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Things You Can Do to Connect with Your People During the COVID-19 Shutdown

Posted by: Allison McElroy, CFRE on Friday, March 27, 2020

Guest Blog Post by Allison McElroy, CFRE, The McElroy Group

Connecting is so important right now. How are you connecting with yourself during this time? I’ll tell you; I’ve been all over the place! I’ve tried to find the right words and messages to share with you to help you through this. I’ve also been stuck on my phone waaay too much. I’ve also pulled out my microphone and have been singing to get my creative needs met. I’ve also turned to humor. I LOVE a great meme, and I LOVE sharing anything that makes me belly laugh. I have also pulled out a book to read. I am one of those who wishes I read a book a week, I have ALL the books waiting here for that time; however, I haven’t been making time to read. So, this book is out staring at me by my bed. I’ll keep you posted on that.

I’ve been frustrated with my Dad. He doesn’t seem to understand. He went to the grocery store Friday morning…I am not sure why he ventured out with the home helper, but I bet it was because he insisted. I do need to say that I am very proud of my Mom. She has been following the rules and doing just right. Yay Mom! The boys have been very good and understanding. We haven’t hit our breaking point yet. And Duane. He is good. We have not gotten on each other’s nerves just yet. I’m sure that will happen this week, too. It’s just a matter of time. Only a matter of time. I promise I’ve spent some time worrying about when we all finally hit a wall/breaking point here at "McElroys on Mallard Lane".

Last week, I had so many meetings scheduled via zoom. It was a way I could help! I loved it. I hosted a Zoom meeting for nonprofit friends to vent, share, and discuss what's happening. I recorded a song for church. I recorded an opening prayer for our online service. I really felt like I was helping several different groups! I have danced in my living room every night. I felt all the good vibes around all of that. Those were the highs. I literally go from highs to lows in an instant. One minute I’m so happy about helping others, being with my family all under one roof, seeing all the good that is happening in response to the crises; and the next minute I’m worried about people’s jobs, organization’s bottom lines, organization’s events that have been cancelled, etc.

I've worn all the leggings. I've done the unnecessary online shopping. AND - I definitely need social distancing from the refrigerator! How do we go from here?

I think we have to go back to the basics. One of those basic principles is: people give to people. We are seeing that more and more as the days go by. So how are you connecting to your people/donors/staff/clients/vendors/volunteers during this time? I have compiled a CRAZY list to help you. We will lovingly call it “the COVID-19 things you can do to connect with your people during COVID-19 shutdown”.

  1. Think outside the COVID box. They’ve all seen the standard COVID messages. What do they want to hear from you? I know the answer. They want to receive a message that makes them FEEL better and connected. What can you send to them to give them a way to FEEL good and feel like they are still a part of your organization? Is there a perfect meme you can share? Is there a message from your organization’s clients/participants/beneficiaries you can share? Is there a way for you to keep them in the loop of what is happening, but also thank them for all they’ve done for you at the same time?

  2. Ask for advice. Another basic in fundraising is this: If you want advice, ask someone for money. If you want money, ask someone for advice. This isn’t as cold as it sounds. It actually translates on all forms of relationships. Don’t we all want to feel a part of things before we are asked to DO all the things? People want to feel close to the mission, and a part of the solution. Maybe this is a good time to lay it all out there and say, “You are a valued part of the TMG family. We are in unchartered waters. We need your advice on our next steps. How can we continue to be relevant and effective while we social distance?” You get the idea. Invite your top donors into the fold by asking for their help in navigating the boat!

  3. Give praises! Everyone loves a shout out! This is an excellent time to praise, celebrate, post, recognize your donors, volunteers, and staff. Come up with a social distancing thank-a-thon and make it social and sharable! The sweetest word a person can hear is their name. If they will allow it to be shared – share it! Most people are so tickled by recognition. True story on myself. I provided Zoom capabilities at church. When they sent the email telling everyone the details, they said “Thanks so much to Allison for figuring out a way for us to connect right now!” I was thrilled. Like a kid in elementary school thrilled! I even thought, why does this make me feel so good? I also thought, man, I need to tell my fellow nonprofitors that a very small thing goes a really long way in the recognition department!

  4. Write handwritten notes. This is the day. Pull out the thank you notes. If you don’t have any you can order some from Walmart, recycle some old ones, or make some! Who have you been meaning to reach out to via the handwritten note, but time got in the way? This is the day. Set your handwritten note schedule. Send 2 a day. Send 5 a day. Just send some handwritten notes to some well deserving people.

  5. Is the Board on board? Of all the times to communicate with your board – NOW IS THE TIME. Get everyone on the same page. Make sure they are aware of your messaging, tone, and sense of urgency/no sense of urgency at this time. Ask them for their moral support to get you through. Help them understand what you need from them. Be specific. Board members want to help, but a lot of times aren’t sure where to begin. Help them by making them a plan to follow.  A specific list of things they can do.

