By Kurt Worrell
Vice President at TrueSense Marketing

The new coronavirus has dramatically altered our landscape, and the world, in just a matter of weeks. We face daunting uncertainty in our everyday lives. Many nonprofits right now are asking, “How should I reach my donors in this rapidly changing environment?” While COVID-19 presents challenges never faced before, including potential disruptions to your direct mail campaigns, you likely have experience with managing through a crisis. And many of those core learnings are still in play today.

The most important thing you can do right now is to continue to communicate with your donors. Some nonprofits are on the front lines battling COVID-19. Some provide services that will become taxed in the coming months. All will be affected by their ability to serve their constituents and advance their missions. Regardless of your own place in the nonprofit “pandemic” landscape, perhaps the most powerful strategy you can consider right now is talking to your donors.

The telephone can be an expedient channel with which to react quickly in a rapidly changing environment. Why are nonprofits using the telephone, in conjunction with digital messaging, as an effective communication tool in response to the current challenges? Because it can:

1. Communicate with and affirm current donors.

We are working with our food bank partners to call donors to say, “Thanks for your support, we truly appreciate you.” We are also sharing what they are doing to serve communities in this difficult time. We are asking donors if they, or someone they know, need help themselves, and letting them know how and where they can find information or support. Lastly, we are asking donors to consider supporting the food bank any way they can. These calls do not solicit gifts directly — they merely point the donors to places where they can support, and then follow up with wraparound digital messaging. This affirmation, without asking for a gift, is a great way to let donors know you care about them in the midst of this crisis. Donors are sharing how much they appreciate the outreach.

2. Pivot quickly to new messaging priorities.

Our healthcare and social services partners are on the frontlines and are seeing a huge influx of need that will likely last for many months. We are modifying our calling scripts daily to accurately communicate the needs with the highest priority so donors can support these most urgent requests. By revising the messaging almost daily, we are seeing performance remain steady, and in many cases even increase, thereby ensuring donors get the most up-to-date information possible during the telephone conversation, which may even be reinforced by public information and news media.

3. Respond to canceled events.

Many organizations have canceled events that they depend on for critical funding. Think about developing phone campaigns, coordinated with digital and social media channels, to share with them the need for their support. Tactics may include asking attendees to consider donating their ticket purchase or providing other ways to participate with virtual events.

4. Acquire donor feedback.

The telephone is an effective tool when used to solicit feedback from donors in order to understand what they are thinking and feeling. Over the last few weeks, we have been listening closely. What we are hearing most from them is, “How are you reacting to combat the current pandemic?” The telephone can clearly deliver that information. More importantly, the answers to this question validate your donors’ support and demonstrate that their generosity makes a huge difference, especially in this uncertain time.

5. Give thanks.

Make the effort to share with donors how they are making a difference — it’s more important than ever — by first saying, “Thank you!” Thanking donors, and reporting on the impact they make on your organization, is critical for you to maintain the pursuit of your mission over next few quarters. Above all, stewardship will be the key to retention, as donors’ lives might be impacted to the point where they will not be able to give as generously as they have in the past.

These messages require sensitivity, tact, and experience. The skill sets of your phone representatives are critical to success during a crisis like the one we are experiencing. They are your public face, they must understand your mission and program, and they must be equally qualified with their “people skills.” Our telephone specialists at TrueSense Marketing are, and have always been, a work-from-home workforce, and are not subject to workplace closures. They are donor marketing veterans, compassionate and able to articulate mission, and have worked with us, on average, for over 8 years each.