As the world grapples with the growing crisis unfolding from the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to halt or slow the spread of the virus have forced governments to take unprecedented action. Government health officials estimate the US is still weeks away from reaching its peak number of cases, with leading experts predicting anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 deaths in the United States.
While we grieve for the loss of life, we must also begin to cope with the economic toll of widespread closure of most of the country. Schools, stores, gyms, restaurants, cultural institutions, parks, and other nonessential businesses are shuttered across much of the US. Federal guidelines for social distancing have been extended until the end of April. James Bullard, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, told Bloomberg News in an interview that he believes unemployment could hit 30% during the second quarter of the year. Economists believe the US is headed for a deep recession which most agree has already begun. The numbers are grim and by all accounts, we’re in for a long fight and a tough recovery.
In addition to being cognizant of the sustainability of their long-term financial objectives, leaders of nonprofit organizations must also work to create a strategy that mitigates losses from extensive business interruption and a vastly different economic landscape.
What’s a nonprofit to do in these uncertain times? Stop fundraising? That would mean certain disaster for many nonprofits. A prolonged slowing of critical cash flow could have devastating consequences and interfere with the ability of organizations to fulfill their missions.
While the impulse for some may be to pull back, it’s important to remember that fundraising works- even in difficult times and a reduction in overall giving is usually short-lived. Even during the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, when GDP fell by more than 4%, nearly 9 million people lost their jobs, and home prices crashed, overall giving decreased by 3.7% in 2008 and 8.3% in 2009- according to the CAF World Giving Index and then rebounded within a few years- surpassing pre-recession levels.
Donors understand that eventually life will return to normal and the world will get back to work. People rally in times of hardship and crisis. And while many will be worrying about personal obligations, they still appreciate your organization and its mission- and they want to help. With that in mind, the goal becomes to determine how your nonprofit navigates this difficult situation and plan your campaigns accordingly.
In telemarketing, the delivery of the message is everything. Feelings and emotions can be conveyed over the telephone that help build a rapport between the agent and donor. Agents can respond appropriately to concerns and questions, empathize, and forge a stronger relationship between your organization and the donor- a connection nearly impossible to replicate via a letter or email.
When preparing to start your next telemarketing campaign, consider the following approaches:
Acknowledge the elephant in the room. Don’t tiptoe around the economic uncertainty that the entire country is feeling. Everyone is uneasy right now and while we are unsure exactly what the future holds, we do know that we’re all in this together. Empathy, a feeling of community, and a sense of common purpose help bring people together to support their common interests.
Clearly define your organization’s goals. Be clear. Be specific. This is an opportunity to remind donors of your organization’s mission and achievements and why your organization is valuable to them. Remember, the mission of your organization does not disappear during a crisis or when the economy suffers.
Define your need in the context of the current crisis. If your organization provides a service related to the current crisis or important to the recovery, explain it in clear terms. Whether you are an NPR station that provides critical news coverage and public information during times of crisis, an animal welfare group that cares for abandoned animals during a national emergency, or a community shelter providing food for the hungry, the current economic climate greatly impacts your ability to perform those services. There are few organizations or sectors of the economy that will be left untouched by the damage from the COVID-19 outbreak, and your organization is no different.
Remind them how much they value your organization. When the time comes to ask, it’s vital to remind the donor of the value they have for your organization and its goals. Draw a clear line between their continued support and your ability to carry out your mission. Especially during difficult times, the value a donor has for you carries even greater weight. As they re-prioritize their giving strategy, you want your organization to rise to the top.
Remember that even in times of crisis, donors want to hear from you. They need to be reassured that you will still be there to serve them and their communities. They need to know everything is going to be alright. And yes, you can ask for money to help further your cause.