All of the nonprofit blogs I follow have been focused on the same topic for the last week: COVID-19, or coronavirus. Many organizations are closing, or at least limiting their hours of operation, and many have cancelled fundraising events. Administrative staff members are working remotely and are available by cell phone and email. Front line staffers, however, are doing their best to deliver crucial services like healthcare and emergency services.
In light of this global pandemic, nonprofits need to take steps to mitigate risk and ensure ongoing operations. But how?
1. Review Your Emergency Plan
If you don’t have one, put it together today!
Does your plan include what to do in the event of a pandemic? Many do not. Go ahead and add a section. It doesn’t need to be a tome – one page of general precautions and instructions will do. Consult guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and your state and local health departments.
Make sure to include both client-focused and staff-focused sections. Are there contingencies like video chat visits for clients if you can’t see people on site? Can you have administrative staff work at home? How do you inform both clients and staff of any potential disease exposure?
If you provide a crucial service like healthcare, closing down is not an option. Make sure your plan is very clear about precautions and preventive measures. Include training and refresher courses for your staff.
2. Exude Reassurance
Start with your staff, volunteers and Board members. Some people are going to be naturally calmer about a crisis, and others are going to be freaking out. Your messaging helps everyone to remain calm(er) and continue to do their jobs. Ask leaders in your organization to emphasize your message. Your Board Chair can send weekly emails to the board to keep them up to date on your organization’s response to the crisis. Managers throughout the organization can customize your message for their staff. The messaging may need to be tweaked if it was written for front line staff and is now going to administrative or behind-the-scenes workers.
Reassuring everyone that there is a plan in place will go a long way toward keeping people focused and calm. When we see our leaders quietly and gracefully taking on daunting challenges, we tend to relax and follow suit. If you notice that some staffers are spreading panic, you can check in with them individually to offer support and contain the damage.
Use all channels to get information to your clients: direct mail, email, texting, social media, and any contact they have with your staff. Give your staff the tools and support they need so they can, in turn, reassure your clients.
3. Check in With Your Donors
All you need to do is pick up the phone, or send a quick email. Let your donors know that you are thinking of them. Don’t ask for money, but give some impact reports. Is your organization on the front line fighting coronavirus? Your donor would love to hear a story of how you are helping the community get through this crisis. Are you playing a supporting role? Tell a memorable story about it. Are you helping people who are financially impacted by social distancing? Tell stories to show how critical your mission is!
I feel for nonprofits that rely on large events for their fundraising income, I really do. But, people, let’s reevaluate this approach. Keep in mind that events are the single most expensive way to raise money. If you already have a big event planned and had to cancel it, please get in touch with your attendees and donors ASAP! There are creative ways to respond when you have to cancel an event – ways that will allow you to raise at least some of the funds without actually having the event. Gail Perry’s advice on this is spot on, as usual.
Now is the time to level up your fundraising strategy, and I am here to help you, friends. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out the contact form to set up a time.