How to Talk to Donors in Challenging Times

When the going gets tough, your donors are your bedrock. They’re what keeps your organization afloat.

The problem is knowing how to communicate with donors successfully at a time when donors are less inclined to give.

The good news is you can solicit donations from donors during challenging times. Better still, there are ways to thrive even in difficult periods. You just have to communicate the right way. Here are a few ideas to help you talk to donors during challenging times.

Streamline Your Message

First and foremost, you need to streamline your messaging.

There’s a lot of concern right now. Donors are worried about the future and so are you. If you want donors to be receptive to your messaging, you have to meet them where they are. Your message should show that you recognize and share their concerns.

Before you do anything else, take a long, hard look at your messaging. Think carefully about how your message comes across. Think about what you’re trying to communicate. Then, make sure every communication you send out, from emails to phone calls, reflects that central messaging.

This is also the time to streamline your message approval. Don’t copywrite by committee. Instead, limit approval to three or four people. This will help ensure the message is consistent.

Keep Donors Close (But Don’t Overwhelm Them)

When the going gets tough, you lean on your closest relationships. That’s true of family and it’s true of donor relationships, especially your longstanding donors.

These donors are likely to be the most loyal, given their history with your organization. They also have a longer donor history to draw on. The good news about both of these facts is that you can draw on their history to remind them why they should stick with the cause now.

Take a look at their history so that you can remind them of their past participation, using it to segway into why they should continue participating now. The key is to give just enough urgency without putting too much pressure on them.

The same strategy applies to reconnecting with old donors who haven’t given in a while. Take a look at their donor history to craft a personal message and make your cause relevant to them in trying times.

Strengthen Your Case

Money doesn’t just materialize. You have to earn it. And in difficult times, the case for earning it becomes a taller order, which means you have to strengthen your case for donor support.

That said, treat these requests as invitations for support, in much the same way that families have each other’s backs when the going gets tough. You don’t want to sound like you’re apologizing when you ask for money, and you don’t want to sound desperate. When you sound like you’re pleading, donors doubt your stability and your confidence.

Instead, now is the time to emphasize ongoing needs and client partnerships, focusing on your ability to meet those goals. Be honest but enthusiastic about where you stand and show them how their support can help you continue to do great work.

Demonstrate Financial Responsibility

In individual terms, financial responsibility means being prepared for the unexpected and managing your money responsibly to live within your means. At an organizational level, that means being transparent about your finances and practices.

Before you respond, “Wait, we already tell our donors about our financial practices!” take a moment and think about it. During challenging times, when everything seems to be in flux, donors need extra reassurance that your organization can weather the ebbs and flows.

With that in mind, bolster their faith in you by showing them you have nothing to hide–and that you’re managing your resources effectively in light of challenging times.

Plus, this is an excellent opportunity to take a look at your finances as a fundraising department. Think about how you’ve allocated resources in the past, the types of returns you’ve seen, and how you can allocate more effectively.

Cut Costs with a Scalpel

On a related note, part of financial responsibility in challenging times is cutting costs. While you may be tempted to play conservatively and cut costs with an ax, you should instead aim to cut costs with a scalpel: strategically and with great precision.

Remember, communicating with your donors in challenging times is all about balance. On one hand, you want to show that you’re aware of the challenging times and taking responsible steps to ensure your organization can continue to do good work. On the other hand, cutting costs left and right tells donors that you’re worried you won’t be able to survive unless you strip down to the brass tacks, regardless of whether or not that’s actually the case.

So, communicate that balance to your donors. Talk about the responsible steps you’re taking while also discussing why you’ve preserved costs in certain areas, making sure to emphasize how it supports the good work you’re doing.

Don’t Skimp on Marketing and PR

On a related note, while you may be tempted to hack away at marketing and PR during a challenging time, resist the urge. In fact, marketing and PR are more important than ever when the going gets rough.

Remember, marketing and PR are how you communicate with your donors and keep the buzz for your organization alive.

Instead of cutting marketing and PR, be strategic about using it. Get a marketing consultation to better understand how you can use your resources more effectively. This is also a great opportunity to revisit your streamlining.

Say Thank You

Last but not least, don’t forget to say thank you!

“Please” and “thank you” are two of the first lessons we learn as children, but in challenging times, it’s easy to focus on “please”. However, every donor relationship is a relationship, and no relationship succeeds unless it works both ways.

To that end, recognize donor generosity in challenging times. Tell donors you are aware that these are incredibly difficult times and express sincere gratitude for their generous support of your work in uncertain times. It’s a small gesture, but donors will remember it.

Need ideas? Here are 15 ways to thank your donors for their support.

Helping Your Organization Stay Strong in Difficult Times

Your relationships are what keep you going when the going gets tough, and donor relationships are no different. The key is to remember that donor relationships aren’t financial transactions–at their heart, they’re relationships, and you have to treat them that way.

At BrightDot, we understand that the heart of every successful fundraising campaign is relationships, which is why our strategies focus on cultivating the relationships you have into successful, long-term partnerships. If you’re ready to take a human approach to supporting your organization, get in touch today to learn how we can support your fundraising efforts.

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