Building Donor Trust in the Pandemic

Sep 24, 2020

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this year has been challenging. No matter where you live, your life has likely been affected either directly or by the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.

For the charitable sector, this has been an especially difficult time as we face billions of dollars in lost revenue, disruptions to service delivery and mass lay-offs. All new challenges to a sector where the long-standing social issues we work towards have yet to be addressed.  

If you’re responsible for raising money for a charity, has the COVID-19 crisis put your fundraising plans on hold? Have you been reluctant to reach out to your donors as you adjust to the ‘new normal’?

While we are all tired of living in unprecedented times, the COVID-19 crisis presents a unique opportunity to deepen your existing donor relationships. Here are three reasons why you should be engaging with your donors right now.  

1. They don’t live under rocks:

  • We tend to treat donors with kid gloves. We’re often under the impression that it’s best to pretend everything is going smoothly for donors to trust us with their money. But by keeping meaningful information from donors, it can backfire by putting a strain on your relationship, causing your donors to trust you
  • Donors can appreciate the new challenges your organization is currently facing. They care about your mission and the people you serve. This is true for organizations supporting frontline workers as much as the arts. No sector has been untouched by the COVID-19 crisis and your donors haven’t been living under rocks! Their lives have been transformed too.
  • You currently have an opportunity for a unique touch point. Tell them about your new challenges. Tell them how the pandemic has exacerbated the existing inequities your clients are dealing with. Tell them how your shift to digital programming is complicated by the reality that more than 50% of your participants don’t have access to reliable internet.
  • By giving them a ‘peek behind the curtain,’ you are deepening your relationship and showing them you value and trust them enough to let them in. These stories will inspire them and deepen their commitment to your cause. And don’t forget to ask them how they’re doing. They’ve had to face their own set of challenges through the pandemic, too.

2. They’re missing their former social lives:

  • Like people all over the world, your donors have lost much of their normal ability to socialize casually with friends, family and acquaintances. For many donors, their connection to your organization is both personal and a part of their social identity. They miss participating in your annual fundraiser and reconnecting with old friends. They miss attending your AGM and having a role in something bigger than themselves. They miss being able to share stories of the work you do with their friends and colleagues.
  • While it’s likely you have pivoted to virtual donor engagement opportunities (and if you haven’t, there’s no time like the present!) but as you can probably attest: it’s just not the same. Donors also feel this loss of connection and belonging.
  • Connect with your donors by asking them about their history with your organization: how did they first get involved? What was it that inspired them to give? Remind them of their connection to something bigger than themselves.

3. They know why you’re calling

  • Donors are partners and are interested in helping you achieve your goals. They are and should be treated like a meaningful part of your organization’s support system. They care deeply about your cause and their contribution, big or small, plays an integral role in achieving your mission.
  • Your donors know that ultimately your role in your organization is to ask for their support. But it will be a whole lot easier on you If you have authentic relationships with your donors built on trust. You will spend less time agonizing over the ask because you know your donor and the challenges they’ve faced during the past 6 months and it will be much easier to know which of your programs align with their interests. You will know what types of investments will light them up and further establish their sense of connection and purpose through your cause.
  • Once your focus shifts to building relationships with your donors, the fundraising part becomes less daunting. Think of it this way – it is much easier to ask a friend for help than a complete stranger, isn’t it?

Want more advice on how to build relationships with your donors online? Read this blog post on How to Spark Digital Engagement this Holiday Giving Season.


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