Communication Strategies to Grow Your Nonprofit — Even Through Crisis
Communication strategies for nonprofits are already complicated. Add the twists, turns and challenges of crisis, and nonprofits most likely find themselves strapped by doing even more with less. As COVID-19 looms on, nonprofits are now having to find marketing and communications solutions to withstand the extended dilemma.
Here are a few discoveries, tips and takeaways from what Mike Farag and the Fervor team have learned through this season. The insights from these 6 communications challenges can help undergird your organization’s marketing decisions to navigate, overcome and grow, even in a time of crisis management.
Challenge 1: Staying Connected — Internally and With Your Ideal Advocates
Times of crisis usually impact our ability to stay connected — and not just in person but also in how we truly engage with others. If a nonprofit found communication strategies challenging without a crisis, crisis management probably exposed their need to level up.
With a lot fewer in-person meetings, the efforts of nonprofits have changed drastically. They’ve turned to virtual fundraising events and meetings. For those who delayed utilizing online tools, it was a challenging start, and yet, most nonprofits took advantage of the situation to push forward with these new tactics and tools. Not only are they engaging their teams, donors, volunteers and those they serve virtually, they now value even more the motivating factor that meeting in person gives them. It’s a great way to think ahead and make more meaningful connections during the fewer in-person opportunities they have.
Takeaway: Use this opportunity to learn more about communication and what it takes to create a personal connection with your ideal advocates.
Challenge 2: Fundraising Virtually
When in-person everything nearly came to a halt overnight, nonprofits were in one of two positions: 1) ready and willing to invest in new technology and outbound communications tools, or 2) feeling forced to find and learn new tools on the fly. Everyone had to ask, “Can we run online events?” — especially when it came to fundraising.
The response? Although not all nonprofits had dabbled in virtual tools, most every nonprofit was willing — and some even excited — about learning something new and expanding their capabilities for fundraising. As a result, virtual channel strategies really blossomed. Then, after months of online meetings, we all had zoom fatigue. In this way, the time of crisis brought a healthy communications balance between virtual and traditional communication strategies. Nonprofits and businesses alike looked for ways to not only communicate virtually, but connect to donors and those they serve on a heart to heart level, maximizing the potential for communications post-crisis.
Nonprofits also learned that live, in-person events are really valuable. And yet, when necessary they could execute live, online or virtual event campaigns just as well, getting the needed results. In some cases, the virtual campaigns cost less to execute than the traditional in-person events, thus raising nearly the same increase either way.
Thoughtful Fundraising Communication Strategies
These results encouraged nonprofits to be thoughtful about their fundraising strategies: when is it best and appropriate to fundraise live and in-person versus live and online, or virtually as givers could engage with an ongoing campaign.
Takeaway: Expand your options to create a healthy balance between virtual and traditional communication strategies, especially when it comes to donor communications and raising funds. Include live and in-person, live and online, and virtual event campaigns to maximize your marketing dollars and get the best results from heart-to-heart connection and fundraising.
Challenge 3: Retaining Your Main Message through Main Channels
When the very nature of a crisis screams “urgency,” it can be easy to over communicate about the crisis itself and even shift the focus of your message to addressing every topic and detail from the context of the crisis, rather than the purpose of your cause. Unfortunately, this creates an adverse effect with your on-going communications. In some cases, you’ll find less engagement with your content and often higher unsubscribe and unfollow rates than desirable. Should the crisis be addressed? Yes, but within balance, and how you address the crisis and the why behind your communication will determine the response you receive.
An Example of Multi-Channel Communication Strategy
For example, shifting an email strategy from a monthly e-newsletter about the great work your organization is doing to weekly updates from the founder about the service protocol in regards to the crisis will likely end in fewer subscribers. Those who care about your cause want to hear about how you’re making a difference — amidst the crisis, in spite of it, or because of it. Keep this message loud and clear. Be purposeful in your content strategies. Sending mere information won’t engage your ideal advocates. Staying on message, sending the appropriate stories of life-changing experiences to the right audience segment at the right time will keep them interested and motivated.
