April 9, 2020

How nonprofits can connect with donors and thrive during the COVID-19 crisis

Nonprofits have unique challenges during this time of increased need. Leaders in Detroit share their best practices for maintaining strong relationships with their audience.

"In good times and in crisis, the arts are helping with the social and emotional needs of people," says Alissa Novoselick of the Detroit nonprofit Living Arts. Photo by Nick Bolton on Unsplash

During the COVID-19 crisis, as for-profit industries, from airlines to restaurants, struggle to stay afloat, nonprofits are also experiencing an unprecedented budget crunch. So what can organizations do to survive during these uncertain times? Some nonprofit leaders shared their insights during an online discussion hosted by Crain’s Detroit Business. From how to serve populations in need to finding new ways to engage with donors, here’s what they recommend in order to navigate this difficult period.

Don’t Rush

During a pandemic, there’s a temptation to rush to create new programs or offer new services. Instead, take your time, advises Alissa Novoselick, Executive Director of the Detroit nonprofit Living Arts. Figure out what your organization does best to provide for people, and what your new operations will look like.

“Your situation is unique. Stand firm in your mission and values. We didn’t rush to create programs in this time,” she said. “We’re focusing on the basic needs of our students.”

Stay in touch

What should nonprofits communicate to funders and donors at this moment? What do you say when there’s a crisis? Several nonprofit leaders advised that now is the time to engage and strengthen those relationships, even though you can’t meet in person or hold fundraising events.

"In good times and in crisis, the arts are helping with the social and emotional needs of people." — Alissa Novoselick of Living Arts

“Check in with your donors and reach out to them to see how they’re doing before you ask for money,” said Portia Roberson, CEO of Focus: Hope.

Everything from personal phone calls to social media posts are ways to engage at a distance. Organizations can use these avenues to share stories from staff on the frontlines and as well as practical tips for how to stay healthy and prepared.

“I think that engagement can build a much stronger relationship.” Stephen Ragan, Executive Vice President of the Hope Network, said. “How are you actually living your mission out in the day to day? That’s what they really want to hear.”

Remember, you’re still important

Responding to the crisis and asking for support might seem difficult, especially if you’re an organization that doesn’t provide food, shelter, or health solutions. But there’s always something you can do to help or offer assistance.

“There are a lot of organizations who may not think they’re responding, but they are,” said Roberson.

Many organizations can help people’s mental health, which is especially important during mandated social distancing and quarantines.

“Remind your donors of the importance of your mission,” said Novoselick. “In good times and in crisis, the arts are helping with the social and emotional needs of people.”

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the Deputy Editor of The Renewal Project.
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