In a previous post, AccuList joined other experts to stress the importance of nonprofit clients staying the course on fundraising despite the coronavirus crisis altering the social and economic landscape. But fundraising tactics will need to alter to navigate that landscape, of course. Recent fundraising pro articles highlight some smart ways to approach existing and potential donors during the crisis.
Adapt by Expanding Digital Communications & Events
In a recent NonProfit PRO post, for example, C.J. Orr, vice president, and Katie Nichols, senior associate director, of the Orr Group fundraising agency, put together some quick tactic shifts for fundraisers, especially those that had been counting on events to tap donors. First of all, don’t panic and cancel events, they advise, but reschedule or repurpose. If an event can be postponed, a nonprofit may be able to transfer tickets/table buyers to the future event instead of giving or issuing a refund, and can add touchpoints with donors and prospects along the way. Or, the fundraiser can switch to a digital event, perhaps with livestreaming. Indeed, this is an opportunity to go digital in multiple targeted ways, they suggest, starting with more social media ads, paid search ads and SEO efforts aimed at the target audience. For example, now is a good time for a digital forum, such as a virtual “fireside-chat” with a subject matter expert discussing COVID-19 and its impact on the mission and incorporating a fundraising ask. Or the nonprofit can tap top-of-mind concerns and promote itself as a thought leader with an article on the COVID-19 impact posted on social media as well as e-mailed to donors and prospects. Plus, remember that over 80% use smart phones, so that mobile-optimized promotion is essential. And don’t forget old-school, nondigital communications, such as direct mail and phone calls. The authors suggest building out a phone-call list of top funders, with strategic talking points, for example.
Seize the Opportunity to Increase & Improve Social Media Efforts
Michael Wasserman, CEO of the stream fundraising platform Tiltify, used another NonProfit PRO post to stress how the current crisis should push fundraisers to boost use of social media as people naturally turn to social platforms to replace the lack of in-person interaction. The potential audience is huge: almost 80% of the population uses social media, with Facebook and YouTube having over 2 billion users per platform. Even newer sites like TikTok boast 500 million, Discord gets 250 million, and Twitch attracts 15 million daily visitors. Note that the Facebook Fundraisers tool has already raised over $2 billion, Wasserman points out, while even newcomer Twitch has raised over $115 million for various charities. So charities that still use elementary fundraising pages with a simple donate button, some text and an image are missing big opportunities to compete for attention in a space that the crisis is making even more crowded. He urges nonprofits to focus more on enticing content, such as video, which can leverage YouTube, the No. 2 search engine in the world with 2 billion registered users. Nonprofits should also consider using social livestreaming events for fundraising. An effort of a few hours can generate more than a campaign of months, he notes, citing the example of a group that raised in a week the amount it costs to run St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for a day, which is about $2.7 million. As an example of how to gin up donations, he imagines livestreaming a music celebrity connecting and interacting with fans online, perhaps asking people to donate in order to choose songs or get signed merchandise giveaways.
Social Distancing Doesn’t Stop Creative Outreach to Major Donors
What about the impact of “social distancing” on the traditionally face-to-face connections that engage major donors? Suzanne Hilser-Wiles, president of philanthropic consulting firm Grenzebach, Glier and Associates, offers some tips in a recent piece in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Start by showing you care and reach out quickly to ask how the donor is faring and discuss how the nonprofit is responding to the crisis. Enlist top executives to communicate with major donors about plans for moving forward, with consideration for the appropriate communication channel; for example, e-mail can quickly provide a direct but formal assurance, while social-media platforms offer a more human touch. Ad hoc “investor calls” may be appropriate for smaller groups of donors. For major donors and prospects, consider developing a specific message with a more in-depth perspective and request for their input. Highlight the nonprofit’s expertise and how gifts support efforts relevant to the COVID-19 crisis. A museum might share national media interviews with staff members, or an academic medical center might point to resources on the university’s coronavirus webpage, for example. And don’t abandon events; get creative with virtual format substitutes, such as a conference call or webinar to let donors stuck at home see a presentation about a gift opportunity. For example, instead of a brunch with a scholarship recipient, donors can have a phone or video call with the student, she points out.
AccuList’s nonprofit fundraising clients are facing a novel crisis as the novel coronavirus pandemic shuts down business-as-usual across America and threatens recession. Humanitarian causes such as food banks, homeless shelters and senior-care services are feeling the pinch as food donations from panic-buying-hit grocery stores and dollars from corporations drop, and self-quarantines eliminate volunteers. At the same time, rising numbers of people, especially the old and the poor, are becoming food and shelter insecure. Meanwhile, nonprofits that rely on events for fundraising are especially hard-hit.
