Photo by Diana Akhmetianova on Unsplash
June 1, 2020

Lunch and learn session: great donor communications — now and forever!

To watch or listen to this webinar, please complete the form at the bottom of this page.

Nonprofit experts, Sarah Durham, CEO of Big Duck and Advomatic, and Farra Trompeter, Chief Growth Officer of Big Duck, discussed the importance of donor communications both in the short term and long term during our current climate.


Mel: Hello. Hello everyone. Thank you for joining us. I’m just going to give it about a minute here as people start trickling in. So thank you for your patience. We’ll start in about one minute.

Mel: Hi everyone. Thanks for joining us. We’re just going to give it about another 30 seconds while people start trickling in. So thank you for your patience and yes, we will start in about 30 seconds. I feel like we should play that.

Sarah Durham: We should play that music from, is it Jeopardy? The “do-doo-do-doo,” sing along! Sing along with us.

Mel: All right, well I think, yeah, we’ll get started. So yeah, good afternoon everyone. We are just super excited to have you all participating in Keela’s final day of our three-day virtual conference plugged in. If you attended our previous session so far, welcome back and if you’re just tuning in now, welcome and thank you for joining us. Before we begin this session, I just wanted to go over a couple housekeeping details. So, first this lunch and learn session will be about 45 minutes in length.

Mel: We encourage you to ask questions throughout the presentation in the Q and A box or the chat box. And we really just want to make this as interactive as possible and hope that we can get a good conversation going. So, we’ll get to all the questions at the end as well. Also, just a reminder that all of the sessions will be recorded and you will be receiving the recording along with the slide deck by the end of this week.

Mel: All right. And with that, I’d like to introduce and extend a huge warm welcome to two wonderful speakers who were suppose to present together at NTENS NTC conference that was unfortunately canceled recently. But instead they’ve generously offered to lead the session online with you all today.

Mel: So with that, I’d like to welcome Farra Trompeter who was on the board of NTEN and also the Chief Growth Officer at Big Duck. And then we also have Sarah Durham, who is the CEO at Big Duck and Advomatic joining us today. Their Lunch and Learn session is titled “Great Donor Communications: Now and Forever!” And with that, I will pass it off to you too.

Farra Trompeter: Thank you so much and I am just going to pull up our slides here and hopefully everyone can see that.

Sarah Durham: Okay. So, welcome everybody. I’m Sarah Durham and you met my fabulous colleague, Farra. Farra is going to steer the slides, and just to give you a little bit of context for this today at the NTC, I was going to do a session called Creating Kick-ass Major Donor Communications. But in the past couple of weeks we have heard from more and more people that they’re really eager to talk, not just about major donor communications broadly, but specifically donor communications right now.

And so what we’ve done is we’ve adapted some of the things we were going to talk about at the NTC, with that in mind. So, for those of you who don’t know Big Duck, we’re a communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits and we help nonprofits develop strong brands, strong campaigns and strong communications teams. And we have a lot, a lot of resources around everything we’re going to talk about today, which we’ll tell you more about later and share with you.

Sarah Durham: I am Sarah Durham. I’m the CEO of Big Duck. I also have another company called Advomatic that builds sturdy websites supporting change for nonprofits. And this is my fearless colleague Farrah.

Farra Trompeter: Hi everybody! Farra Trompeter. I’m Chief Growth Officer at Big Duck, as Sarah mentioned. I have also, I’m on the board of NTEN and I really appreciate all of you joining us today. I just wanted to do a special shout out to Keela to thank them for hosting this session. I know it’s been heartbreaking for so many of us to not be able to be able to go and be in person together this week in Baltimore. And it’s great to be with some of you here virtually.

Farra Trompeter: If you want to connect with Sarah or I on Twitter, Sarah’s available @BigDuckSarah. I’m @Farra and we are often both behind the Big Duck handle. So feel free to tweet with us or tweet at us, at all, during or after the session. What we plan to do is just, we’d love to get to know you, in a minute. We’re going to ask you all to chat in a little bit about you. I’m going to share some overarching ideas about donor communications and then we’re going to really spend most of the time hearing from you and your questions and seeing what we can provide you. And as you chat in questions, we’ll share some resources.

Farra Trompeter: So, we would love to just know who’s here. So, just want to ask everyone to chat in. And Mel, I’m not sure I can see the chat while I’m screen shotting, so, or screen sharing. So, I might ask you to share with us a little bit. You know, who are you, your name, if you feel comfortable sharing your gender pronouns.

