cultivate donors

Thanks to the coronavirus, many of us are working from home, maintaining social distance, and trying to stay healthy. We’re also trying to figure out how to cultivate donors when we can’t get face to face.

As the world faces challenges that we’ve never experienced before, nonprofit leaders need to come up with creative new ways to connect with donors and build those all-important relationships.

Yes, you may be trying to salvage your fundraising event. And maybe you’re working on a crisis appeal.

But listen, the fastest path to the kind of revenue you need is from personal asks to individual donors.

For the moment, inviting prospective sponsors to lunch, hosting a tour of your facility, having a presentation event, or any other face-to-face interaction is off the table.

So, if you can’t do any of that, what CAN you do?

Cultivating donors from a distance is different

Cultivating donors from a distance requires a special kind of communication.

It is definitely NOT business as usual. You can’t just send out a thrown-together update and expect that to work.

You need something more authentic and more purposeful.

Getting personal can be tough when the recommendation is to stay at least 6 feet away!

But good news! We live in a time of technology where conversations and events and presentations and communications can all take place virtually.

The basic rules of donor cultivation don’t change – only the methods change.

While nothing replaces a good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation, you can come pretty close and still make those important connections with key people using a variety of tools at your disposal.

Tools to cultivate donors virtually (and make the Ask, too!)

There are lots of tools out there that you can use to connect with donors. The key is to find the one(s) both you and your donor are comfortable using.

Whichever one(s) you choose, be ready to coach your donors through using them if they’ve never used them before or if they’re not tech savvy.

If you’re not tech savvy either, spend some time to test these with family, friends, or co-workers. You don’t want to show up as incompetent because you can’t confidently use the tool you suggested to your donor. And tech problems can seem worse if you’re already nervous about asking for money.

Here are a few commonly used tools, listed in order of effectiveness.

cultivate donorsVideo Call: There are LOTS of free video calling options you can use to connect with donors in your town or across the world. Be sure you have a strong internet connection and use a cable to connect to the internet (hardwire in) if possible if you’re using a laptop. (You might suggest that to your donor, too.) Video on wifi can be glitchy.

Here are just a few of our favorite video call tools.

  • Facebook Messenger
  • Zoom
  • Skype
  • WhatsApp (only works on mobile phones, not the computer)
  • FaceTime (a service of Apple, available iPhone to iPhone)

Facebook Live: If you are planning to do a presentation to a family or a small group of people, you can create a private Facebook Group just for those people and host a Facebook Live inside that group. This is visually one-sided; they can see you but you can’t see them.

BUT people CAN post questions and you can answer them live. Just MAKE sure you are prepared! Have your glasses if you need them. Hardwire in instead of using wifi if possible. Be patient and hang out a few extra minutes to make sure you ARE replying to questions.
YouTube: If you’re doing more of a presentation than a discussion, you can record a video, upload it to YouTube (make it unlisted), and send your prospective donor the link to their own personal video message. Personalize it by using the prospect’s name in that video a few times so they KNOW you recorded it JUST for them (this will score you bonus points!).

If you are doing a tour or some other activity that will include several people, use all of their names in the video! You can follow up the video with a phone call to hear what they thought of the tour or presentation.
Phone Call: A good old-fashioned phone call is not as good as a video call, but better than an email. Be ready with your notes so you don’t fumble over what to say. Keep your energy up and smile while you’re on the call. It sounds silly, but it really does help you come across as pleasant and friendly, which is important, even when you’re updating a donor or asking for money in a crisis situation.
Email: If you can’t make anything else work, then an email will do. But look, you have to put some thought into this. Do NOT send out a one-size-fits-all email. Make EVERY communication personal, from you to them. DON’T ask for a large donation via email – it’s too impersonal and won’t get you the results you’re looking for. Use email as a last resort or as a follow-up after a video or phone call.

