Kerri O'Neill, Senior Director  ●  8/24/2020

How to Acknowledge, Convert, and Transform Your New COVID-19 Donors


The COVID-19 emergency combines two historical events that impact fundraising: economic disruptions and emergency disaster response.

The combination of these two significant impact events creates an unprecedented situation, and limits the ability to forecast or develop specific strategies based on experience.  It is also still the beginning of the emergency, but the impact that has unfolded over the last few months required an immediate response due to the universal awareness of the issue.

With the immense national attention around COVID-19, and its impact not only on our physical health, but also our long-term economic health as a nation, it was necessary to develop an acquisition direct-marketing campaign.  The theory being that, not unlike large scale disasters in the past, people want to have the opportunity to provide financial help to The Salvation Army as they address the needs on the front lines.  We were able to successfully acquire new donors by utilizing an offer that provided prospects the opportunity to help The Salvation Army assist their neighbors with feeding, shelter, rental and utility assistance programs, and spiritual guidance.

After these new donors were acquired, we created a strategy to acknowledge them and convert these donors into long-term supporters of The Salvation Army through multichannel touches.

The following highlights outline how we have begun our cultivation of these donors as of July 2020:

  • Acknowledge (Mail and Phone)
    We mailed a thank-you package to the new donors focused on their special gift during this time.  The package pulls in similar imagery as the original package they received.  Using this approach, we created a thank-you script for reaching these donors by phone.  The focus was affirmational and to show them appreciation for their gift during this crisis.
  • Follow Up (Mail and Phone)
    To have a better chance at converting these donors to ongoing supporters, it is important to provide feedback as to how their gifts have made a difference.  We told donors an impactful story of how The Salvation Army has made a difference during these unprecedented times in a family’s life.  The phone script focused on appreciation for their initial gift, and reiterated what their gift has meant to so many, while also including an ask for an additional gift.
  • Postcard (Mail)
    Either directly or indirectly, many of these new donor gifts have been online, and this seems to be a good opportunity to drive donors to give again to the continuing crisis through an online donation.

    Three months after the initial acquisition mailing, we created an oversized postcard that highlighted the area’s specific response to the crisis and increased need.  There will be more need in the upcoming months as unemployment benefits expire for food boxes, utility assistance, housing assistance, and other basic needs.  A specific URL was tied to this campaign to drive donors to give to the ongoing need.

We know that following direct-response best practices, even amidst a pandemic, is what will build the strongest donor relationships for The Salvation Army — both in the short-term and in the months to come.


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