Thud. (Just sit with that for a moment.)

This pandemic has hit us like a ton of bricks. It’s derailed us from our daily routines. If we’ve learned nothing else, we know that tomorrow is not a given. The very life and death nature of the virus has demanded that we rethink the “how and why” of everything we do—including fundraising and communication.

BC (Before Corona), we raced against the clock to get our newsletters out while simultaneously watching our email rack up page after page of unread messages. Now we find ourselves on multiple Zoom calls every day while trying to keep up with the latest forms of remote communication—be it Slack, Voxer, texts, DMs, Facebook, or What’s App. Others of us still pick up the phone and even send old-school missives via the US postal service.

All of these tools have one primary purpose: to communicate our message. But just being heard isn’t enough—how our messages are perceived, which in turn influences how our audience responds, has never mattered more to the future of our organizations. Communicating with compassion now can keep our donors and clients with us for the long haul instead of clicking the unsubscribe button on a hastily composed email.

Efforts to connect with donors and prospects are high stakes communications. The tone of our communication can mean the difference between hitting our fundraising goals or having to make painful budget cuts that negatively impact essential programs. We can’t afford to be interpreted as flippant, insensitive, or out of touch. Too many people are hurting in very real ways.

But that doesn’t mean we should silently sit by and wait for the proverbial phone to ring. If we have an important message to communicate to donors, chances are they want to hear it—provided we are thoughtful in our approach.

So, go ahead. Reach out. Now is the time. But before you hit the send button, lick the back of the envelope, or leave your message after the beep, I invite you to consider the four tips offered below. This is the framework that I recommend to all of My Philanthropy Team’s clients. If you successfully touch on each of these four areas, you are one step closer to ensuring that your communication is positively received and that you generate the outcome that you desire.

  1. Empathize. Before you do anything else, get a read on your audience. How are they? Ask the question and allow space for a response. And don’t make assumptions—just because you are sheltering at home with your boo doesn’t mean that the person you are addressing isn’t experiencing deep loneliness or grieving a loss.
  2. Appreciate. Let your donor know how their continued support has strengthened your organization and provided the resources you need to respond to the monumental challenges that arise every day. After all, you wouldn’t be here without them.
  3. Illustrate. What do you want your donor to know about your very good reason for communicating at this particular time? Has the demand for your services increased because of COVID-19? Tell a story that illustrates how your constituents are affected by the pandemic, the extraordinary ways your team is responding, and the impact that your programs are having within your community.
  4. Invite. What is the big take-away? What do you want your audience to do as a result of your communication? Be specific. Ask for what you need. For example, maybe you want your donors to a) stay in touch, b) join your executive director for a video call, c) share your posts on social media, or d) make a financial contribution. Clarity is key.

The Coronavirus has knocked us all for a loop—but that doesn’t mean your balance sheet has to end in red ink this year. A well-timed and appropriate communication with your donors now will help pave the way for more well-received communications in the months ahead. Your work is important and your organization matters. Your donors care deeply about your mission and want to support you. But I’ll bet you already knew that, didn’t you?

So, as you write your spring appeal, compose an email to your board chair, or leave a follow-up voice mail for your top donors, I invite you to touch on these four hallmarks of good and appropriate communication: Empathize. Appreciate. Illustrate. Invite. And if you’re still not sure about the best way forward, let us know. My Philanthropy Team is chock full of resources and expertise to help you get the results you need. Call us. Send a DM. Tag us on Facebook. We’re My Philanthropy Team. We’re here to help. May you be well.

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