Stewardship & supporter care in COVID times: revisited
It's probably fair to say that, just shy of a year ago, when this pandemic took hold, few of us thought we'd still be in its clutches now. Yet
here we are, on a hamster wheel we can't step off, just trying to keep on going. For us fundraisers, this means we need to keep on focusing
on the important stuff - the stewardship and care of our supporters.
Here are our top five tips for doing so.
- Map out your incoming communications from supporters.
Grab a piece of paper, or use an online whiteboard, and literally map out all the different routes to how supporters get in touch. Mail, email to info@, email to name@, phone to reception, phone to direct lines, online chat, etc. For each one check what's working, and what isn't. For those that aren't working, figure out how to make them work; and for any that can’t work, figure out how you reroute them – e.g., if your main phone number goes to a now unstaffed office, then can it be rerouted? Can you put an appropriately worded voicemail on it to ask callers to leave a message and that their call with be returned within a certain number of hours? Avoid simply switching all routes to send people to the website, as not all supporters are digitally literate, and some may have already looked and still need help. Aim to connect them with a human response as soon as possible. Think about what situation you and your team are in, and plan accordingly; and be prepared to do this exercise a number of times. Be ready to test, learn and continually innovate on your processes.
- Ensure you have clear responsibilities, policies, and escalation points.
Usual office-based processes are covered by long-standing and understood procedures and policies, and people know who to go to with a query or problem. Your team, and the wider teams your work with, are now fractured across many locations, without the usual touchpoints. Some team members may unfortunately no longer be in position due to redundancies, sickness or other absence reasons. Put together a quick reference guide to the key processes (you could use tip 1 as a starting point) covering what the process is, how it now works, who is responsible, and who is the escalation point. This will be one or two sides of paper ideally for ease of reference and include any key considerations such as security or health and safety e.g., if a staff member is taking cheques to the bank. Don’t forget the importance of data protection at this time, with a clear policy on how to handle supporter data at home, appropriate electronic management, and the secure destruction of any paper related to it. Get advice from the relevant team or person as needed.
- Keep those wider team relationships tight
Supporter care and the delivery of stewardship works best when the team responsible has a great relationship with other related teams. This is typically the fundraising/philanthropy/advancement team – the designation differs dependant on causal area - but the underlying activities are usually the same. Ensure that you continue to manage and maintain this relationship, and schedule clear briefing and updates to ensure everyone knows about current activity and any changes to plans. In an office environment these conversations can often happen ad hoc in person, when grabbing a coffee, or in the elevator, and so you may need to make time to create space for them, perhaps with a fortnightly call between supporter care and fundraising. Work out who your key touchpoints are for the supporter work you service, and who in turn supports you, and ensure communication lines are open at all times. Finance, IT and marketing are likely to feature on the list too.
- Keep your team tight
Supporter care can be a hard job, as staff are often dealing with ad hoc queries and sometimes complaints from supporters. Home working conditions have made the job even harder now as the usual immediate support from the physical wider team is removed, and perhaps trickier queries are coming in, e.g., if a donor can temporarily suspend a monthly gift due to financial hardship. Make sure the team has regular touchpoints together, perhaps with a dedicated weekly call at the start of the week to set out the run of the out, and a mid-week virtual coffee for more of an informal chat. Regular catch-ups should be in place for each team member with their line manager, virtually replicating the office approach, and everyone should also know how they can reach their manager in case of urgent need. Perhaps consider a team WhatsApp group or similar for chatting and sharing, outside of work concerns. A separate channel can help keep work and social aspects apart and give space for the sharing of fun items and connection on a more personal level.
- Don’t forget your situation – and that of your supporters
A key thing to remember during COVID times is that we are all in this together. Everyone is experiencing disruption on a level never experienced to this timeframe or scale, and we are all, to a greater or lesser degree, worried about when and how this will end. As such be kind to yourself during the challenges currently faced, as well as to your team. And don’t forget that your supporters too are experiencing unwanted change, will be juggling wider life/work priorities, and yet amongst this do still want to support your cause as something that is important to them. Be mindful of that when crafting responses to queries, when planning stewardship with wider colleagues, and especially when dealing with problems and complaints. The golden rule of great communications – right message, right time, right audience – still stands; and perhaps just needs a bit more of the amazing donor care that you can offer.