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Professional Fundraising Certificate Program

Social Distancing With Our Prospects: Is Six Feet Too Much?

At this point, we all are likely – and should be – following the CDC’s recommendations on social distancing. With this practice now widespread, it is only natural that we begin to think about what this means for our organizations as we work with philanthropic prospects. 

While six feet is the recommendation for when we meet in person, I would venture to say that six feet is too much distance in a virtual world. The more you think about giving your prospects “space” during this challenging time, the less your prospects are going to consider your organization when they think about their next gift. According to a recent report from Fidelity Charitable Giving, “COVID-19 and Philanthropy”, it seems likely that donors will continue to give and, in most cases, give to organizations with which they are already close. So what does “close” look like?

Close looks like e-mails, phone conversations, virtual meetings, and video visits. As a first step – and most have done this by now – you should be in touch with the prospects you know with a message of thought, concern, and compassion. Be yourself and be personal about your organization in this initial outreach. This can be by e-mail or a handwritten note. To be honest, while getting started can be challenging, once you get going, these warm messages are pretty easy to send out and do not necessarily require a response.

From here, you have two options: a one-on-one conversation or a small virtual group gathering. If you usually see someone in person to share updates on your organization, increase engagement, and discuss philanthropy, then you should have the foundation to do this by phone or video. Even when times are busy and uncertain, trust that the relationships you have are strong enough to endure and that your prospects expect – and want – to hear about organizations in which they are emotionally and philanthropically invested. Try not to be too direct in expectations of the conversations, and let your donor guide you in the conversation. 

As you would in person, be sure you are leaving with the opportunity for next steps.  Consider asking for “permission” to continue the philanthropic conversation from before the COVID-19 crisis. Or mention, “In the normal state of things – and these times surely are not normal – I would be talking to you about X.  Would it be okay for me to talk about this with you in our next conversation?” You should also plant the seed for future outreach around giving and engagement from you and your organization. Let them know if you will be sending appeals or requesting volunteer hours. Tee yourself up to ask later in the year.

Instead of a one-on-one, you might consider bringing together a small group modeled after a consultation dinner. Tee up a conversation with organizational leadership (or with you) to provide insight into how the organization is dealing with COVID-19 and to solicit your prospects’ feedback and ideas. Asking for input and expertise can get you a long way in connecting your prospect to the cause. This format then also provides the opportunity to follow up with a one-on-one, which helps keep you close to your prospects.

Following either of these approaches, the onus is then on you to continue to create ways to stay in front of your prospect on a regular cadence. Send anecdotes on activity happening at your organization. Invite them to hear from content experts associated with your organization.  Facilitate connections among your donor and volunteer communities. The closer someone moves to the organization, the easier it is to make the ask, and the greater the opportunity to increase the frequency and/or level of the ask.

So instead of social distancing with our prospects, I would advocate virtual closeness – don’t be afraid to reach out that “virtual hand” and “touch” someone in these times of uncertainty.

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