Helping Nonprofits Communicate

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COVID-19 and Communications … Welcome to 2020!

Greetings from Georgia, where my family and I have been hunkered down together since Tuesday, March 10. My husband’s company has told employees to work from home through Labor Day. My work, completed largely from my home office already, first shifted to the kitchen table, so I was right in the middle of the chaos of my family. After a couple weeks of that, I gave my home office over to become a playroom, and moved my desk out into the common area. I guess time will tell if my desk is in its permanent location.

Many of you are likely in the same situation. At home with family you love dearly but who knows for how long? The work that fulfills us for some of us has dropped off, or maybe increased, but either way has likely necessitated more creativity to get it done. It’s a challenging time for everyone, with few answers for when life may return to normal. Spring break, end of school plans, summer camps and vacations – many things are canceled or on hold until COVID-19 runs its course.

The communications needs of some organizations may have changed overnight in March or April. Have you caught up yet? Need to shift to online communication with supporters? Need to get board members up to speed for meeting via Zoom or Google hangout rather than in person? And what about that special fundraising event that happens every spring? You and your nonprofit team may have more questions right now than answers.

Nonprofit Media Solutions applauds you for all your hard work in these challenging times, and below we offer some resources to help.

Four types of email messaging you should do now (if you haven’t already), in priority order:

1. Email your board. Be transparent. Tell them what your organization is doing in light of COVID-19. How has program delivery changed? Have any programs been postponed? Same with upcoming events – changed or cancelled? It’s OK to not have all the answers! In fact, sharing with them a list of your pain points before your next board meeting with have them thinking of solutions ahead of time. Be specific. Tell them where you need help. Schedule next board meeting, and get their input on best ways to move forward during this time of uncertainty.

2. Email your volunteers. Tell them what your organization is doing in light of COVID-19. How has program delivery changed? Have any programs been postponed? Same with upcoming events – changed or cancelled? It’s OK to not have all the answers for this audience too. In fact, sharing with them how they can help right now (if there are ways) is a great thing. You can tell them what you think is coming up, or when you expect to make decisions on upcoming events and programs, so they know they’ll hear from you again. Invite them to share their questions and feedback with you. Let them know they’re a valued part of your organization and you can’t wait to see them in person as soon as it is safe.

3. Email your program recipients/clients. Tell them what your organization is doing in light of COVID-19. (I’m guessing many of this segment already know how programs have changed.) Cancelled, moved to online, etc. But do you have ideas on if changes will happen again with regard to program delivery, and when? You can tell them what you think is coming up, or when you expect to make decisions on upcoming events and programs, so they know they’ll hear from you again. Invite them to share their questions and feedback with you. Let them know they’re a valued part of your organization and you can’t wait to see them in person as soon as it is safe. And perhaps there are even some trusted online resources or articles you can share with them that will help them work through this difficult time.

4. After you and your board have sorted out what fundraising may look like later this year, an email to your individual donors is in order. Let them know your plans, but also let them know how COVID-19 is impacting your clients and your program delivery. What is at stake and how will fundraising help? What’s a small donation they can give to help right now? Perhaps you can make social media align with some of this messaging as well, for the sake of consistency, and to encourage more online giving. You can tell them what you think is coming up, or when you expect to make decisions on upcoming events and programs, so they know they’ll hear from you again. Invite them to share their questions and feedback with you. Let them know they’re a valued part of your organization and you can’t wait to see them in person as soon as it is safe.

And a question to keep in mind for addressing later: how will your organization respond once COVID19 passes enough for life to return to “normal,” even if normal looks different than it did at the beginning of 2020. Being able to share what’s next with your stakeholders will become important later this year.

 

Online resources we recommend:

Examples for communicating via email – speaks mostly to businesses, but there is some good stuff here, and an example at the bottom is nonprofit-specific.

Webinar from CCS (a consulting firm) about what nonprofits can do to keep up engagement during COVID-19.

Here are a bunch of articles and other resources compiled by the Council on Fundraising.

Peer-to-Peer giving: A good article (minus perhaps the in-person event she mentions at the end of the article).

Virtual gala: Here’s a fun article about a recent virtual gala. Here’s how another organization recently moved their in-person gala to a virtual gala successfully. There’s probably going to be more and more online about this as the year moves forward.

Text to give: An article about the downsides of text-to-give campaigns. If you’re already set up to do this kind of campaign, some of what’s here won’t be anything new, but the best practices might be helpful.

In short, communicate a lot. Let your stakeholders know how the organization is doing, how you’re reacting to COVID-19 and be personal in your communications. Keep making human connections. Phone calls when you can are a great way to stay in touch with some of your most engaged donors and stakeholders. (I also really like the 30/60/90-day plan chart from CCS.)

Hats off to you, nonprofit employees, for continuing to do the work that matters.

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