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Taking Your COVID Communications from Need to Opportunity

Jenny Love
Published:  07/07/2020

hand writing with a pen
Photo by Scott Graham from Unsplash.

Most foundations have experienced an outpouring of support in response to the immediate needs of Covid-19. It’s likely that you gained new donors and saw higher average gifts and more in-kind gifts in the last few months. 

But although we’ve benefited from an outpouring of support in the short run, we're facing a landscape of continued high demand for care amid a recessionary economy and waning healthcare profit margins. 

As we shift from short-term crisis to long-term survival, we need to keep up the momentum for our organizations to continue to have the resources to meet the needs of our communities.

Keeping New Donors Engaged

One of the biggest challenges foundations are facing is converting the vast influx of new donors from the Covid-19 crisis into long-term supporters. Organizations across the country have reported using impact reporting, phone campaigns, personalized thank-yous from the foundation and the CEO, and even virtual behind-the-scenes hospital tours to keep up the momentum with new donors. 

Regardless of the tactic, the goal is to make new donors feel like appreciated insiders. Peggy Caldwell, lead communications strategist for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, accomplished this objective with a pre-recorded panel discussion with two of their top researchers, their executive vice president for research, a public health expert, and the chair of their health policy department. 

“The debrief call reinforced donors’ confidence in the institution,” Peggy said. “We got a lot of comments like, ‘I'm proud to be associated with this medical center. I love getting information from people I trust.’”

One thing that hasn’t changed during the crisis is the benefits of a personal touch to donor communications.

“We've had touches from our CEOs and multiple touches from gift officers just reaching out and saying, ‘How are you doing? Do you need anything? Is the family OK?’” said Peggy. “That goes a very long way to sustaining the relationships.”

Shifting from Immediate Needs to Long-Term Priorities

With the shock of the initial wave of the pandemic behind us, and the reality of living with the virus in the community long-term is setting in, the narrative for healthcare fundraising is evolving. Foundations need messaging that reflects the shift from immediate needs toward longer-term objectives, both related to the pandemic (such as monitoring technology and ICU expansion), and existing goals that got sidelined when the pandemic first arrived. 

“Think about your own institution, the priorities you have, and how you can bridge to them,” Denise Portner, senior vice president at SteegeThomson Communications, said. “For example, if you're working on a capital project, how will a new medical center serve needs that have become apparent during this time, for example, in the area of telehealth and telemedicine? An investment in technology to expand the capabilities that you have been working with so intensively during the last few months can lead to new opportunities to serve the community."

Preparing for the Future

Much as we may wish to put the pandemic behind us, responding to the changing environment is not a one-and-done exercise. 

“It's a dynamic process of listening internally to what the needs are and externally as well, and connecting those needs with opportunities,” Denise said.

One option to decrease response time for future crises is to create an unrestricted fund that can be deployed quickly. Michelle Gaffney, managing director of development for Massachusetts General Hospital, set up such a fund after the 2013 Boston marathon bombing, when they had not been prepared for the onslaught of donations. The fund was ready to go when the pandemic arrived. 

“The unrestricted fund really allowed us to be right out front with our communications, since we already had approved language with examples of how the fund is used,” said Michelle. “When Covid hit, we were up and running with our website updates and outbound communications that same week.”

Regardless of what lies ahead, let your community know that your covenant with them hasn’t changed. 

“In talking with donors, remind them that your institution is here when you need it," Denise said. "With their support, you will continue to serve that role to fulfill your mission now and into the future.”

AHP members can watch the full webinar on this topic here.
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Guidance for whether you're conducting a feasibility study, in the quiet phase, or in the middle of a public push.
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Meet The Author

Jenny Love
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy

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