Photo by Andrew Stutesman on Unsplash
April 1, 2020

How should your organization navigate communications during COVID-19?

Sarah Durham shares some quick tips and resources to help nonprofits communicate and fundraise during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.


Sarah Durham: This is Sarah Durham and if you’re used to listening to the Smart Communications Podcast, you might notice we’re not using our usual intro and outro for this episode. That’s because we’re in the middle of the COVID crisis and I need to gather really quickly to help those of you who are still listening. Right now, so many organizations we’re speaking to are struggling to navigate their communications during this time, trying to make decisions about what to maintain as the status quo and where they should pivot. So I wanted to share a few pieces of advice with you from my team and from others that I’ve been speaking to who are experts in areas like fundraising and crisis communications.

Sarah Durham: First, a few resources. If you go to and then you click on the “Insights” area, you’ll see that Big Duck has been posting a lot of free blogs and videos and other content specifically around how to manage communications during this moment. Lila Tublin has written a “words to avoid” edition that has some useful language and terms that I think you might benefit from if you are trying to write in new ways right now for your community. We’ve also included articles on five tips for communicating well in virtual meetings, recorded a video about facilitating great meetings online, and recorded a few videos and written a few articles on managing communications, particularly with donors during uncertain times. So there’s a lot there. Once again, that’s I also want to share a couple of the key takeaways from a number of the conversations I’ve been having with nonprofits and with experts in the field. First, earlier today I had a conversation with Sevil Miyhandar who’s a managing director at CCS Fundraising and Sevil said that CCS is giving their clients three guidelines for communicating with donors and I thought these were really smart and wanted to share them with you.

Sarah Durham: The first is: communicate with empathy. Everybody in the world, quite literally, is going through this right now, so making sure that when you communicate, no matter how or who you’re communicating with, you do so with empathy is really critical. That means that oftentimes things like humor are really just not going to be appropriate and it’s important to check in and really understand where people are. Secondly, Sevil recommends finding a way when you talk to your donors to share some kind of optimism, not in a phony way, but in an authentic way. What are you doing or what are you looking forward to that you can actually share perhaps with a little bit of optimism? Thirdly, Sevil recommends thinking about the tone of your leadership. How can your leaders like your executive director and your board members stay connected to your donors and make sure that they understand your still clearly at the helm of moving forward your mission and that things are progressing as best that they can in your organization?

Sarah Durham: In addition to talking to Sevil. Some of the other things that I’ve been thinking about today are about the tone and style and the approach to take to communications in this time. In terms of the tone and style. I totally agree with Sevil’s advice and I think it’s extremely critical right now to be authentic in your communications. One of the questions I’ve been getting a lot is: Should I be candid with our donors or with our clients about the financial impact that having our programs shutdown is having on our organization or not being able to do our regular fundraising events is having on our organization? And my advice is yes, I think it is important to be honest about what you’re going through. It’ll be important for your donors, especially those closest to you to track what’s happening so that they know how to support you as best as possible when they’re able to do so.

Sarah Durham: I also think that this is a moment where everybody understands that things are changing and a bit uncertain and it’s important to be real about that. Another piece of advice about the process for navigating communications right now is to think of your communications and maybe even your organization’s strategic plan as somewhat iterative. Don’t try to set a plan in stone and move ahead no matter what every week. Right now, things are changing and I think it’s important to adapt your communications. Maybe even adapt the way you approach your programs in a way that reflects that. This is a fast changing world we live in right now. So with that, I hope you’ll avail yourself of these resources and feel free to drop us a line and tell us what you’re working on and what is great. We’re seeing some really, really exciting new ways that organizations are conducting business online, having virtual galas, organizing things like online Seders, letting security guards run Twitter. Really, really great stuff that I think is encouraging that we’re going to come out of this stronger for it. So I wish you the best of health and I hope you’ll keep in touch with us and we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming in the next couple of weeks.