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10 Tips for Communicating with Donors during COVID-19

Jenny Love
Published:  04/07/2020


Past disaster relief efforts have shown that getting the word out quickly during a crisis is critical to raising the funds you need. This is not business as usual: the “new normal” changes by the hour, and some processes that you follow under normal conditions need to be streamlined or eliminated completely during this time. In addition, you need to be sure your messaging is relevant and effective.

John Simpson and Ben Texter, co-founders of Digital Health Strategies, a health care fundraising agency, offer the following practical tips for messaging during the COVID-19 crisis, so you can help your organization help your community, as soon as possible.

1. Streamline Copywriting

The first place to look for efficiencies is in creating and approving content. There is a lot of concern right now, and rightly so, that we use consistent messaging across our organization with supporters, patients, and community members, but this is definitely not the time for copywriting by committee. Limit your approval process to three or fewer stakeholders to balance consistency with the ability to get messages out quickly.

2. Limit Segmentation

Segmenting your audience and creating separate messaging for each group is typically a best practice, but as we all know this situation is hardly typical. You may choose to create targeted messages for your core segments, for example donors and non-donors, but you should minimize the number of messages you need to create and maintain. This is not the time to be segmenting your list into 20 different subsegments. 

3. Simplify Design

Whether you are thinking about your email, direct mail, or social, graphics and photos help build a connection and add emotional appeal. But right now you want to keep things simple; just like in copywriting, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

4. Communicate the Need

There are a lot of people out there who want to help, but you need to explain the unique role that hospital philanthropy plays in this crisis. Reiterate the frontline role that your organization is playing: by contributing to your relief effort, donors are ensuring that their family, friends and neighbors get the care they need in their community. 

If you’re providing support for caregivers, such as childcare, food, or respite areas, calling that out can create a good emotional connection with your donor base. And if your organization is setting up testing protocols or services, mention those items as well.

Finally, it's easy to forget that non-clinical roles in a hospital, such as environmental services and security, are also on the front lines. So while obviously a lot of the messaging needs to be focused on the clinical teams, you can weave in messaging about other roles in the hospital that are benefiting from philanthropy. 

5. Communicate the Urgency

Be clear in your messaging that you need support now, and focus on actions that people can take. That may be donating money, but it could also be donating supplies, donating blood, or just sharing a message of thanks with providers and staff.

6. Be Specific

It’s important to give donors and supporters a sense of where their money is going, so paint a picture of the specific need you are facing at your organization. If you’re going through 13,000 masks a day or expect to need a particular number of ventilators, say so.

As much as possible, tie donations to specific services and resources. Doing this reassures donors that they are supporting your greatest need and enables them to visualize their impact. So, for example, a $100 gift buys 100 surgical masks, or a $500 gift can buy 250 pairs of protective eyewear. (To ensure donations are unrestricted, you’ll want to clarify that needs could change, and money could go elsewhere. But it's all going to COVID-19.)

7. Be Balanced

Sharing physician and nursing stories from the front lines will help your audience empathize and establish a personal, emotional connection with the people working in your hospitals. It’s really important not to shy away entirely from vulnerability. It's natural in these moments, especially as the health care providers, to say everything is OK. And we do want to make sure that our donors and our patients trust us as health care providers. But it's also fine to talk about the difficult reality of the situation.

8. Say Thank You

It’s natural in a crisis to want to focus on asking for money, but we have seen success in balancing solicitation with stewardship, and that starts with saying thank you. Make sure to follow up with thank you notes as quickly as possible to new donors. We're only a few weeks into the fundraising efforts, but we're already thinking about how we can show donors who gave three weeks ago what their impact has been three weeks later.

9. Keep Asking

This crisis is likely to extend over a long period of time, so be sure to set the expectation up front with donors that while you're asking for money today, you may be asking for more money down the road too. 

10. Focus on the Future

It’s hard to imagine, but this will all be over at some point. Don’t forget to spend time on longer-term rebuilding campaigns and your other fundraising priorities down the road.

Get more tips on messaging and communications through the COVID-19 crisis by watching our on-demand webinar, COVID-19 Digital Fundraising: Insights & Results.

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Meet The Author

Jenny Love
Association of Healthcare Philanthropy

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