Pandemic Nonprofit Phoning

Ethel Gonzales

The Coronavirus pandemic of early 2020 has forced a new normal on virtually everyone, nonprofit organizations included.

Governors’ executive orders to shelter in place, organizations restricting travel, and preventative precautions leading us to work at our home desks now put a premium on using the phone and online meeting software.

Who would have predicted that Alexander Graham Bell’s innovative tool would experience a resurgence in 2020? It’s not just smart phone apps, important as they are, but basic connectivity and communication that matter now.

Unlike much social media that tends to isolate us from one another, the phone brings us closer. It makes possible and can even improve relationships.

In March 2020, no one knows exactly how the coronavirus pandemic will play out. We know it will run its course sooner or later, we know people will suffer and some will die, we know the economy will take a hit, but we don’t know how powerful this hit will be or for how long. We don’t know how long we’ll shelter in place or when people will once again feel it’s safe to travel.

Meanwhile, if your nonprofit depends upon gifting to operate, you’re wondering what kind of funding decline your organization will experience. And we all know that fundraising is “a contact sport,” so we feel all the more vulnerable because we can’t get out and visit our donors. Thus, the phone.

The telephone as it used to be called is a great relational device. When you call donors, just like that, you are “there.” In their space. Those donors presumably are also sheltering in place, have less to occupy their time, and likely will be thrilled to hear from you. I know, because I’ve tried this.

An unhurried but not-too-long phone conversation allows you to touch your donor where they live. You care about them and you let them know. How are they? Are they OK? Oh, by the way, this is how the nonprofit is doing. This is the proactive approach the nonprofit is taking to advance its mission in the new normal.

It’s an unobtrusive update.

In a phone conversation you can hear or convey a smile. You can express concern or empathy, clarify understanding, engage, solicit input or ideas, share vision, or most of all, just listen. Be there.

Conduct your calls this way:

 Be systematic, work your list.

 Identify brief talking points, beginning with “How are you?”

 Convey genuine concern.

 Thank them for their friendship.

 Share how and what the organization is doing, especially re crisis response.

 Maybe ask for a gift, depends on them and the nature of the call.

 Leave a brief but caring voice mail if you don’t reach them.

 Send a follow up email.

That’s it. Inexpensive, efficient, enormously effective.

Phones were invented in the 19th Century, but their power is still evident in the 21st Century.

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