Stay the Course on Fundraising Efforts
Based on fundraising experience in previous crises, such as 9/11 and the 2008 recession, AccuList joins other experts in urging nonprofits not to cut back on fundraising efforts during this critical period. Indeed, since event fundraising is likely to be cancelled or postponed, now may be the time to shift resources into high-response workhorses like direct mail. And for some causes directly impacted by pandemic issues (food banks, homeless shelters, elder care, emergency health and medical supplies), fundraising messages may be especially resonant and effective now. Yes, philanthropy has trended at 1.5% to 2.5% of GDP annually since 1978, and it’s pretty clear GDP (and thus fundraising) is going to take a hit in 2020. But as a NonProfit Pro magazine article by Craig Depole, president of direct-response fundraising agency Newport ONE, warns, organizations that pulled back and stopped soliciting after 9/11 and the 2008 recession took years to recover from their losses, “while organizations that continued to solicit their donors with messages of need and impact emerged stronger and healthier.”
Take Steps That Will Bolster Fundraising Appeals
Depole’s NonProfitPro article goes on to outline a number of steps to make fundraising outreach more successful during a national crisis: 1) Double-down on stewardship of donors (more thank-you phone calls, impact reporting, staff engagement); 2) Keep talking with donors and share compelling stories, with humanitarian charities especially able to cite the transformational impact of donations; 3) Acknowledge the fears of donors who are watching stock portfolios decline and engage with them as partners rather than ATMs; 4) Review messaging for relevance, clarity and appropriate tone; and 5) Have alternative plans ready to go, say in case your mail shop or creative team is quarantined, or you need to substitute for promotional supplies from China.
Focus Retention & Prospecting on Weathering the Crisis
As a Network for Good blog post by Kimberly O’Donnell stresses, “In uncertain times, one thing is certain with fundraising—the more you plan, the better off you will be. Successful fundraising during a recession is two-pronged: 1) Focus hard on donor engagement and retention, and 2) Use intelligent prospecting techniques to recruit new followers and supporters…. When you work to retain your donors while broadening your reach, you hit the nirvana needed to withstand hard times.” A poll of fundraising agencies by The Nonprofit Alliance similarly offers two cogent responses to how agencies are preparing nonprofit clients for the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. One respondent advises, “As this unfolds, my advice will likely be the same as to every other major disruption, including 9/11: 1) Acknowledge the crisis and state how the organization is helping solve it; 2) Stay the course, (and) don’t cut back on acquisition and renewal efforts.” Another adds, “Election fundraising, along with a huge drop in retirement savings, will create a terrible environment for suggesting a donor should consider an upgraded level of giving this year. Focus on mission, and focus on renewing their support at any level. You need to fear 2020 donor attrition like never before and prevent it to the best of your abilities. Focus on how many active donors you will have to begin calendar 2021.”
What happens when experiential marketing—the strategy of engaging customers in branded live experiences—faces a world where events are being cancelled or postponed thanks to novel coronavirus fears? The blow to b2b experiential marketers is significant. Back in January 2020, the Demand Gen Report found that 53% of U.S. B2B marketers surveyed rated in-person events and tradeshows as their most effective channel for driving lead conversions, above digital-only efforts such as e-mail and the company websites, and, as a result, 41% of respondents planned to increase event marketing in 2020. Of course, that was before the coronavirus began to scuttle plans.
Virtual and Viral Replace In-Person Crowds
The event drought doesn’t mean that the power of experiential marketing vanishes, but marketers do have to adapt, at least in the short term. As experiential agency Fake Love’s CEO Alanna Lynch explained in a recent AdWeek article, since there’s no doubt experiential marketing will be affected, “particularly around large-scale events with a global audience,” the company is “proactively thinking about how our approach to branded experiences may need to evolve in the short term, more specifically, how physical activations could be experienced virtually and then shared virally.” In a ClickZ post, Gretchen Scheiman reminds experiential marketers of the potential power of online experiences, ranging from gaming like Fortnite, to educational platforms like Kahn Academy to McDonalds restaurants, where parents who might hesitate to send children into crowded Happy Meal Play Zones can visit happymeal.com for downloadable coloring pages, activities and interactive games. Jillian Ryan at eMarketer likewise urges pandemic-deprived marketers to “go digital and be nimble” as virtual conferences replace physical events, creating digital touchpoints whose content and engagement can still influence the intended audience. Indeed, event cancellations can provide a great opportunity for marketers to A/B test whether their physical event presence is as crucial to conversion as presumed, Ryan notes.
Direct Mail and E-mail Offer Experiential Opportunities
Plus, experiential marketers have some good old-school options that have been technogically enhanced for interactive engagement. Ryan urges consideration of direct mail as an experiential tool, for example. In addition to its visual and tactile engagement, direct mail can be highly targeted and personalized, and now, thanks to digital print technology such as QR, VR and AR, digitally interactive as well. Similarly, ClickZ’s Scheiman reminds that targeted e-mail is another great way to create a direct line of communication with people around an event or experience, physical or virtual. She cites the example of Single Malt Scotch Whiskey, which uses personalized invitations with location data for local tastings of top shelf whiskey, inviting only people within driving distance but sharing tasting notes and photos from the event with people who aren’t able to make it as well. It would not be a big leap for the brand to create a “virtual” tasting in lieu of an actual gathering, she points out.