Farra Trompeter: I should mention both Sarah and I both go by she, her, the organization and maybe just the physical location you happen to be calling from. I’m here in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Sarah is joining us from Massachusetts. So, Mel, maybe you can share with us.

Mel: Yeah, I’m just waiting for people to respond and they are. So, we have Aiden from Vancouver Island, goes by, she, her and, from the Children’s Health Foundation. Kathleen is from Oregon. We have Steve–him, he or him–from Toronto. We have Alison–she, her, we have Lisa–she, her–in Portland, Steve from Ontario, Toronto. He, him. We have Chris—he, him—from Ontario at the Reception House in Kitchener. Katie from Do More Good. Hi, Katie. We have Jane from Ohio. There are lots of people, I won’t name all of them.

Farra Trompeter: But it’s helpful to hear! It seems like Canada’s really representing, thanks to the Kayla footprint.

Mel: There’s New York, Baltimore, Arizona. We have it all, New York again. Halifax.

Farra Trompeter: Yeah, New York!

Mel: In Minneapolis, Arlington. All over!

Farra Trompeter: Great, thank you. Awesome. Well, thank you. Alright, well, we’re going to get started. And as we go again, Sarah and I are just going to present a few minutes of content just to sort of offer some resources and then feel free to chat in your questions as we go and Mel will certainly raise them up. So, really what we wanted to, you know, as Sarah mentioned, we are a communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits. Often the number one goal of organizations and communicating with nonprofits is around raising money. Sometimes it’s also around advocacy, or program participation. But as such, Big Duck really is an expert and really does a lot of work thinking about the intersection of fundraising and communications. So, we were really excited when Mel asked us to present today.

Farra Trompeter: So, just some frameworks to think about, when we’re thinking about donor communications. I mean, these are some things we wanted to put on here and this is a general sketch of what you need to do to really use your communications to engage donors. As Sarah mentioned, we know also organizations right now are asking how they should pivot and we can certainly talk about that if you have questions.

Farra Trompeter: But in essence, you know, good donor communications is first involved. The reason why we do it is to hold onto the donors we have. Retention is often a big problem for organizations, and what we have found through our research, and research that’s out there in the industry, is that when you communicate well, you have a much better chance of holding onto donors, and donors who stop giving, after they’ve given once, or more than once, is often because they never got acknowledged; they have no idea what kind of impact their gift made; they forgot who the organization was because they hadn’t heard from them; your organization did not honor a request: for example, they asked to change their name, or their address, or they asked them to stop sending X and only send Y, and that wasn’t done, right?

Farra Trompeter: So, let’s assume we’ve covered the basics. Here are some of the things we need to do to communicate well with donors: good messaging, communicating on a regular basis, so donors hear from you, not just asking them to give, but also asking them, you know, to take an action, to come to an event, to give feedback on something, to do something more than just make them feel like an an ATM. And also, you know, letting them give in other ways, or sometimes even letting them raise money for you. I know a lot of organizations right now are pivoting to peer-to-peer campaigns.

Farra Trompeter: Those are the kinds of things that sometimes donors really appreciate and enjoy. So, at the end of, it’s kind of the second to last bullet, we need to both connect to how donors are feeling emotionally, as well as their brains. And we’ll talk a bit more about that in a moment.

Farra Trompeter: In your communications to donors, this is just a checklist we like to think about, and I’ll leave this up for a second. And again, well, the materials here will be shared afterwards, but it’s important to make sure when you’re looking at how you communicate with your donors. These could be your appeals, your email updates, the mailings you send, the status update you’re posting on Facebook. These are some of the things that your donors really want to understand. It may be silly to start this list of who you are.

Farra Trompeter: I should reiterate, we are a branding firm. We think a lot about how you communicate your identity, and if your donors aren’t clear about who you are and what you do, that’s a challenge. What we have found with many of the nonprofits we’ve worked with is that many donors might associate a certain program and understand a small part of what you do, but not understand everything that you do. And that’s really important. Your donors need to know when they’re going to hear from you. You need to show up where they are and not just only communicate in channels you think are important. They need to know why it matters, why they give to you. And it needs to be easy for them to connect with you. They need to see trust seals on your donation page or know that actually giving to you is going through secure processing.

Farra Trompeter: All of these are important and we need to make sure that there’s actually going to be an outcome when they give to you. And that means reporting back, letting donors know what happened when they gave to a certain campaign, not just asking. And of course, the art of appreciation can never be discounted, especially in this moment. So, saying thank you, acknowledging gifts, again, letting donors know they count and they matter. One of the ways we think about fundraising communications, what we find to be a really helpful principle, especially in major donor communications, but really throughout all communications is this framework of inspiring, informing and reassuring. We actually go into more detail about this framework, and an ebook we wrote on capital campaign communications, and Sarah will talk about that in a moment, but in essence, again, that hearts and minds, we need to first get someone to feel excited, passionate about our issues.

