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Understanding the Lifecycle of the Pandemic Donor

Jenny Love
Published:  09/23/2020
neon hello signPhoto by Adam Solomon on Unsplash

More than six months into the global pandemic, hospitals and health systems need funds as much as ever. Continuing to engage your pandemic donors is critical, but their habits and motivations may differ from your donor base of the past.

In a recent webinar, Kimberly Blease, executive vice president of client relationships at fundraising firm Blakely, and Rachel Hunnybun, senior strategist at Blakely, shed some light on who pandemic donors are, how to connect with them, and what their emergence tells us about planning for 2021 and beyond.

What are some of the reasons that new donors are giving to healthcare organizations during the pandemic?

Rachel Hunnybun: There are a number of reasons people have started giving who weren’t giving in the past. One is that there’s a level of empathy that wasn’t there previously. Some new donors likely were aware of their local hospital, but they might have never thought to give before. 

Another reason is that during difficult times we have a greater appreciation for the things that really matter to us. Some of the new donors have always felt passionate about hospitals, but it took the current situation to get them to donate. 

Some people donate to gain back a sense of control. When we feel helpless, we often look for something to do to gain meaning and make sense of our loss. It’s the same reason why we give when somebody dies.

Finally, people pull together as part of a team in times of crisis, and giving is a way of being part of that team.

How can foundations figure out which of their new donors are one-time donors, and which might become repeat donors?

Kimberly Blease: Gaining additional understanding of your new audience and segmenting these donors is really key. We need to test and engage these donors now so we can effectively plan for 2021 and beyond.

Consider doing a donor engagement survey sometime between now and the end of the year. Use your donor, staff, and event teams to check in with new donors both formally and informally to thank them and ask them why they chose to make a gift. 

Rachel: It’s important to note that some donors are not likely to become repeat givers. For example, some new donors gave to be part of something social or because somebody else asked them, not because they believe in the cause. That cohort is going to be very challenging to convert. 

Kimberly: The bottom line is that people are giving for different reasons now, and not everybody will give again. You need to figure out who is who and invest wisely. 

How can foundations engage new donors to maximize the number who become repeat givers?

Rachel: Make sure your donors feel like their donation was really needed. These donors gave to a specific appeal. They want to know what you've done with their money to address a Covid-specific problem. Show how their donation has been put to work and is already achieving great things. Photographs are great for this, because they really quickly show impact.

People love it when they feel like they’ve made a great choice, because it reinforces their identity of being kind, thoughtful, and generous, and that's going to influence repeat behavior.

Does onboarding look different for pandemic donors than donors of the past?

Kimberly: We don't know right now how many of these donors are going to give again, but right now you have the opportunity to do as much learning as you can. Part of that is looking at the behavior of your onboarding engagement.

Rachel: Don't be afraid to use multiple touch points. Don't be afraid of repeat communications, especially digitally. Kick off onboarding by saying thank you again. If you already sent an initial thank you, you can always switch up who the thank-you is coming from. 

Next, create a sense of belonging. Building an identity for new donors as part of a group of like-minded people who gave at this particular time is really valuable. Including a donor's testimonial is a great gateway to a second gift. We all love reviews, and social proof is a really powerful tool.

What is the best way to pivot from current needs of the pandemic to broader support in the future?

Rachel: Back up stories of your Covid response with historical stories that show your long-term effectiveness. Show donors that it's no surprise that you're making a great impact during Covid, because that's just what you do. Demonstrating that you're a flexible, effective organization will give you a really good bridge into your cause.

Often we rush to make sure that donors know exactly everything that we do, but too much information can actually be damaging, because it is overwhelming. It's the same reason why if you've got a lot of things on a menu, you struggle to make a decision. Hopefully you're going to have a long relationship with your new donors. There's plenty of time to tell them about everything that you were doing. For now, keep it really, really focused.

Kimberly: We're seeing amazing examples because of showing digital donors parts of our organization that are “behind the scenes.” It’s much easier to get people into the hospital for a tour when it’s virtual. And getting to see behind the scenes is a great way to engage people and build a connection.

Things are continuing to change so quickly. How can foundations set themselves up well for 2021 and beyond?

Kimberly: Attribution really matters, especially in this time of digital. If you're a hospital that has seen a massive increase in digital, you need to design a journey that takes digital donors where they need to go with a digital onboarding process and digital resources. Historically, if you only received a hundred digital donors a year, you might not have been too worried about what kind of experience they were getting. But now that experience really matters.

Digital is a fantastic area of focus for the short and medium term. But when we're starting to think a little bit longer term, we need to think a little bit about those sustainer programs, those tribute giving programs. And there's really not enough being done on legacy now. Revenue diversification has never been more important. 

Watch Kimberly and Rachel’s entire presentation in the AHP on-demand webinar library.

NEWS  /09/15/20
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VNA Health Group had three weeks to find a virtual alternative for their young professionals' gala. Here's what they did.
NEWS  /04/07/20
John Simpson and Ben Texter, co-founders of Digital Health Strategies, a health care fundraising agency, offer practical tips for messaging during the COVID-19 crisis.

Meet The Author

Jenny Love
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy

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