5 Key Strategies to Engage Donors Right Now

In the midst of all of these challenges and discouraging expectations, great things still appear to be happening in many faith-based ministries. (Photo by Bayu on Unsplash)

A few weeks ago, I spoke to numerous nonprofit leaders as we started this process of what is commonly called "sheltering in place" or "lockdown." There was almost a sense of enthusiasm regarding the opportunity and challenge to lead our organizations during these trying times.

Today much of that enthusiasm has subsided.

Leaders are tiring of the green light on our computers reminding us every day of the distancing we are having from our key donors, stakeholders and constituents.

Meanwhile, data updates almost weekly tell of the season we are facing economically:

—People are worried about their jobs.

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—Spending is down this quarter.

—People are concerned about a slow recovery.

—People are going to be cautious about spending and giving.

—Charitable giving is already starting to decline.

In the midst of all of these challenges and discouraging expectations, great things appear to still be happening in many of our faith-based ministries:

—Organizations are working more efficiently.

—Donors are more accessible than they have ever been.

—We have more time and opportunity to invest in building authentic relationships with our constituents.

In this season, what are some key strategies we can execute to engage and minister to our donors and, at the same time, present an opportunity to give as they are able? Here are five key strategies:

1. Keep your focus on mission and vision. The first thing we want our donors to know is that we are still moving forward with our organizational mission and vision.

While the function and delivery of our work has definitely changed during this season, we need to demonstrate ways in which our work is actually taking place.

In some cases, you may be seeing a particular uptick or increase in ministry impact. One organization mentioned they were having more direct conversations with their core missional targets than ever before. They are actually seeing an increase in their outcomes.

These are the stories we want to tell. We need to beat the drum loudly to let our donors and constituents know, our work goes on!

2. Acknowledge and appreciate your donors for their past faithfulness. Take this time to reach out and acknowledge your donors and let them know how much you appreciate the way they have stood with you in the past. Minister to them during this season. Thank them!

Check in with your donors to see how they are doing. Are they in a panic regarding their industry, their family and so forth? Let them know you are praying for them. Reach out to them on a personal level. Talk to them like people, not funding targets. This is a time when everyone is being impacted in different ways. Give them a chance to see your authenticity and genuine interest in them as people.

The foundation of a relationship with a donor, like the foundation of a relationship with any friend, is what we call "acknowledgment." In my interactions with someone, I acknowledge their value as a human being by giving attention to their life.

3. Look for those key opportunities to ask appropriately. This is a tricky time to ask for money. While the economy is highly unstable, you have to move forward cautiously with your donors. Understanding where they are in this crisis is key.

The most important thing is to create opportunities for your donors to engage during this time of isolation. Here's an example:

Premier Donor Strategies has developed a unique platform during this season called the "Virtual Donor Experience" that is much more robust and customized than throwing together a Zoom or Facebook presentation. It's a live, professionally produced online experience that can include strategic messaging, real-time interviews, videos, branded content and Q&A with your donors. It's a creative way to effectively tell your story and to ensure your donors that great ministry is still happening despite the current environment.

This engagement also creates an opportunity for an appropriate ask of your donors. While it's true this crisis is hitting everyone in some way, it's very interesting to see how many donors want to make sure their causes aren't neglected.

4. Be careful not to kick off big, new and long-term initiatives right now. Stay in the present with your donors. This is not a time to be casting a long-term vision and plan. Most people are thinking through the next few weeks. Keep your donors on that track with you as well.

5. Let them know while it's not "business as usual," you are pressing forward. There is certainly some fear in our world right now. Helping your donors understand how you are proceeding in this season is important. However, don't be too aloof as though this crisis is not affecting your organization. It's not business as usual. But that's where an opportunistic mindset comes in. Help your donors understand how you are adapting within your mission to continue your good work.

Timothy Smith has over 30 years of experience in nonprofit administration, management and fund development. He has served a variety of roles, currently as managing partner for Non-Profit DNA. He also works with Premier Donor Strategies, which engages donors and organizations through major events.

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