Lastly, keep in mind that your go-to communication channels (not just the new, virtual ones) are still viable and needed. Don’t neglect the channels you own because of the distraction of the “new shiny objects.”
Takeaway: Is it important to address the crisis? Yes, but keep talking about the difference your organization is making. Consider who you’re sending your message to, tailor it to their needs and what’s important to them. And for faith-based nonprofits, keep the motivation of your communication rooted and grounded in faith, not fear.
Challenge 4: Keeping a Healthy Marketing Strategy Mix
No matter how strong the pull of a crisis situation (or the lack thereof), there are some axioms that always remain true. Keeping a healthy mix in your marketing engagement will serve you well. It can be easy to think eliminating a channel or two will relieve the pressure, or that focusing on one alone (like social media) will get you the most gains. But in the long run, it’s like putting all your eggs in one basket, and if that basket comes up empty, so will your growth goals.
Consistency Among Multiple Channels and Audiences
So what does a healthy marketing mix look like? It’s multi-channel, multi-touch, with consistency, being mindful of your audience segments, frequency, timing and message. Every nonprofit needs multiple levels of donors who give at varying degrees, and volunteers and staff who serve in different capacities in order to fulfill the multiple roles required for an organization to function at its best. How does this translate to strategy?
Let’s go back to the example of social media. Social can be extremely loud, especially at the onset of a crisis. It’s way too easy to get lost in the “noise.” The solution? Stay on social media (retaining a regular posting schedule with varying content), but keep your email marketing going. Add some fresh, regular content creation for not only SEO value, but to provide stability in the midst of what feels like chaos. Lead the way through the crisis by acknowledging it while providing a calm, steady response to it, and your audiences will likely follow. There’s no need to overdo communication frequencies. Simply stay present. Stay active. Keep engaging your ideal advocates, and you’ll see how consistency wins the race every time.
Does the chart above excite you, but do you feel overwhelmed about executing it? You’re in luck — that’s what the Fervor team is here for! We’ll help you devise a workable strategy for the growth stage of your organization, assist your execution efforts, or execute the entire plan — whatever your team needs, simply reach out to start a conversation.
Takeaway: Revising and tweaking your marketing strategy to include a healthy, multi-channel mix of traditional and virtual communications that speaks to multiple audiences is the best path forward.
Challenge 5: Communicating Internally to Empower Your Team First
It’s no secret how the urgency of crisis speeds up the communication cycle from the top executive to the janitor in every organization. Navigating successfully requires thoughtful consideration and intentional planning, even when the planning timeline may be cut short. We understand the demands of your public audiences to know what’s going on, but this is all the more reason we recommend telling your team first.
Without your staff and those invested in your nonprofit on a daily basis, your vision will lag and lose momentum. People are our greatest assets; they’re like Aaron and Hur holding up the arms of Moses, and it’s worth being reminded of this during times of crisis and even transition. Take the proper steps to communicate with your team internally before going public with anything.
And remember, internal communications don’t have to delay your progress. If you already have an established rhythm for team communication and information assimilation, this will likely be easier for you. If you don’t have a regular communications cadence, it’s in your best interest to set one. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but start. You’ll improve over time. Bottom line? Your team is your best resource. They are just as important as your donors and those you serve. Invest time and energy in telling them first, and you won’t be disappointed in the results of their engagement.
Takeaway: Internal communications are still the most important step to securing the future of your organization. Establishing a regular communications rhythm and keeping it — whether weekly or monthly — to cast vision and pass on information helps your team understand and prepare for what’s coming. These conversations empower your employees and fuel them to reach for the best solutions and ideas for growth.
Integrated Communication Strategy and Execution for Nonprofits
At Fervor, we strive for connection over information. If you’re struggling or simply need more hands to help plan and execute communication strategies and tactics for your organization, we’re here to help. Take a look at the integrated, on-going communications services we provide and reach out to start a conversation.