the health of your supporters and staff members. Postponing is a better option for the overall health and safety of the entire community. 

Also check out this free webinar by nonprofit event expert A.J. Steinburg “Coronavirus and What You Need to Know About Postponing and Cancelling Events”

4. Ask For Help From Supporters 

Your supporters recognize that this is a tough time for your nonprofit as well. Ask them for their help to get you through this period of uncertainty. 

Segmenting your nonprofit CRM will help you better define these asks and make the most of them. For instance, you might reach out to your monthly donors and ask them to upgrade their commitment. Or you may reach out to your frequent donors and ask them to become monthly contributors. 

When you reach out for donations, be sure to immediately demonstrate the impact of a potential contribution. 

You can do this by asking for donations for certain amounts in order to pay for a particular aspect of your mission. For example, you may ask for $100 to make homemade face masks for those that you serve. 

You may also decide to ask for non-monetary donations from those who may not be able to give. For instance, consider the following engagement techniques: 

  • Ask for in-kind donations. Are there any in-kind donations your organization could use from your supporters? For instance, ask supporters to donate cans for food drives. Or, create a list of items that supporters can order online and have shipped to your organization’s headquarters. This way, they never need to leave their homes and can give something you need. 
  • Invite thoughts and prayers. Even if supporters can’t give right now, that doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about your mission. Asking for thoughts and prayers for your organization and those you work for can help people feel connected. In the future, they’ll be more likely to contribute because your cause has been at the top of their mind.

Make sure to profusely thank your supporters for anything they can give.

Recognize that this is a difficult time for all supporters. Anything they can give is a huge sacrifice for them. Your thank-you message should reflect this genuine gratitude and acknowledge how much they’re helping you through a difficult time. 

This is also a necessary time to amp up your online strategy. With limited in-person engagement, it’s important that you expand your online presence so that supporters can engage in these new creative ways. Use resources like your website and social media to spread the word of these opportunities to everyone who is interested in learning about them. 

5. Keep Up Personal Communication

One of the most important things you can do as a nonprofit right now is maintain the same level of stewardship and communication with your supporters as you have done in the past.

Don’t abandon relationships with them despite these difficult circumstances. 

While right now they may not have the ability to give as much (or at all), your supporters will still recognize your support for them during their troubled times and appreciate your nonprofit that much more. This will build relationships and help you retain donors in the long run. 

Bloomerang’s donor retention guide explains that attrition is almost completely avoidable if your organization communicates effectively, during both easy and difficult times.

When you reach out to supporters, keep in mind the types of communications they’re looking for in times of crisis. Supporters want factual information and advice on how to handle themselves and their children during the pandemic.

Therefore, you might send an email with information such as: 

  • Service recipient stories. Let supporters know that your nonprofit is still working to make an impact even in troubled times. 
  • How services may be changing. A lot is changing everyday including your nonprofit’s programming. Therefore, tell donors about how you’re changing your services to accommodate CDC regulations and healthy practices. 
  • Highlight engaged supporters. Give a shout out to your supporters who are still doing everything they can to contribute. For instance, in-kind donations, monetary donations, and other kindly contributions should be celebrated. 

Make sure that when you send updates like this, you’re providing value for the supporters. Everything should be factual and useful for their day-to-day life. 

You can still open up the option for supporters to contribute to your organization, but make sure that’s not the primary purpose for every communication you have with them.

Record the engagement and response rate for these messages in your donor database to see how well your supporters are engaging with this data (learn more here).

The Coronavirus has impacted everyone. Nonprofits need to react to these changes by adjusting their strategies accordingly.

Sending Our Support

We hope these resources are helpful as your nonprofit navigates this tricky time. Don’t panic, but be sure to stay up to date on the latest news and work hard to show your supporters that you care with effective communication and opportunities.

These 5 strategies should get you started.

Guest Blog Post by: Steven Shattuck of Bloomerang

Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Executive Director of Launch Cause. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to “Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition” and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.

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