What to say when you cultivate donors and Ask from a distance

While I can’t craft your exact message or Ask for you, I can tell you that every communication should touch on these points:

Address the elephant in the room. There is no need to mince words. You’re scared about where your next dollar is going to come from. Say so. Be sincere and be vulnerable. Be true to yourself. Donors like that and you’ll feel more confident just speaking your truth.

cultivate donorsTalk about your beneficiaries. Your job is to make sure that people know that just because the world has stopped, your beneficiaries’ needs do not. In fact, it’s quite likely that the need for your services is increasing dramatically. Remind your prospective donor of this. And do it with powerful images and stories of why lives depend on you now more than ever.

Offer compassion. Acknowledge that this is an uncertain time for everyone, including your prospective donor. Listen to their story of how the crisis is impacting them if they offer to share it.

Focus on those you serve. This is NOT the time to focus on your budget or your nonprofit’s needs. Instead, talk about the need your nonprofit addresses and those your programs serve. Talk about how the pandemic is impacting them and why it’s now more important than ever to be there for them.

Have a plan. What are you going to do with the money you’re asking for? Have your operations changed because of current events? How? Be clear, be organized, and share your plan for how you will be continuing to help.

What NOT to Say

There are some topics and tactics that should be off-limits always, but ESPECIALLY during a time of crisis.

“Give to us, NOT them.” You should NEVER bad-mouth another organization at any time, but ESPECIALLY not now. Now is not the time to share your negative feelings about any nonprofits that are “competing” with you or serving the same cause. Your message needs to be about helping contribute to the greater good.

“We don’t know if we’ll make it another 6 months!” Nobody wants to donate to a sinking ship. While this may very well be the truth, remember – KEEP the focus on those who benefit from your services. Change the message: “Our concern is making it through this crisis so that xxxx will still be receiving the support and help they so desperately need.”

“I hate to ask you, but…” Nope. Just nope. Don’t approach your interaction like a dreaded chore and don’t apologize for the need. Now is not the time to be afraid to ask for money. Be confident!

Tips to make it personal & professional

  • cultivate donorsHave a plan and stick to it. Prepare a cultivation plan for each donor you plan to ask so you can stay on track.
  • Prepare for a virtual presentation. Before you “meet,” send an email to your prospect with a link to your presentation. Attach any handouts or materials so that they can review them at their leisure before you talk.
  • Make up for what’s missing. What virtual communication lacks is usually eye contact, body language, and a good exchange of ideas. Keep these things in mind when you’re preparing a video, broadcast, or video call. Make sure you’re animated, sincere, and passionate. Make sure your emotions and your sincerity come through. Make sure you leave room and time for questions and follow up.
  • Pay Attention! EVERY recipient of a virtual communication should be followed up with, addressed by name, and given the opportunity to share their thoughts with you. They deserve your attention. Lots of it. And they may be THRILLED that someone actually cares when they think.
  • Treat them like a partner. Use words like “together we can…”, “with your help we’d like to…”, “What are your thoughts about…”. Including them in key discussions increases their level of commitment and responsibility.
  • Look for more than just money. Think outside the cash box. Is there a person who is connected to a company that can donate much-needed supplies? Storage space? Advertising? Comp’ed services and in-kind donations can save the day. Your donor pool may have access to THINGS you need, even if they don’t have cash in hand. And they may be more generous with goods than they are with cash.
  • FOLLOW UP. Always follow up on virtual Asks. If you don’t get a response from them first, reach out to them via email 48 hours after you sent them your appeal. Ask them if you can answer any questions or if they’re ready to make a gift.

The Bottom Line

Every day, we learn that social distancing may last longer than we initially expected. It’s important to build other ways to ask for funds into your arsenal now. It’s also a good idea to solidify your virtual approach if you ever need to fall back on it in the future.

Be genuine. Ask for what you need without guilt or shame.

The impression you make now will stick with your supporters for years to come. Be calm, be organized, and be yourself.

That’s how you’ll successfully cultivate donors and Ask for donations from a distance.