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How Nonprofit Fundraisers are Evolving in the Face of Uncertainty

I recently sat down with three marketing experts in the nonprofit space: Sue Munro from Northwell Health Foundation, Angelique Rothermel from World Vision, and Jessica Winters from National MS Society to talk about how COVID-19 has impacted their strategy and what they are doing to pivot and continue moving forward to better serve their organizations and donors.

What are your organizations doing now?

Northwell is located in the hot spot of COVID-19 in the US: NYC. It has a command center that projects where incidents may occur to offer rapid response and communication. By providing quick updates, Northwell can give donors comfort and a desire to support Northwell while also being able to follow along as actions occur.

Sue said that support during this time has been overwhelming. Initially, Northwell was nervous about asking for gifts, but the greater New York community responded with support and willingness, which led to putting together opportunities for donors to give back and be a part of the help.

The National MS Society (NMSS) is challenged with keeping MS relevant right now. Its mission is to show up for those who need help during times like this which is why the NMSS rapidly ramped up its listening efforts to understand what MS patients, caregivers, and other stakeholders need during this crisis. Based on feedback that was offered, they have shifted their focus to making experts and thought leadership available to give clear guidance and clarity during the pandemic, and they quickly launched a COVID-19 response fund. The NMSS has a clear goal of keeping people engaged and making it clear what is needed from donors by demonstrating what those suffering with MS are experiencing.

Do you believe there will long-term ramifications as in-person events are not available now?

A large part of World Vision’s donors come from child sponsorship recruitment. Child sponsorship is largely conducted at in-person events (canvasing, concerts, etc.). Given the current climate, World Vision had to think on its feet to remain relevant. During our conversation, Angelique said, “The strongest brands aren’t asking when will this end, but how can we continue.” With that mentality, World Vision understood that its prospective donors are still gathering, musicians are still sharing music online, and World Vision is finding opportunities to be there too. World Vision participated in online streams of Good Friday and Easter services that were viewed by hundreds to raise funds for COVID-19 response.

Are you finding that new supporters are coming to you? If so, how are you integrating them into learning about your mission, and keeping them connected?

Sue from Northwell said its all about communication. By producing weekly communication that goes out to donors and hosting thirty-minute webinars with Northwell’s Head of Infectious Diseases, Northwell can give updates on the reality of what is going on in real-time. This has engaged many donors that are bringing in their networks as well. This has further built trust and camaraderie with donors and helped them feel more of a part of the Northwell community.

Angelique from World Vision said that many of its communications were about hope, graditude, and offers to pray. Knowing a lot of donors are at home with kids, World Vision quickly disseminated an eight week curriculum to help support parents and cater to donors where they are. When appropriate, World Vision also included giving opportunities.

Do you believe that when this is over and consumers return to their daily lives, that their behaviors and actions will be that different than before?

By the time restrictions ease, there may even be new technologies being released. SInce this is a global pandemic, there might be an opportunity to help grow donors’ empathy. This is an example of the phrase, “We’re all in this together” being resonated on a larger scale. For instance, sanitation supplies and clean water are some of the fundamental resources World Vision provides to communities in need. During times when there is no crisis present it can be difficult to explain how essential sanitation supplies and clean water  resources are to Americans who typically don’t have an issue with accessing these essentials. With heightened awareness around exercising good hygeine, Angelique feels there is an opportunity to help bridge the understanding gap between World Vision’s supporters and those they serve, since we are  all struggling with some of the same issues. Increased awareness could benefit the fight against global poverty.

What did you learn from your organization’s internal rapid response procedures, and how will you evolve your processes moving forward?

World Vison is at its best when responding to this crisis, but there was no playbook for this. Its leadership team was incredibly responsive which enabled World Vision to become more interconnected. World Vision held daily reviews to ensure that its messages have all been relevant to a specific part of the country (due to the varying impact of the crisis in different geographies). Angelique’s team produced a messaging guide to marketers across the business (which was created one week after the pandemic was announced) with a weekly update so all staff has something accessable at a moment’s notice.

National MS Society is learning something new everyday. Jessica said, “We were ready for this. Having a plan matters because it allowed us to quickly react and be able to evolve the plan which is as important as having a plan initially. Being able to change the plan daily was a great learning experience and allowed us to break silos and work across channels. Everyone was on board and wanted to reach out to their donors.” For NMSS, finding the right voice came together quickly.

Northwell was able to be extremely agile and pull the team together to quickly build a plan and response. Being a large organization, there are always challenges, but senior leadership was on board since the beginning. While this isn’t something that will end quickly, Northwell now has enough key learnings to be more flexible as new situations arise in the future.

If you missed our conversation and would like to learn more, you can check out the on-demand webinar here.

Please consider supporting these incredible nonprofits during the COVID-19 pandemic: