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Three Tips for Digital Fundraising in the Age of COVID-19

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Fundraising goals: Just like the rest of us, they’re not going anywhere. 

A global pandemic might have shut down large swaths of what we once called normal life, but for the causes we care about, the work must go on. The mission still matters—and as in the fight for paid leave, access to health care or reducing mass incarceration, COVID-19 has exposed the very need to keep fighting with everything we’ve got.

Organizations are scrambling to find ways to cover the gaps in their fundraising plans. In-person events have been called off. An overturned economy throws revenue projections into doubt. And even our mail delivery system is now (somehow) at risk. A lot of folks are getting creative, using livestreams and digital tools to help approximate the power of offline events. (The wonderful people at ActBlue just made it easy to embed livestreams and videos on donation pages for virtual events.) 

Right now, we’re all turning to our friendly digital teams in the hope they can pick up some of the slack. I’m not here to tell you we have all the answers. There is no playbook for a moment like this. (The kinds of people shopping surefire solutions right now should be met with equal doses of skepticism and scorn.) 

The team at Do Big Things has spent the last several weeks getting back to basics, taking our strategies apart and rebuilding them piece by piece. Some of our partners have chosen to take a step away from fundraising in this moment, but not everyone can or should. So we compiled a few tips we’ve found helpful—these mostly emerged from email and digital ad programs, but the principles apply across channels:

1. Acknowledge that times are bad, and things are weird

The other night, my wife and I managed to carve out a little time to catch up on some of our favorite TV comedies on Hulu—you know, to escape from <waves hands wildly> everything. To our horror, every single ad we saw was crisis themed. Though well intentioned, those ads were—to put it mildly—not what we needed in that moment. 

Not every message needs to be about what we’re all experiencing right now. But when you’re winding up to make an ask of someone, it’s helpful to recognize that a lot of people reading your text or email are scared, worried, and hurting. Keeping that top of mind when drafting and reviewing content is key, because you know it’s top of mind for your audience. A simple acknowledgement goes a long way toward setting a tone that you know nothing feels normal right now and this isn’t just another same-old, same-old ask.

But, unless it’s central to what the message is about, you don’t need to dwell. 

2. Be transparent about the situation you’re in

If you’re in the position of needing to reach out to ask for donations, don’t be shy about why. We’ve found that when you communicate honestly about the gravity of the moment and the need for online donations to play a much larger role in funding your organization, more people reward that transparency with their investment and fewer people are turned off in the process.

The truth is, the people reading your messages are likely already invested in your mission—they want you to succeed. So don’t be afraid to ask. Even in the middle of a turbulent economy, a lot of Americans have shown a real generosity toward their neighbors and our shared humanity—toilet paper hoarding, notwithstanding.

And if you’ve established a digital messaging strategy that prioritizes a human connection and treats supporters with respect, the people who are looking to make an impact and send something good out into the world will turn to you. 

3. Give people a chance to hit the mute button

Most digital marketers are allergic to making it super easy for people to opt out of receiving your communications. But when you can’t help but wonder what the person on the other end of your messages are going through right now, it might be time to toss out your typical best practices.

Though you can’t stop reaching out, you can do something to acknowledge again the moment, and let anyone who needs it choose to opt out for a bit—a few weeks, maybe, or as long as most of us are sheltering in place.

When we’ve tried this, we found that a very small percentage took us up on it, and other engagement rates actually went up. 

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These tips are little things, most of which are rooted in showing a little more humanity in a moment that truly needs it. The organizations we care most about are powerful not just because the cause is just, but because we can get more done together than we can on our own. It’s never been more apt to say out loud that we’re all in this together. 

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