In one way or another, every organization has been impacted by COVID-19. Charities in particular have suffered under the impact of social distancing mandates and pressures of financial and emotional stress. In-person fundraising events have been canceled and many people who'd normally make donations are out of work or worried about what their future might hold.

A recent report from Charity Navigator and Reuters News puts hard numbers to the challenges non-profits face. Eighty-three percent of them are suffering financially because of the pandemic, while 64% have cut back on programs. Yet, at the same time, about half have seen increased demand for their services.

In other words, charities must address greater needs with less money. To do that, they'll need to reinvent their fundraising and operations while finding new ways to spark an emotional connection with donors. That boils down to communication.

In an effort to help charities adapt, let's take a closer look at the three main issues they face in the post-Covid world, and provide some tips on how unified communications can create successful fundraising from a distance.

3 challenges to fundraising "at a distance"

1. In-person events are on pause

Many charities rely on in-person events, such as galas and walks, to raise money. Others solicit donations through door-to-door visits and booths at fairs and stores. Because of the pandemic, all of these methods have come to a grinding halt. Charity Navigator discovered that 74.6% of non-profits had to cancel an in-person fundraising event because of COVID-19, and the impact of those cancellations has been significant: Charities expected their revenues to decline an average of 38% during 2020's second quarter.

2. Many potential donors have less to give

The pandemic has forced many businesses to furlough employees, if not close their doors forever. The resulting economic uncertainty, along with a general feeling of instability, have made it more difficult than ever for charities to convince people to give. Without proper funding, many non-profits won't be able to survive.

3. Day-to-day operations require an overhaul

Like every other business, the pandemic has forced charities and non-profits to change the way they do business. Almost overnight, physical offices have been closed or reduced to essential personnel. Social distancing poses new challenges around how to conduct daily operations and outreach.

A toolbox of solutions with unified communications

These issues boil down to one key challenge: How to create a meaningful connection online instead of in person. In either case, the key is to stimulate an emotional response from donors and to motivate staff. Fortunately, the technology exists to make this possible. Let's take a look at our three challenges again, this time focusing on how unified communications provides a solution.

1. In-person events are on pause

Charities can still reach out for donations. They just need to strike the right chord by acknowledging the unusual times we're living in. For example, the CEO of a YMCA branch used email to communicate effectively with donors. Rather than beginning with an "ask" for help, he started started by explaining how the pandemic had impacted the Y and detailed how it was still giving back by waiving membership fees and providing virtual resources. Then, and only then, did he respectfully ask for donations from those who could afford it. Not only did unified communications enable the YMCA to continue offering virtual services, it helped spread the word with a carefully crafted, genuine email that spurred people to donate.

Charities can also use digital communications methods to reach out to regular donors and sponsors in engaging ways. Video conferencing with major contributors keeps conversations personal. Leaders can leverage screen sharing to show footage of how they've adapted to the crisis and continue to fulfill the organization's mission. When supporters can see all of a charity's great work, they'll have faith in its ability to keep operations running – and they'll be moved by the creative ways the team has overcome obstacles in their effort to give back.

2. Many potential donors have less to give

Although many people have less money in their bank accounts these days, they're often more likely donate when asked in a personal and transparent way. For example, the president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) suggests that charities and nonprofits simply state the facts when reaching out for donations. Be honest about how much income was lost and about what the future looks like. Create and share a re-opening plan to give people faith that the organization will survive, and their donations will be worth making.

Charities can also succeed through virtual campaigns. The March of Dimes quickly shifted its March for Babies walk into a virtual event, for instance. Pancreatic Cancer Action Network also turned its spring walks into digital happenings. The organization even created a "Virtual is the New Purple" campaign to generate interest. It relied heavily on communications technology to keep team captains, volunteers and sponsors informed and engaged. Another organization, St. Baldrick's, used video-streaming technology to encourage hosting virtual head-shaving events to raise money for childhood cancer research. In all of these cases, communications technology provided the tools needed to conduct successful fundraising through a virtual forum.

3. Day-to-day operations require an overhaul

Unified communications makes the shift to remote work simple while keeping the lines of communication open for those on the front lines. Video conferencing keeps the face-to-face element alive for team meetings. Screen sharing and smart workspaces promote collaboration and creativity. Individual and group chat empower staff to exchange ideas and work on projects just as effectively as they did in the office.

Minnie's Food Pantry is one of the leading food pantries in North Texas. Before the pandemic, the organization raised money through events such as galas and title sponsors. But since both have disappeared and more families are experiencing food insecurity, the staff has shifted their fundraising focus. They now reach out directly to corporations and the USDA to request donations of food rather than money.

Masks and drive-thru trunk delivery have replaced hugs and smiles for its customers, but Minnie's Pantry has found ways to recreate the face-to-face experience. The staff now plays music for car karaoke and displays signs and t-shirts with messages of positivity and joy. The organization relies heavily on unified communications to stay in touch with both donors and families in need. And a cloud platform helped it scale quickly when it expanded from a staff of 17 to 52 in order to meet the community's increasing needs

COVID-19 has made it clear that we all need physical, human connections. Charitable organizations must now make every interaction count—but from a distance. Team collaboration technology provides the tools they need to create a sense of teamwork and to ignite the emotional response that inspires people to donate. Careful planning, strategic messaging and the right communications tools help charities sustain the human connection and inspire the giving needed in this unprecedented time.

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