The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on everyone. That means it has impacted both your organization and your donors. Everyone is struggling. However, while we all scrambled in the beginning, it’s time to adjust to the new normal so that nonprofits can get their fundraising strategies back on track.

The foundation of success for any organization is the ability to build and maintain strong, lasting relationships. A pandemic does not change this truth, it just alters some of the approaches taken to achieve it. How do you fill the “in-person” gap of meeting new people (prospective donors) out in the community? And how do you build and maintain a relationship without face-to-face contact?

Here are some things you can start doing today.

1. Lean on existing connections to grow your network
If you have a specific person you’d like to speak with, look at your mutual connections on LinkedIn, and ask for an introduction. Reach out to your existing network and ask if there’s anyone they could recommend as well, being as specific as possible. If you don’t have a list of specific people you want to meet, start developing one. LinkedIn’s searchable features are helpful in narrowing prospects.

Think of your network as a growing tree. It takes water, sun, fertilizer, and attention. You have to be intentional. Tell your mutual connections what you are wanting to do, and ask “do you know anybody you think I should connect with?” Request an email introduction to start the process. And then, when you meet that person, ask them the same question. Grow your network.

Keep in mind you are coming at this wanting to meet and learn about others with the intent on building a friendship and offering help to others before asking for anything in return. This process obviously does not produce overnight results. It takes time and demands some routine, even if it’s just a focused effort of a couple hours a week. 

Don’t forget to return the favor by recommending others connect. You will find it easy to do as you learn more about each person you are meeting. You will start to identify key connecting points. Use those when hosting an introduction. It can be as simple as tagging both on a social media platform and calling out a mutual interest or topic of focus.

As you develop a system for leaning on your existing connections, share that with your organization’s staff, board of directors, and volunteers and get them engaged in doing the same with their connections. Now you have expanded your reach considerably.

As relationships start to form, encourage the first ask to be signing up for the organization newsletter as this will be a good introduction to the services offered, level of need, volunteer and donor opportunities and impact made.

2. Turn to social media
As people stay at home during COVID-19, they’re increasingly turning to digital media channels to connect with one another. There are many ways to find people on social media, including checking out a trending topic on Twitter for clever insights or joining a LinkedIn or Facebook livestream and connecting with the host and guests after.

Many professionals are taking part in webinars and virtual events to share their insights and case studies as we seek to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as better connect with consumers, donors, and employees. These can also be a goldmine for networking. Mention that you appreciated their thoughts when you send your messages.

3. Recruit top executives to communicate with donors
In times of uncertainty, we tend to look to authority figures for guidance and reassurance. If able, recruit your nonprofit’s top executives to communicate with donors during coronavirus and detail your nonprofit’s plans for moving forward. By addressing potential concerns, you can strengthen your existing relationship with donors and build trust in your nonprofit for the future. 

Be mindful when selecting your communication method. Make sure that your outreach strategy matches the gravity of the situation and that your messaging is consistent across all platforms.

4. Showcase your nonprofit’s impact
Sending emails, letters, and posting on social media detailing your crisis management plan is important when communicating with donors and the community, but so is offering hope and inspiration. Remind donors of all the good you’ve accomplished together, whether it’s feeding 500 hungry families or helping 50 homeless individuals get back on their feet.

Reach out to the people who’ve benefited from your programs and see whether they’d be willing to share their experiences. Personal stories from people you’ve helped can make a long-lasting impact on your donors. Stories, photos, and videos allow donors to see the direct impact of their contributions and can ultimately strengthen your relationship beyond the crisis.

5. Host a virtual event
Consider hosting a virtual fundraiser or event. These events make it possible for donors to feel more connected to your nonprofit and mission, despite current crises. If you’re unsure, you can always start small and scale later. Virtual events are easy to repeat, allowing you to make changes until you find the perfect formula for your nonprofit.  These events provide an opportunity for supporters to virtually gather together and stay connected while social distancing.

Here are some ideas: 

  • Organize a virtual charity walk/run
  • Run a donation matching drive
  • Coordinate an online auction
  • Start a book club
  • Host an activity like wine tasting or cupcake decorating

6. Make an in-kind giving wish list
Rather than ask for monetary donations from your supporters, make a wish list (like a registry) on sites like Amazon. This way, supporters know exactly what their money is going toward and the impact they’ll have on your organization. Like a registry, you should be sure to offer item options at all different price ranges so that your supporters can give within their comfort levels.

7. Show additional appreciation for donors’ support
During a time when you know that it’s hard for supporters to contribute to your cause, it’s even more important to show immense appreciation for any contributions they offer. While it’s always important to be appreciative, hard times make it that much more valuable.

By showing additional gratitude for your supporters, you’ll make them feel more appreciated and increase your retention rates. Keep in mind that this is an important strategy for all contributions, not just fundraising. When supporters contribute their valuable time volunteering at your organization, participating in an advocacy campaign, purchasing something off of your wish list or other engagement activities, be sure they know how important those actions are to your nonprofit.

Here are some good appreciation strategies:

  • Send handwritten thank-you notes
  • Schedule video meetings with supporters
  • Set up an appreciation letter campaign
  • Call your supporters on the phone
  • Send emails with impact information
  • Provide small trinkets as a thank you

During a pandemic, it’s important to note not only those who are giving to your nonprofit now, but also those who have given in the past.

Start today making efforts to grow your network and building relationships. Small consistent out-put can produce measurable results. Networking ensures you are building new relationships and ultimately increasing the number of future donors.

Additionally, by focusing some effort on strengthening relationships, especially with existing donors, you increase your odds for retention, referrals, and additional donations.

Donor relationships are often tested during a crisis, which is why it’s important to evaluate your crisis communication strategy. Donors are trying to determine where their dollar will help. You want to be visibly telling your story (on multiple channels) of the impact being made and the level of current need.