Farra Trompeter: We need to get donors to feel like this is something they should invest in, and it should be clear throughout all elements of any kind of campaign, what, who you are and what matters. You need to make sure donors understand where that gift is going, why a campaign is needed, that a campaign–when you do them–connects to your brand. And finally, you need to let them know the results: they need to know what’s going to happen with their gift, where’s the money going to go?

Sarah Durham: Before we move off this slide, I just want to add one thing to this. You know, when we talk about inspiring, informing and reassuring donors, this is often the strategy that we try to employ when we do capital campaign communications. We work on a lot of capital campaigns with fundraising partners, where an organization is trying to raise tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars, and these are the three core components those campaigns need to have.

Sarah Durham: But in the past couple of weeks with the COVID crisis, we’ve been fielding a lot of questions from our clients and from other organizations about what they should do with their fundraising communications, and whether they should continue on with the campaign the way they had planned. And I would say that actually right now, the last two of these things, informing and reassuring, are more important than ever. One of the big questions we’ve been getting a lot is how candid should I be with my donors, particularly my major donors or foundations, that support us about the financial impact that COVID is having on our organization. And our recommendation to you is, you should be pretty candid. You should be picking up the phone and calling those major donors, calling those core supporters right now.

Sarah Durham: First, to ask them how they’re doing, and to make sure that they’re okay and just check in with them, in a kind of a human way, first. But then secondly, to tell them how you’re doing and tell them what’s happening, not only with your staff and the community you serve, but what’s the financial impact on your organization so that they can use that situation to help them guide their giving decisions with you. So informing and reassuring I think is also really important. If you aren’t, if you are a donor’s top philanthropic priority, or a high philanthropic priority, they will want to hear that you are still there, that you are working in any ways that you are working. And they’ll want to know that the investments they’ve made in you in the past are hopefully being put to good use still, in perhaps an adapted way.

Sarah Durham: Okay, so you know, what Farra just talked about I think is usefully expressed in a visual, in visual terms. I like to make these little drawings and diagrams and I think one way to think about your donor communications now in this moment, but also forever, is to distinguish between what you as an organization are trying to communicate, or what you want, and what the individual that you’re communicating with wants from you. And the sweet spot is the overlap between those two things. So, you may want somebody to fund a particular program, and you may want to talk a lot about that program and why you need their help. But part of great donor communications is really understanding who you’re talking to and what they’re interested in and making sure that you’re speaking to their unique interests and focus as much as you can in organizations with great CRM systems and more capacity.

Sarah Durham: Sometimes that’s done by segmenting, and research, and really understanding specifically what aspects of your work those donors support. But generally, if you don’t have the capacity to do that, we always recommend that organizations try to generally write in audience-centric language, or design in an audience-centric way, help that donor see themselves and what they get from you, just as much as you show yourself and what you want them to know about you. The next slide comes from, is extracted from, my new book, which is called the Nonprofit Communications Engine. And in writing that book, one of the things that I researched a lot was what makes communications as a function in an organization successful. And what I uncovered was that there are basically six elements that make communications move. And this is especially true for donor communications.

Sarah Durham: The first is having a clear strategy. Who are the donors you’re trying to reach, and what action do you want them to take? Are you very clear about that going in, so that everything you write, or design or produce, whether it’s a case statement for a major donor, or whether it’s an email for your year-end appeal, it needs to be speaking to that right audience and directing them towards a clear action. Then do you have a team in place that can maintain the communications? You know, Farra talked earlier about some of the tried and true practices of fundraising around cultivation and stewardship. Do you have the people in place who, when a donor raises their hand, can follow up on that? Because it’s not just about what we send them or what we write or design, it’s how we treat them when they ask a question, or they fill out a form on the website.

Sarah Durham: The tools that you use, the processes you use, the culture of your organization, all those things become kind of the machinery that helped power all your fundraising and certainly in communications and in development. Making sure that those things support a donor friendly culture is really important. Making sure that, you know, the donor doesn’t appear doesn’t run into obstacles. For instance, you know, your team, having a silo between communications, or the people send out the email, and the people who actually steward the gift. So, looking at all these things and thinking about what do we do that supports clear and helpful, reassuring, and inspiring donor communications. And one of the things we do that might be getting in the way and making it harder for our donors to love us. That’s what this is all about. Reflection is how you do that by stopping and taking a moment to reflect with your team.