  6. Throw a virtual party! The best example of thinking outside the box dropped in my Facebook feed last week. The First Christian Church in Bentonville decided to have their service like a drive-in movie! I don’t know all the details, but everyone showed up and stayed in their cars and they had church right there in the parking lot for all to be “together”. I bet they had a big screen. I bet they had sound, or via a radio station, or something. It was fun, clever, and it was connecting outside of the norm! What can your organization do to be clever and out of the box? Can you organize something for your parking lot? Can you make appreciation brownies and have a drive thru pick up? Can you host a Facebook or Zoom Porch party? Can you invite everyone to do a drive by and bring donated goods they can drop off and stay 6 feet away from you? Find a way to party in this unprecedented time. Idea: Diaper drive, food drive, copy paper drive, book drive, etc.

  7. Beef up your social media schedule. Be ultra-sensitive of your tone. As Gail Perry says, our tone is the key right now. Make sure you are using great content and sharing brilliant photos, valuable information, reliable resources, helpful tips, positive stories of good things happening, a series of posts that tie together, etc. Share your current needs wish list, and how donors can help. Make it something they can do today that will enter them to win something when the world goes back to normal. Partner with one of your biggest local supporters that also needs the love right now. Ideas: Social media scavenger hunt, hashtag campaign, picture contest, or this would be a great time to come up with the next “ice bucket challenge”.

  8. Give back how you can. Give how you can. What can you and your staff do right now for your donors? What can you and your staff do right now to help medical workers? Do you have a toilet paper door prize you can give away? Do you have a way to share what you have on hand right now? Can you come up with a way that you can practice less than 10, but do something amazing for the community as a team? Who has the best enchilada recipe and can make a batch for the fire station close by? These are the stories everyone wants to see right now. Do you work with truck drivers? Can you have some snack bags made up for them as they are still having to go to work every day? Grocery store workers need some love right now, too. What can you do to help them? Just like recognition – any small gesture goes a LONG way to connecting us all.

  9. Keep sharing your needs. I don’t think it is a time to stop asking. I do think we have to be mindful of our tone and how we present the ask. Right now, keep sharing your needs and asking for help. I will also stress this again. Think outside the box on this, too. How can it be presented in a way that calls for advice, ownership, partnership, etc. Keep telling your people what you are needing during this time.

  10. Send postcards. Postcards for peace of mind. Create a postcard for a direct mail piece. I’m thinking along the lines of a postcard from the edge or a postcard from quarantine. Send it to all donors with a thank you and hope you are healthy and staying well. “Wish you were here at COVID-19 Camp”.

  11. What about a Podcast? Your ED and another ED sit down for a chat. They discuss all that is going on and share how it is affecting each organization, they share good deeds done by supporters, they share their fears, insights, and quick hacks they’ve learned as this process continues to evolve.

  12. Commemorative T-Shirt anyone? I know there are some local T-shirt places that are offering to do shirts for your organization at lower prices. It helps them and it helps you. There is one that benefits the NWA Food Bank going on right now. You could come up with something for your group. It is a great way to get awareness and partner with the T-shirt company, your clients, donors, staff, and new friends.

  13. Throw a parade! Does your organization have a bus route? Could you organize a parade of staff/volunteers to drive the bus route and wave to the recipients of your program? Members? Donor Clubs? Sponsors? Maybe a door dash with a gesture that you ring the doorbell, wave, and run back to the cars?

  14. Host a Wave-a-thon. Are you on a busy road or street? Can you have your crew socially distancing on the road as people drive by? “Honk if you are ready to see people again?” “Honk if your family is driving you crazy!” “Honk if you want to help us end Hunger, abuse, kill shelters, poverty, political hate, COVID-19, etc” You get my drift. Bring awareness out to the street.

  15. Have a meeting of the minds. Can you host a virtual meeting with your top movers and shakers? Tell them you need them right now to help you get your message out. Ask them for feedback on any of the messaging they are seeing and what do they like to read and see most during this?

  16. Connect outside of your bubble. Is this a time to talk with organizations like yours outside your region or state? Can you connect to others to vent, share, benchmark? Can you partner on something that could have a larger impact on your cause or awareness?

  17. Take time to evaluate. Out of all the things you have done during this weird time…what worked? What fell flat? Keep good notes and get feedback from your people for when things go back to the new normal. Utilize some great folks from whom to get advice and feedback!

  18. Host a virtual tour of your organization or office! Now is a great time to take people on a tour and show them what things look like now that we are quarantined. Or a way to say we miss you when you aren’t here. “We miss your smiling faces!” Here is where we_____, and this is how we usually ________. We can’t wait to see them again and show you our place once everyone is back.

  19. Check on your colleagues. I have a feeling they are not okay! Collaborate together on ways to keep us all connected, lifted, sharing ideas, and working together.

This list is just right out of my brain and straight to you. I hope there is one nugget that helps you! Don’t hesitate to connect with me for brainstorming. We are all in this together!

Allison

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