Five Steps to Keep Donors Engaged in the Midst of Turmoil

By J. Erik Rogers, Chief Strategist, Major Gift Services at Dunham+Company

Our country, and world for that matter, is entangled in the chaos of a global pandemic, economic crisis, and political and social unrest. For a nonprofit who relies on the concentrated attention and benevolence of its supporters to make change happen, staying present and “in the moment” with donors is vital to future organizational success. Here are some proven steps to take, which have benefited many organizations over the past few months, leading them to stable financial ground.

1. Keep your donors informed of how the organization is pivoting.

Whether we are talking about a major donor who has been invested in the organization for years, or a group of general supporters interested in organizational impact, every donor wants to know how the organization is dealing with disruption and turmoil. Donors expect healthy organizations to alter course – while staying on mission – when outside influences demand change. Economic challenges require an organization to address the budget. Pandemics require creative solutions to still achieve results. Political and social upheaval oftentimes demand action.

Donors are watching how the leadership is handling change. If donors are not aware of key leadership decisions to pivot for the betterment of the organization, they may conclude that the organization is without a rudder and not worthy of future funding. Keeping donors informed is the first step of staying relevant.

2. Allow donors to celebrate with you in the big and small victories.

The past 6-9 months have affected everyone around the world in one way or another. People have lost their jobs, their peace of mind, and even their lives. Though surrounded by turbulence, organizations who pivot to achieve mission need to celebrate areas of organizational impact. Though these highlights may not be typical points of emphasis for the organization in steady times, donors often are looking for the silver lining. Help them see the light amidst the chaos and darkness surrounding them. That one glimmer of hope achieved by the organization may be all the donor needs to solidify in their mind the organization’s effectiveness – confirming their desire to partner into the future.

3. Life-impact stories can drive the point home.

Nearly everyone around the world is aware of issues facing us both globally and near to home. Though we all
have been impacted in different ways, most of us have a level of empathy for our fellow human beings.

This shared experience and common bond can drive a person’s testimony home in a unique and personal way. Though this person’s story may come from a different country, race, gender, or generation, the need they face is real, and the impact the organization is making is visible and palpable, especially under the current 2020 global crisis. By sharing this story, donors will be able to align and affirm that their decision to invest in the organization was a sound choice.

4. Stay “on-mission” with your communications.

Though it’s vital to share with donors the impact being made on a daily basis, it is just as important to tie that impact back to your brand promise.

Too often we become organization-centric in our communications. This is particularly true when chaos surrounds us as we “dig in” to weather the storm. Organizations lose sight of “why we exist” and tend to focus their communications around “what we are doing”—compromising their identity in the scramble to sound relevant. Both are critical, and one must not be compromised at the cost of the other. Your messaging must clearly tie the two together.

Every nonprofit was established for a reason. Be sure that you are always communicating a) how you are achieving your stated mission (reason for existence), and b) how today’s impact is moving you closer to fulfilling your vision for a better tomorrow.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask donors to stand with the organization.

When troubled times come, too often there seems to be two trains of thought in the nonprofit world, and these beliefs are heading in two very different directions:

  • “The world around us is facing hardship, and if we ask our donors to give right now, we are placing an undue burden on them.”
  • “The world around us is facing hardship, and our donors need to clearly know how they can make a difference today through their support.”

If this global pandemic and national crisis has taught us anything, it’s that there are people who will stand in the gap for a complete stranger, if they know they can make a difference in at least one person’s life.

Nonprofit organizations fulfilling their mission are merely the conduit for donors to fulfill their own personal calling. As an organization, never get in the way of your donors attaining personal fulfillment through their financial partnership. Because when we stay committed to the mission together, we can change the world.