How to meet your goals without shedding your compassion and sensitivity

Since social distancing and the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic have truly taken hold over the past few weeks, the most common question we receive from our clients and community is: 

“With everything that people are going through, how do I communicate with sensitivity and compassion?” 

Honest talk: It feels super weird to be asking things of people right now. It feels downright insensitive to ask people to donate their time or money, no matter how needed your services are. It feels strange to sell, regardless of the product or service. We’ve heard from many of you that you are not even sure that you should be asking at all, let alone wrapping your head around how to ask. 

We feel you. Trust us, you’re not the only one that feels this way. And while cutting off all communication and hibernating until this thing is over is tempting, it is unfortunately not a strategy that serves your mission and the people that depend on you. 

Instead, follow our handy Do’s and Don’ts for developing fundraising and communications strategies that meet your goals and honor the complexities of this unprecedented experience at the same time. 

  • Don’t stop asking. As weird as it feels to make asks of people at the moment, to stop asking is to assume that your work isn’t important or can’t add value right now, and that simply isn’t true.  Your rate of return on those asks may diminish, but you may find that it actually increases. For instance, this year’s Arizona Gives Day’s annual 24-hour giving campaign hit a record-breaking $6.1 million in donations from over 31,000 people to 913 organizations across Arizona. People want to DO something to help others at the moment, and you can provide that opportunity for people. So, don’t stop asking but instead follow these guidelines: 
    • DO frame your ask around current events. Talk about COVID-19, the additional need it is creating in our community, and the specific way that you are positioned to meet that need. If that doesn’t really relate to your services, think about the value you create for your target audience. For example, we at Javelina provide guidance for organizations who are trying to navigate how to talk about the implications of the current crisis, often with no communications staff or experience. Or we help them leverage digital strategies or continue their campaign for office remotely. They’re not essential services, but that doesn’t mean they’re not invaluable for those who need them. 
    • DO be clear about why you are asking. Clear, direct communication is kind. It is okay – and in fact powerful – to say: “It feels very hard to ask you for money right now. We are pushing ourselves to ask you – knowing that you may not be able to right now – because there are many in our community who are relying on us more than ever to do so. If you can’t, that’s okay. If you can, here is what it is serving:…” 
    • DO reframe how you are thinking of your asks. Instead of thinking about it as taking something from your donors or customers, instead think of it as providing them an opportunity to give to others. We are all hungry to help others right now, and you get to offer that opportunity to your donors, volunteers or customers. 
  • Don’t focus only on what you’re not doing. Don’t only communicate about canceled events, reduced services, or eliminated product lines.  
    • DO communicate what you’re doing instead to serve your customers and community. Think creatively about how you can serve your community in new ways. 
  • Don’t follow existing goals. This is our first time doing any of this, and we don’t have a lot of data to go on. Instead of gritting your teeth and trying to meet goals that you wrote before you’d even heard of Coronavirus, try this approach: 
    • DO set sales, fundraising and volunteer recruitment goals realistically, even low. Set short-term goals (maybe even weekly) and see how it goes. Give yourself grace to fail, as long as you learn along the way. 
    • DO create new data sets as you go. Look at your results and use that data to create new goals. Keep going that way, learning and iterating as you go. 
  • Don’t reach for new donors or supporters at the expense of your existing ones. While it’s tempting to try and find new customers wherever you can, it can result in mission creep and watering down of why you do what you do in the first place. 
    • DO serve your current clientele in new and creative ways. Call your major donors/volunteers/partners/customers/clients and check in with them. Do they need anything from you? What ideas do they have? Keep them up to date with how you are providing service for your constituencies.  
  • Don’t try a bunch of new things just because you see other people do it. It’s easy to panic, and see other organizations’ social media posts/emails/digital advertising and become immediately convinced that they know something you don’t. They don’t – they’re figuring it out, just like you are. 
    • DO get creative and try new things – one at a time. Brainstorm, write all of the ideas down, and then evaluate the ones that make the most sense. Try them out, one at a time, and test and iterate as you go. 
    • DO stick to what you know about your target audiences and how you add value to the people you care about. 
    • DO tell your story deliberately and consistently. Document the things you’re doing as you do them, and share them with your audiences. Telling the story of how you’re coping with all this is incredibly compelling, authentic content. 
    • DO practice authenticity and avoid copy that sounds like it was written by a marketing team. Over the last 4 years, it’s been especially clear that “being real” is what sells and increases views and/or online engagement. This pandemic has made the need for authenticy all that more important—therefore, we recommend avoiding hyperbole or self serving words in a time in which many are fighting for health and economic survival.

One more thing. As we shared in our previous blog post, organizations that will emerge in the best position from the unfolding impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will have strong foundations. They will be clear on their core purpose, mission and values, and make decisions aligned with them. 

Javelina is gauging interest in a multi-part free-of-charge workshop for organizations interested in strengthening and operationalizing their purpose, mission and values to ensure they’re strong enough to withstand the COVID-19 crisis. If this is you, fill out our simple form and we’ll be in touch. 


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