Sarah Durham: And actually right now while many people are unable to conduct business as usual, this is a great time to do some reflection, and to kind of look at all these aspects from a donor communications point of view, and really try to do some critical analysis of what’s working and what’s not. And I’ve got a tool we’ll share with you in a minute that will help you do that.

Sarah Durham: Alright, so just a couple more things we want to share with you before we open it up to your question. This is a ladder of engagement framework and this is something that we find a lot of organizations really benefit from when they’re trying to figure out what tools to use to communicate with donors, or with really any audience. You can see at the bottom of the ladder of engagement, we have a lot of people who might be unaware of your organization or unaware.

Sarah Durham: Maybe they care about the issues you support, but they just don’t know you are a place they can support those issues. And at the top of the ladder of engagement, we have your advocates. That’s probably a smaller number of people who are deeply committed and passionate, maybe consider you one of their top philanthropic priorities, but along the way there are a lot of steps people go through, from moving to the outside to the inside, and the different communications tactics and strategies you use are going to be useful at different places.

Sarah Durham: Generally at the bottom of the ladder of engagement, we encourage organizations to think about things like social media or email tools where you can push out communications to people wherever they are, and as they move up the ladder of engagement, and they become donors and maybe they become sustainers. Oftentimes, the channels and tools we use get more and more personalized, particularly with major donors at the top of the ladder of engagement, specifically with major donors, those relationships are going to be mostly done by phone; they’re going to be over lunch; they’re going to be more personal. So, these days in this moment where we are physically distancing from each other, picking up the phone, getting on Zoom, connecting with those supporters and advocates is critical. But you still have to keep pushing out messages to the unaware and the observers. You still have to make sure that people are finding you in all the places that they already are, and knowing that you’re there and that you’re still doing, hopefully, excellent work.

Sarah Durham: Alright. The last thing that I am going to add to this is another framework from my book, which is to think about prioritizing your audiences. And I think that this is especially critical right now, but it’s just a best practice. This bullseye reflects the idea that, very much in the center of your audiences, are the people who are mission critical, the people you must engage with to advance your mission. And then there’s who you should engage with. And then who could you engage with. So, if we think specifically about donors, who must you engage with right now? The people who supported you in the past, the people who have stood by your organization. And in good times and bad times, they are the priority for your communications because you don’t want to lose them. They are the people who are more likely to support you in the future, too.

But then who should you engage with? Who else is out there that is going to care about your work, and the outer rings the further out you go, I would encourage you to be careful about investing a lot in donor acquisitions right now, this, unless you are in an area that is very COVID-related, very related to what’s going on right now, donor acquisitions might be challenging. So, start with the core, and think about the communications that help you keep your base of support engaged and fired up.

Farra Trompeter: It also costs a lot more to get new donors than it does to hold onto the ones you have. So, I just want to echo that, focus on that center ring, or the one right outside of it. So, we’d love to hear what’s on your mind. I want to encourage you to chat in your questions, and to sort of let us know what you’d like us to talk about. Mel raised some of those questions up. I know a few questions have been submitted in advance, but if you have any questions you’d like us to ask her, questions about information we presented, please chat that in while folks are chatting those in. Sarah is just going to share a few resources we have.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, and once again, we’ll send you an email later on with some of these things in writing. So no need to worry about them now. But the first thing I want to flag is that Big Duck can help. So we do a lot of donor-centric communications work, and we’re also right now doing some sort of speed consulting for organizations that are trying to figure out how to pivot their communications in different ways. So if you want to hear more about that, just email me or Farra, we’re Farra and Sarah @ Big Duck.

We also have been producing a lot of content lately around this idea of the communications engine, and we’re going to be doing a series of workshops that are low cost. They’ll be all online starting in May. So that framework with those six areas, we’re going to go deep into building engagement and momentum and communications in that series.

We’ll send out a link to this, but those workshops are another option. And if you visit our website, there is a ton of content we’ve produced over the past week, specific to COVID and communicating during this time, including language we encourage you to use or avoid, how to facilitate great meetings online when you’re not used to doing that. A lot of fundraising tips and practices, too.

Couple of free resources that you can avail yourself of pretty quickly related to this. If you want to assess your communications, your donor communications in particular, we have a downloadable self assessment tool that you can access, and we’ll send a link to that, too. But I think it’s a really good time to kind of take a step back and take stock of your communications right now because the opportunity for many organizations is to do some behind the scenes work right now while some of your core programs are in flux, and build for a stronger foundation tomorrow. So this is a tool where you can benchmark where you are and hopefully decide what you should prioritize.

