What to Say to Your Supporters Right Now, Part 2
How best to talk to supporters now? Should I be fundraising during the crisis?
In a recent blog, we discussed the appropriate language to use with supporters in the age of the COVID-19. We suggested that you imagine how you might speak to a family member during these times. You’d want to reassure them, to let you know that you’re concerned for their safety.
Since that blog was posted, we’ve seen some great examples of that type of communication. Others, well, not so much. One outstanding example of hitting the perfect tone came from a U.K. nonprofit, the Royal Navy Lifeboat Institute. The U.K. doesn’t have a U.S.-style Coast Guard, so privately supported water rescue groups fill a critical need.
The RNLI posted a sixty-second video thanking their supporters, reassuring them that they are still on duty and that they’re a “part of the crew.” And that today, “We’re sending our support to you.” Give it a watch. It strikes all the right chords.
There are great examples of messages that do make a request to donate, as well. Last week the Humane Society of the United States launched a Facebook Fundraiser to support the delivery of pet food to seniors, veterinary care and shelters across the U.S. After nine days, they had 735 donations totaling more than $23,000. The average donation was $32.
John Vranas, the chief development and marketing officer at HSUS, said that they were approached by the Lewyt Trust with an offer to match gifts up to $200,000. He told us that the main goal of the campaign was “... to let people know that we’re still in business, moving forward, and we still need your support. It was a way to remind donors how important they are.”
John was quick to point out that not all of their communications to supporters include a request to donate. Their messages consist of equal numbers of updates about the mission and requests.
Should I Be Fundraising Now?
When surveyed, RNLI supporters describe themselves as old, retired folk. Even “elderly.” When asked to describe themselves in relation to the RNLI, however, they use words like “brave” and “loyal.” By supporting the RNLI, they get to become the best people they can be. The people they want to be.
In his recent book, “If You’d Only Known… You Would Have Raised So Much More,” fundraising copy guru Tom Ahern says, “Donors are not giving to you, they’re giving through you, to make something important happen.”
Seen in this light, the answer to the question, “Should I be fundraising now?” becomes pretty clear.
The coronavirus has made most amongst us feel powerless. We’re trapped in our homes. Participation in nonprofit missions is a way that people can reclaim some of their power. A way they can make something important happen. And that something important might or might not have a direct coronavirus connection.
Research has shown that prosocial behavior — doing “good deeds” — actually helps people to combat stress. Participation in your nonprofit’s mission is a great gift that you can give to your supporters.
They need it right now — a lot.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.