Alright, Super Heroes – There are coronavirus and economic clouds on the horizon. You need to rise above the storm.  You may be wondering what to say and how to communicate with your donors and other stake holders during this storm.  Here is a list of communication tips we recommend at this time.

  1. Communicate Now, Communicate Regularly: It’s always a good idea to regularly communicate with your constituents. It’s best practices to communicate with your donors at times when you are not asking for money. This is a critical time to communicate. If you donors don’t hear from you, they are going to wonder what is going on with you. In addition, you can be nearly 100% certain that your donors will hear from other nonprofit organizations that they support. You don’t want to be the one and only organization that isn’t reaching out to them, that isn’t communicating with them that they are important to you and that you are thinking about them.
  2. Transparency: Be honest and transparent with your stakeholders. Don’t hide uncomfortable truths. Don’t exaggerate and “cry wolf,” but do tell them what you are and are not doing during this time and what challenges you face. If you do these things, you will build trust and maintain trust.
  3. Don’t Cry Wolf: Keep your communications calm and fact-based. Don’t hype or manipulate. Don’t promulgate your worst-case scenarios. There is a lot of fear out there right now already without us adding to it.
  4. Educate, but don’t overwhelm: You don’t want to communicate details that people don’t want to know, but you may wish to explain some or all of your financial model to your donors or key stakeholders who do not already understand it. Individuals have mortgages or rent payments. They understand ongoing expenses and sunk costs. They may or may not be clear about how much of your revenue comes from different sources. You may need to provide some education about these things to critical funders and supporters. Your board members should understand these things, but may not. It’s a great time to re-educate them.
  5. Personalize: Your communication plan for your major donors should already be tailored-specifically to them. Review your plans for communicating with your major donors and adjust. You may find that different major donors need to hear different messages from you.
  6. Reassure and Reaffirm: Reassure your donors about your commitment to service. Let them know that you are doing all that you possibly can to navigate the crisis successfully. This is a good time to demonstrate to your supporters that you are well-managed.
  7. Ask: If you need to ask for donations, ask for donations. Ask for what you need. Yes, it will be bad timing for some of your supporters. Be understanding, compassionate, and kind to those who are unable to support you. Consider whether or not there are ways you can be supportive to your constituents with the challenges they face. But you can’t stop asking—unconsciously or consciously your constituents will think you do not need support at this time.
  8. Extend: If you have a pledge-based campaign going, like a capital campaign, your supporters may need additional time to fulfill their commitments. Let them know that you appreciate their support and that you understand that they will complete their pledges when they are able.
  9. Negotiate: If sponsors or foundations have given you support for a program or event that you can’t deliver right now, notify them. Let them know what your plans are (for examples, to reschedule your event or extend your service delivery over a longer period of time). Ask them if you can continue to keep their support, knowing that the event is delayed or that the service delivery timetable has been changed.
  10. Reschedule or Convert: If possible, don’t cancel your events. Your first thought may be to reschedule them, but none of us are sure when we will be able to safely resume regular activities. I encourage you to consider converting your events to virtual events. If you do, you should offer to refund tickets because what people bought tickets for will now be a different event. But ask people to continue to support the organization and the “event” in its new format. Ask them to change their event purchase to a donation if they are no longer able (or no longer want) to attend or participate. Let them know that you still need their support, even if you can’t hold the golf tournament or gala you were planning to hold.
  11. Don’t forget staff: Your staff members are a key stakeholder. Make sure, even if the team is distributed now in ways that it isn’t normally, that you communicate regularly, calmly, transparently, and in a reassuring way with them. Make sure they know which messages you are distributing externally and how they should handle questions from people outside the organization.
  12. More, Not Less: Communicate more frequently than you ordinarily would.  When people don’t hear from you, they fill in the blanks in their minds. You don’t want that to happen right now.
  13. Contact information: Make sure that your outgoing phone messages, emails, emails, and social media platforms all still help people find you.

You, nonprofit staff members, are Super Heroes. You do phenomenal work.  Keep communicating and, in time, this storm will pass.

Image Source: Nivens Used with permission.

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