Farra Trompeter: That’s just at

Sarah Durham: Yeah, to download it. This is the ebook that Farra referenced earlier. It’s about a lot of best practices for capital campaign communications. We’ve been getting some questions lately about, should I pause my capital campaign and this ebook won’t answer it, but those are questions we’d be happy to talk about if you people want to chat those in.

Lastly, two quick things. The book that I referenced is the Nonprofit Communications Engine that’s on Amazon. You can just do to find out more about that. And we also have a podcast called the Smart Communications Podcast. So, if you’re a nonprofit communications geek like me, join me and listen to the podcast, I host it.

Farra Trompeter: Okay, you’re not the only geek on this phone call, Sarah, come on!

Mel: Alright, so lets, yeah, we do have questions coming in, although I would encourage everyone to continue putting their questions in and taking advantage of these nonprofit communication experts. So please do.

Mel: But in the meantime, we have one coming in from Andrea, and she’s saying, you addressed acquisition. What about lapsed donors?

Sarah Durham: You know, I think the reality of fundraising right now is it depends a lot what your mission is, and how lapsed those donors are, and how relevant the messages you have to send right now would be. I got an email earlier today from the Brooklyn Community Foundation, which is an organization that Big Duck has done some work with over the years. They have set up a COVID-19 emergency fund for Brooklyn, and they sent out an email letting people know about that, the creation of this fund and asking people to make a gift, something like that. I would say it’s great to send to a lapsed donor because it feels very timely and relevant. But if your mission is really in a very different place and these are donors who are far out, I probably would hold off. I would certainly prioritize. I mean if they are lapsed, like, within 18 months it’s worth a shot. But anything beyond 18 months, I think I consider that a second- or third-tier priority. Farra, do you agree?

Farra Trompeter: Yeah, I mean, I think I probably more likely, more sooner invest my time and energy in lapsed than I would acquisition. Right? So, if you go, I’m going to go back to our ladder of engagement. You know, the lapsed people are probably, you know, they go back to observers, they know who you are. They’re what I call warm prospects, but they are not active supporters. That said, they’re more likely to give to you, and care about what you’re doing than the unaware. And I think the question is, Sarah started alluding to looking at those lapsed donors maybe in terms of recency, you might look at them also maybe by gift level, or by if you know anything about why they stopped giving, you know, or maybe they stopped giving after a certain time or moment in your organization’s life cycle, or in the life cycle of what you’re working on.

And maybe they gave when you were doing more X and now you’re doing more Y. Well, maybe that group you go back to with a segmented message that says you used to give to us because of X. Here’s what we’re doing now as it relates to that. Lapsed donors also, especially those who either gave a lot and stopped giving, or who gave at a higher amount. That could be your next group to get on the phone or send a handwritten note just to say how you’re doing. Again, not to ask out of hopefully genuine interest, but also that’s a great cultivation approach

Mel: Wonderful, thank you, Farra. There’s a few questions coming in about the COVID crisis. Chris says, does COVID-19 change how nonprofits should create and craft stories for our donors? How can I tell our story while also being sensitive to the current climate and issues?

Sarah Durham: Yeah, that’s a question we’ve been getting a lot. I think it’s a really important question to ask and I’m glad you’re asking it and thinking of it, we have a number of suggestions about how to change and craft your story during this time. First and foremost, you know, I think you have to be very careful how you talk about your work in relation to COVID, and we’ve seen some, some do’s and we’ve seen some don’ts. The biggest don’ts we’ve seen are trying to make your mission relevant when it’s not, or to underplay the significance of the crisis. So we had somebody on a webinar we did last week chat in an example they had seen where somebody had said something like, wow, you think COVID is bad? Well, you know, our issue affects exponentially more people.

Don’t do that! You don’t want to minimize, you don’t minimize the crisis and what people are going through, nor do you want to draw a false connection between your work and what’s happening. With that said, I do think it’s appropriate to change your narrative in this moment and acknowledge the reality that many people, most people are struggling right now, and working and living under circumstances that are particularly challenging.

I got an email this morning that I thought was an excellent example from an executive director at an organization called the National Brain Tumor Society, where he and his leadership team put together a set of talking points and messages specifically for COVID. And a number of them are actually reinforcements of the organization’s core narrative. A number of the bullets say things like, we continue to fight for our mission, which is dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.

