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COVID-19 Crisis Communications: 5 Tips & Takeaways

March 27, 2020, Scott Koskoski

Because so much of fundraising relies upon effective communication, Scott and his team have collaborated to provide you with the following communications guidance for staying afloat and effective through the pandemic crisis. They’ve also created a sample official statement that can be customized for your agency and emailed to your supporters and/or posted on your website.

1.  Keep your very top donors close in communications, even reaching out to them daily. Donor engagement and retention is more critical now than ever.  Identify the top 3-5 donors to your organization who need to be closely informed throughout the crisis.  These donors need to be carefully stewarded and aware of your organization’s evolving needs, especially if their financial support becomes vital.

2. (Over) Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. 
Be calm, caring, and confident as you address stakeholders.  Address the seriousness of the situation head-on while also creating a proactive narrative, such as describing what you’re doing this week to position your organization for success. Clearly communicate the adjustments your organization is making to respond to the crisis and to ensure your mission is being fulfilled. Make your leadership transparent and available to respond to the needs and concerns of the community, media, etc. 

Be clear and transparent. Ambiguity or silence, especially in times of crisis, can lead to negativity and uncertainty among internal employees and external stakeholders. Be open and honest about the changes that are taking place. Remember that explaining that decisions are in the process of being made is better than not saying anything at all.  You can say, “We are in the process of making decisions about X and will keep you updated as those decisions are made. In response to questions, it is okay to say, “I don’t know the answer to that yet” or “We have not decided X yet, but we will let you know as soon as we do.”

Stay connected with your organization’s inner circle, including the media. Don’t wait for the media to contact you. Create new ways to communicate with staff, donors and media through video conferences, email and text updates, handwritten thank you notes, phone calls, and other means to stay connected with donors, staff, and friends of the organization. 

 3. Formalize your communications and decision-making practices. Form a Crisis Response Team comprised of a small group of your organization’s leaders (including board chair) and department heads. The Crisis Response Team makes decisions like whether the organization should change its operations, programs, and when/how to implement these changes. This team is also responsible for developing messaging points, crafting official statements, determining communications sequencing and channels, and serving as spokespeople for the organization.

4.  Ensure your organization’s operations and fundraising efforts are conducted in accordance with CDC/WHO guidelines. Follow the news and guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and/or World Health Organization daily to ensure your organization is meeting their requirements (e.g. following hygiene guidelines, implementing a work-from-home policy, suspending certain operations, etc.). Ensure that every decision that is made is in the best interest of your organization’s constituents and the community you serve.  It will be easier to communicate with donors in the future about lost revenue and the need for additional support if the organization made every effort to fulfill its mission and support the community. 

5. Most importantly, do not shy away from reminding your donors of the ongoing need for your organization’s services and programs, especially as fundraising activities and events are canceled or postponed. Canceling an event or mailing does not eliminate the need for funding. In your communications, remind donors how critical their support is during these challenging times.

Print & Post: Sample Official Statement (.pdf)
Template you can customize and send to supporters and/or post online

Connect with Scott on LinkedIn

About Scott Koskoski
Scott Koskoski is the founder and principal consultant at Carpe Diem Fundraising, where he partners with local, national, and international organizations to increase fundraising and engagement production, evolve staff and board both culturally and professionally, and strengthen their value propositions. Scott has enjoyed a 22-year journey as a frontline fundraiser, campaign director, and nonprofit leader. Scott’s experience focuses on major and principal gifts, board engagement, strategic planning, and coaching anyone with a desire to elevate their impact.

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