The COVID-19 outbreak has created challenges for the way nonprofits engage their supporters. While we remain apart from each other at physical distances, unable to travel or even convene in large groups, the question on everyone’s mind is: how do we continue to steward and engage our donors while they can’t meet us in person, attend our events, visit our offices, or tour our programs?
While it can be tempting to believe your organization’s stories and photos are adequate replacements for your relationship-building meetings and events, in this article I advocate that it is connection – not content – that sustains and deepens relationships with supporters and ensures vital funds continue to reach the organization.
We have a surplus of content and a deficit of connection
We are inundated with content right now. Nearly every nonprofit is running campaigns and asking for support. Moreover, many for-profit businesses have ramped up their advertising to capitalize on these newfound captive audiences.
What remains scare are raw conversations, authentic encounters, and mutual exchange. By offering virtual experiences that are truly participatory, you can invite supporters to share their wisdom, make meaningful connections, and co-create something new. This article provides 10 Tips and over 100 Examples of such virtual experiences you could begin offering today.
You need to be heard through the noise. Help your supporters shift through the chaos and focus on what is really important.
People are done listening, they want to be doing
Webinars and work-from-home advice abounds and by now many folks are tired of passively absorbing new information – they want a chance to apply what they are learning.
Consider offering virtual experiences that provoke critical thinking, pose more questions than answers, and invite dialogue to transform learning into action.
People want to feel in control of affecting positive change
It is not surprising that organizations on the frontline of responding to the pandemic are seeing a surge of donations. As individuals, there are plenty of things utterly out of our control. This can be a paralyzing feeling, but shifting our attention to the things we can control – such as our charitable giving – is an empowered response to a crisis like this pandemic.
As nonprofit professionals, let’s ensure these new and increased gifts are not merely transactional by offering supporters virtual opportunities to connect with our organizations at deeper levels. And for those donors who may be struggling right now and unable to give financially, invite them to give their gifts of knowledge, insight, and perspective. Asking for their advice or feedback – particularly on your fundraising and engagement efforts – will help them feel more committed to your organization. Show your donors that you value them for more than their financial support and that their ideas may even influence the design of a future fundraising event!
Connection creates memories, while content does not
Increased access to information (stories, facts, images) does not diminish the appeal of an experience. To use the analogy of travel, simply looking at pictures and reading about a place is no substitute for actually visiting it. In experiencing a place, you will certainly learn things about the destination and about yourself that no text or image could have provided. Increased access to photographs and information about that destination, does replace taking a trip to that destination, because nothing can replace that personal experience.
Author Joseph Pine wrote that “experiences create memories” and that is how we can distinguish “experiences” from “services.” I would also argue that it is how we distinguish experiences from content. Content does not create a memory. Reading a story or seeing an image may evoke nostalgia of previous experience, but it rarely creates a new memory for the viewer.
Connection is a form of experience that has the potential to create a memory. You can easily recount conversations and meetings, but rarely the content of an email you sent or received. Increased access to your organization’s content (photographs and stories) does not replace actually connecting to people at your organization, because nothing can replace that personal experience.
Use this critical opportunity to connect with your supporters and create new memories with them. Stand out from the chaotic surplus of passive content and strengthen your relationships by inviting meaningful participation and connection through virtual experiences.