Or, you know, but some of them was also about if you are affected and you want to talk to us about it, please do. So, I do think it’s useful to put together if you don’t have one already, a communications plan and a communications team in a very agile and iterative way, not something that’s set in stone, but maybe a team that meets on a weekly basis, and can actually come together and brainstorm what’s appropriate this week, given what’s happening in the news and adapt the messages you’re sending out accordingly. But working against the backdrop of some kind of plan. Farra, what would you say?

Farra Trompeter: Yeah, I would just add, a hot tip from another webinar we did this week, which is, you know, perhaps my most…well there’s a lot of phrases and words I don’t love when it comes to fundraising appeals. Perhaps the number one is “now more than ever,” it’s perhaps the most often used phrase and I generally I think, Big Duck every year writes a “Words to Avoid” article. We just published one particularly about COVID. Again, we’ll share that in the follow up, but on our Words to Avoid list, I think actually two years ago, was “now more than ever…IN PARTICULAR AT THIS MOMENT. NOW MORE THAN EVER!” Don’t use “now more than ever.” Unless really your organization is mission critical and on the front lines, that will just feel very tone deaf.

So, just to reiterate, Sarah’s idea of bringing a group of people together and asking questions. The more, you know, this is the time where having more cooks in the kitchen is good. We usually don’t love having 20 people read a fundraising message or any message we’re about to send out. This is actually a time we’re getting more people to read things from a sensitivity place is important because the last thing you want to do is actually piss people off, and frustrate them, and hurt your reputation you’ve worked hard to create by sending something out too soon, too opportunistically, too aggressively.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, and I want to just add to that, I think that’s such good advice, Farra. And I think what you’re talking about is also the importance of communicating no matter how big or small you are in a way that leads with your organization’s values, and in a way that is compassionate and authentic. So, we have done interviews and webinars with a number of experts this past week, and we have heard recommendations, I think it was Elizabeth Toledo at Camino PR who said, this is not a good time to use humor, for instance. Humor doesn’t feel appropriate in this context. We have heard, you know, a lot of those kinds of tips. So, lead with your organization’s values. Be authentic. Don’t be afraid to be real with your donors about what’s going on. That story is going to feel much, much more true than something that feels, you know, sugarcoated.

Mel: Great, ladies, that was awesome responses. We have, I’m just going to turn the table just a little bit. We have one coming in from Melissa and she’s asking any suggestions for small volunteer run nonprofit orgs with no development staff, how do we optimize our limited capacity? Great question.

Sarah Durham: Yeah. Well, I have some thoughts about this, but Farra do you want to kick this one off?

Farra Trompeter: And Mel, I can’t see all the stuff that’s coming through while I have slides up, but it looks like there’s some people also chatting in on the Q and A, if you haven’t seen that, too. Not just on the chat.

Mel: Yes, I will get to those ones as well.

Farra Trompeter: I mean, I think, just to reiterate a recommendation earlier in terms of this volunteer question, you know, now is the time for more personal communications, phone calls, handwritten notes, individual one-to-one emails for folks. And I think with volunteers you could give them a script to do a quick briefing on Zoom, or some other channel, and divide up the list and just say, you know, have those people call folks up and just say, we’re just calling to check in. I’m a volunteer with X, I just wanted to, sort of, see how you are.

Farra Trompeter: Maybe they have some, you know, on the off-chance that person says, how are you? And also how is the organization we both care about? Because I’m a donor, you’re a volunteer, whatever it is, make sure they have the script to say, here’s what’s going on for the organization. Here’s what we know right now. A lot of, you know, and anything they don’t know about, making sure they know how that person can get back to. So, if I’m calling Sarah, I’m a volunteer and I’m calling Sarah to check in on her that I notice, say, “Oh actually, you know what? I don’t know the answer to that, but Mel does.” Mel, who’s the executive director or the other volunteer, let me get your information and we’ll be sure to get back to you and make sure you’ve got the system in place to capture that question and get back to that person.

So, I think the same good principles of donor communications apply. You just have to think a little bit more about equipping those volunteers with tools like talking points, scripts, systems to record what happened in that conversation. If you have a CRM, great. Otherwise, create a shared Google Sheet, or some kind of mechanism to track what’s happening.

Sarah Durham: I think that’s great advice. I want to flag, Farra, you can confirm this but, and I’m just looking for it right now, but I think we actually also have on our website a free script for….

Farra Trompeter: We do have a donor thank you call guide. Yeah, we can share that with Sam and Mel to share out.

