Michael Tomlinson

QUICK SHOT: Connect with Donors During Crisis and Beyond. Here’s How.

Ahhh, life with COVID-19! It seems each day brings additional questions – many of which don’t have a clear answer yet.

How accurate is the news? How long will the first wave of the virus last? What does this mean for me and my family? For our agency and clients? For the country? For the world?

As the fog of uncertainty continues to cloud both “what is” and “what will be,” we’ll move forward proactively utilizing what we know right now to prepare for any possible situation. This means being flexible, adaptable and knowledgeable in shepherding your fundraising platforms and relationships with donors.

Today, I’m pleased to share some practical advice for increasing the flexibility of your organization. Take a moment to read the expert insights of BDI partner and colleague Jeff Kliewer, Chief Executive Officer at ViewSpark. With this video platform that allows organizations to share up-to-the-moment news, Jeff knows a thing or two about the importance of flexibility – especially during uncertain times.

Investing in Donor Relationships in a Post-Coronavirus World

By Jeff Kliewer, Chief Executive Officer, ViewSpark

Is it safe yet? Can we meet in person or should we stick to the phone? Is this virus going to surge again? One month from now, will we be in a “Post-Coronavirus World” yet? A “Here Comes the Second-Wave World”? Or will our national attention be focused on a brand new story by then?

Your guess is better than mine! The only certainty is how uncertain the months ahead are for all of us.

When it comes to fundraising, some of your donors will still be hunkering down at home, not answering the doorbell. Others will be spending their entire day at Applebee’s seeing who they can strike up an in-person conversation with.

Regardless of how the world is framed, we do know one thing: As fundraisers, we need to be prepared for any and every possible scenario that presents itself. At ViewSpark, our keyword for this is “flexible.” We must ensure that organizations have the built-in flexibility to virtually “meet” and engage their donors under any circumstances. We need to be prepared to continue to build, and in some cases, rebuild, relationships with our constituents.

Most likely, flexibility will be played out in two different scenarios:

  1. Building ongoing relationships when you can’t physically be together.
  2. Building relationships with emergency donors.


Now this is what we’ve all been doing since the beginning of March. Many of you have gotten really good at it! As you engage your donors, here’s a quick hit list of communication components to keep in mind:

  1. Real-time – Keep your content as real-time as possible. Thanks to cell phones, we’ve all gotten used to knowing what’s happening “right now.” Even “what happened earlier today” can feel like old news. CASE IN POINT: We’re seeing that ViewSpark clients who share content with a caption like, “happening now…” or “pray with us right now…” are seeing stronger engagement with donors. And these donors are giving more than ever before!
  2. Raw – Thanks to the world dominance of social media over the past 10 years, we’ve grown accustomed to shaky cell phone videos and hard-to-hear commentary because of real-world background noise. Let’s use this to our advantage. We all have cell phones and can easily capture a quick, unpolished video – or at least a photo – of what’s happening now.
  3. Use Video – Speaking of video, sending photos is OK but donors are becoming more and more accustomed to video. See where you can replace a photo with a short, 30-second video as frequently as possible.
  4. Multi-channel – Over the past few years, text messages have jumped on the scene and continue to perform better than email. At the same time, we know that most organizations don’t have a large count of cell phone numbers, so we encourage a hybrid of both. At ViewSpark, we went so far as to build out a hierarchy, which automatically combines both text messages and email, and maximizes delivery to one or the other within seconds.
  5. Mobile-optimized – Research shows that 70% of emails are viewed on a cell phone and an even greater percentage of SMS messages. As you engage your constituency, be sure content is presented with that in mind. Picture Bob Donor or Sally Monthly-Giver opening your message as they stand in line at Trader Joe’s. You just have a few seconds, probably no more than a minute, to capture their attention and move them to action. Keep copy brief, use paragraph breaks instead of a chunk of copy, and ensure photos/videos are clearly visible on a small screen.
  6. Frequency – We coach our clients to send one real-time ViewSpark to a donor each week and only ask for a gift once a month. Giving will happen with every communication but we’re finding that the ideal strategy is engage, engage, engage, ask… engage, engage, engage, ask. This frequency has worked well and because each message is brief, donors don’t seem overwhelmed with too much information.


Most of the principles listed above are just as relevant with emergency donors, but in addition to the keyword of flexibility, we also talk about the word “permission.” Emergency donors and emergent situations provide us with permission to talk more frequently with them. Normally, we talk to our clients about once a week; but in emergency situations, we talk to them about once a day.

Take the events over the last few months, whether it’s the coronavirus, Americans making a stand for human rights or protests around the country. Each of those scenarios and the surrounding information has had a tremendous amount of fluidity. As the world experiences fluidity, our ministries are impacted in equally unpredictable ways.

Under these circumstances and because of the type of messaging we outlined above (real-time, raw, etc.), you have “permission” to communicate with your donors on an at least once-a-day frequency.

You may only do this for a few days. Don’t overdo it. Emergency donors are also notorious for falling off your file when everything calms down. Video, text messaging and your continued authenticity will help you draw them into your long-term mission with a longer-term commitment.

By being flexible and being able to respond quickly to any circumstance that might arise at your ministry, you have the ability and permission to provide your donors with ministry updates that specifically impact them and your community. They supported you – either with their time, or their money – and now, they’re eager to stay in the loop about the impact of what’s happening in the world on an organization they support. And when you stay connected with them on a regular basis, they’re almost sure to continue supporting you.

  • Michael Tomlinson, BDI CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, CEO and President

    Michael J. Tomlinson, better known as “MT,” is an accomplished marketing and media executive who has developed highly successful fundraising programs for faith-first charities and organizations across the U.S. and abroad. He brings more than 30 years of executive leadership in business and holds a master’s degree in Organizational Management and Marketing.

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