Communications Questions to Consider During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Aurora Grants & Consulting

Initially, the goal of all nonprofit communications around COVID-19 was to keep stakeholders engaged in the mission. The primary message — sent through social media, emails, and personal phone calls — was checking in:

“Are you O.K.? We’re O.K.” and “We’ll still be here when all of this is over!”

However, in the middle stage of the outbreak, when no one knows exactly how long the stay-at-home order will last — or what the ultimate impact on our nonprofit will be — how do we keep communication channels open in a way that honestly reflects what we are experiencing, but still shows empathy, inspires hope, and motivates donors to give?

Here a few helpful prompts and practical strategies to more effectively connect with clients, donors and volunteers (i.e. potential donors).

What current communications need to be edited?

Including an acknowledgment of the COVID-19 pandemic in your day-to-day communications will send the message that you are efficiently responding to the crisis and that you consider the well-being of your clients, donors, volunteers, and staff to be most important at this time. Consider changing automated donor acknowledgment emails, staff email out-of-office notes, signature lines, and staff and organization-wide voicemail messaging. Here are a few examples.

WEBSITE: Add a personal COVID-19 response note from your executive director to your website’s homepage. It also may be helpful to post a COVID-19-focused “frequently asked questions” section or PDF document to your website. 

PLANNED EMAILS, SOCIAL MEDIA, and DIRECT MAIL: Do not stop connecting with your stakeholders through various channels. However, adjust content to include language around your organization’s COVID-19 response, your current needs, and other pertinent information. 

Can you identify knowledge gaps between your organization and your stakeholders?

People are being inundated with news and information. Your stakeholders may be struggling to work from home, homeschool their children, or even complete a semester of higher education. They may be risking their lives each day in hospitals, delivering groceries, or performing other essential community tasks. In the midst of feeling overwhelmed and fearful, concise and transparent communications speak volumes about your organization’s quality of programming, caliber of staff, and commitment to your cause. Here are some sample messaging suggestions.

CLIENTS: This is how our organization’s services have been disrupted. As we re-shape models and plans to continue serving you and others, what information do you need from us most? What is the best method for sharing this information with you? What’s working and what is not?

DONORS: Here’s what you’ve helped us do so far, and some “behind the scenes” changes we’re making in order to keep serving our clients at a described level. Here’s how long we think we can sustain this level of operations, and what we think we’re going to need in the future to maintain it – as far as we know at this time. Can you help?

VOLUNTEERS: Here’s how our volunteer needs have changed. We now need help in new areas. What is the best way for us to get the word out?

What long-term shifts will your organization need to make?

Experts say that our world will be forever changed by COVID-19. We may need to prepare for future “waves” of virus activity and additional periods of social distancing. Start making a list of organizational matters that may need to be reevaluated and adapted.

Example List:

  • Does your organization’s digital communications strategy need to be revamped?
  • What employee policies need to be changed?
  • Do you need to create a crisis communications plan?
  • What other plans and roles need to be put in place for the future?

When time allows, your staff and Board of Directors can begin structuring solutions to the issues you have flagged. Harnessing a wide range of skill sets now will strengthen your organization’s capacity to carry out its mission for years to come.

  • Aurora Grants & Consulting