Sarah Durham: We’ll share that as a resource. But I love the idea of putting some of your volunteers to use. The other thing I would just add to that is that with limited capacity, I mean, honestly, every organization has limited capacity. Even the big organizations I think would say there’s way more to do than they have bandwidth to do. But I think, you know, being small forces you to be scrappy and be creative. And I would say focus on that core. You know, don’t try to communicate everything to everyone.

Figure out who are the most important people to communicate with, and make sure that, you know, you start with that group. And secondly, less is more, don’t try to, you know, be all over social media or all over email, all over direct mail, all at one time. Pick what you think is your greatest priority. Pick the people and the tools that you have the greatest strengths in, and just focus on doing those things well.

Farra Trompeter: Honestly, that’s something you should do all the time. But yes, “now more than ever.”

Sarah Durham: And I’ve seen some really, I mean some of my favorite communications come out of tiny organizations. One of the most impressive organizations I ever saw. I gave a workshop in Florida, and there was a two person organization. It was one part time employee and one volunteer, I think it was a farmer’s market who did amazing communications work because they were creative, and they just went for it. In the past few days, one of the great examples of a small organization doing incredible work is this National Cowboy Museum, which has the head of security, is in charge of Twitter right now for this organization. And it’s sending out the most amazing tweets that everybody is reading and enjoying. And I think when you’re small, sometimes you turn to scrappy solutions to get something done. And those sometimes are the really magical moments.

Mel: Great, ladies. We do have a lot more questions, so I’m….

Farra Trompeter: We’ll answer them faster!

Mel: Yeah, I apologize in advance if we don’t get to all of them as well….

Farra Trompeter: It’s okay, we’re New Yorkers, we can talk fast.

Mel: Alright, so we have one from Karen, and it’s a really interesting question. She says we have a hard copy newsletter going out. She says, my question is each newsletter includes a remit, an envelope. Can we specifically mention that, or do we just appreciate, you know, say we appreciate your continued support?

Sarah Durham: Farra, do you want to do that one?

Farra Trompeter: Yeah, I mean, I usually consider remit envelopes in a newsletter, a soft ask. It’s like having a donate link at the bottom of any newsletter that’s about a million other things. It’s there. You’re not pushing people to give. I think that’s fine. I think again, to underscore other things, unless your organization is mission critical, as it relates to the coronavirus at the moment, I probably wouldn’t do a hard ask because if you’re sending something out in the mail, it goes to print today. It gets back from the printer in two weeks. It goes in the mail, you’re sending in bulk, it might not hit donors’ mailboxes for a month. Again, I don’t know what your process is. Who knows where the world’s going to be in a month, and if that ask is going to be really well timed or off. So I would just send the, keep the envelope in there, treat it like you normally do, but keep an eye on one that does hit your inbox and be ready to maybe follow it up with an email or a push on social around the timing. People get it if that’s, if you should have a more pertinent ask at that point.

Mel: Great, yeah, great response. The next one comes from another Chris, and he’s saying just to piggyback on the COVID-19 sensitivity questions, is it okay to use this as an opportunity to teach people how to fundraise from home for those looking to still help the organization when our events are being canceled?

Sarah Durham: Absolutely. And I think we’ve seen a number of organizations who do a lot of peer-to-peer fundraising who are canceling events and experimenting with virtual, you know, online events. And so I think it’s a great opportunity to get creative and to start to do some peer-to-peer fundraising at home. There are also a lot of organizations that are going to be doing virtual galas in the next few months and I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens with those and if they are successful. My belief is that while many people are physically distancing and largely at home, we are going to see some turnout for those things. But I don’t think we will be able to predict how effective they’re going to be as fundraisers, in any kind of logical way.

Mel: Right, good answer. I’m just trying to sift through some other good ones here. How would you manage corporate communications for nonprofits when a lot of your clients are losing their business?

Sarah Durham: Yeah, I mean, I would say that the corporate communications is really similar to the major donor communications in that those are probably big relationships for you. And the first thing to do is to pick up the phone and check in with them. You know, I’ve had a lot of those conversations with Big Duck’s clients who are nonprofits, and I’ve been very surprised who’s doing great actually from a fundraising point of view, and who is not. You might be surprised, too, with your corporate supporters. Some of them might be actually really stepping up and able to help. So pick up the phone, give them a call, check in with where they are.

Mel: Great, thanks Sarah, that was great. Next question is anonymous and they’re asking what are your best tips for Facebook or Instagram Live? I’m sure a lot of people are doing that right now. We’re starting a live broadcast to keep in touch with our community and want to have lots of guest hosts outside our staff.

Farra Trompeter: I’m happy to take a first stab at that. I mean, I think, first of all, if you’ve never done Facebook or Instagram Live, you want to practice that a few times before you start trying to really reach a large audience. I might do a test event with just some friends, and go live and see what happens because there are, inevitably, will be some tech challenges. I joined last week, the Instagram or Indigo girls—that’s the “i” word I was looking for—did a Facebook live concert that they were also simultaneously streaming on Instagram. So, I was watching it on Facebook. My wife was watching it on Instagram, but her version on Instagram, it was all like this the whole time. And like they didn’t realize they had to change where the phone was. Those are the kinds of things you want to know before 60,000 people are watching it.

Farra Trompeter: That said, Instagram Live, Facebook Live are definitely hot right now. DJ D. Nice if you’re not following him on Instagram is doing some amazing dance parties every night, people are really consuming this content. Again, especially, musicians are really sharing that way and bringing people together. But as an organization, it’s a great tool, but I would again, not only test it but go back to that question of your audience. What do they want from you right now? What’s an appropriate thing to do a Facebook Live about? It might be a, you know, a 10 minute “we’re going to open up and have a conversation,” like, “we are here.” It might be an update on your organization and what’s going on. I would just think about, kind of the content of it the same way you would any other communications channel, and also decide if you have a sense, do you want to do this every week? Maybe you’re going to create for the next moment while we’re in, you’re going to do a weekly update on your organization, and the community you work with. Especially for some of those of you who are working on, you know, on the front lines of this as I keep saying.

Mel: Great, thank you. Another question from another anonymous attendee. They’re saying not that we don’t want donors, like ourselves, but how would you feel about an organization point our donors to something perhaps more relevant, are there longer term consequences?

Sarah Durham: Hmm…are there long term consequences? That’s a good question. You know, I don’t know if there are long term consequences to that. I think it might depend on what you’re about. You know, one of the questions we were asked in a recent thing we did this week was what if you have a donor you’ve asked to support a certain thing and the donor comes back and says, I don’t want to support that thing. I want to support this other emergency thing.

Now, in the context of the question this week that was, you know, an organization who also had an emergency thing that was relevant. They weren’t directing the donor outside. I guess my gut is that if you are helping a donor find a way to make a gift that feels meaningful for them and you are there–the donor’s advocate–you’re building trust with that relationship, and that’s important and that, I would hope would come back to benefit your organization in the long term.

That feels to me like the right thing to do. So, I wouldn’t say that’s a super risky move. I think it’s a move with great integrity, but Farra do you….

Farra Trompeter: I definitely agree, and I think, to the concern of losing the donor, I mean, I think it’s also about where and how you promote that partnership. It’s one thing if you send out one email or it’s at the top of your newsletter or it’s something you post once on Facebook, it’s another if you do a multichannel campaign with seven emails, a direct mail piece, all that, you’re probably not going to do that about giving to another organization. So I think you’re just sending one or two places. You’re including it. It’s the right thing to do. I think most people will respect that and actually think more highly of you, and the few people you would lose because of that, I think at the end of it you’ll gain more than lose.

Mel: Sorry, I was just looking for the unmute button there. That was a great response, and I’m sure a lot of people appreciate that, those words of wisdom.

Alright, so I’m actually going to try to wrap this up now. We’re coming close to time. I just wanted to see if you guys had any last words before I kind of just touch base on with everyone about our next session.

Sarah Durham: I just want to say thank you. We’ve gotten some great questions on this and this is a challenging time for everybody and I find it really heartening and exhilarating to see people come together and to share. And so I’m really thankful to all of you who’ve participated today, to the folks at Keela for organizing this and so thank you.

Farra Trompeter: Yeah, I just want to reiterate that appreciation to Keela and also to all of you. And also say, hang in there, this is a really difficult time for all of us personally and it’s so hard, you know, we’re focused on what do we say to our donors and our community, but also what do we say to our staff, and to each other and to our board. So, we wish you all the best getting through this, and we’re here for you and take good care.

Mel: Thank you so much, ladies. It’s been an absolute pleasure having both of you and having your knowledge and wisdom shared with everyone.

Alright, so just a reminder that our last and final session today will start at 1:00 PM PST or 4:00 PM EST today. So, in about 30 minutes or so…15 minutes! This session will be led by Meico Whitlock and Jason Shim. We will be presenting their session, which is titled “Apps, Tools, and Tactics to be a Nonprofit Olympian.” And if you haven’t already signed up, Sam has plopped that into the comment section there, if you want to sign up.

And thank you so much again, Sarah and Farra and everyone else. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Farra Trompeter: Take care. You too, bye.


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