Community is the backbone of society, the heartbeat of philanthropy, and the purpose behind many social and human service nonprofits. The COVID-19 pandemic transformed the way we think about interacting with people and pushed us to explore new horizons of digital communications. As we’ve shared in our recent article about virtual fundraising events, there are many benefits to virtual communication that we should consider retaining after social distancing restrictions are lifted.

In particular, virtual solicitations have been an excellent way to reach a breadth of donors who live far away, have limited ability for in-person meetings, prefer remote communications, or have busy schedules. As you continue with these digital discussions, we’ve put together the following guide to help you refresh your approach to scheduling and conducting virtual visits.

Selecting a Platform

We have learned a few key considerations during our time in a virtual world on selecting a platform. Some questions for your reflection include:

Do you need to reach donors that are geographically spread? If so, consider a Zoom call that requires simple dial or call-in options with a suitable schedule to accommodate time zones.

Is your target generation more interested in in-person meetings? Feel free to simply ask your donor if they have a preference.

Do you want to share something that is location-based? Is this a location that is easy to reach in person? Perhaps you want to show a new wing of your homeless shelter, but don’t want to disturb the individuals staying there. Simply taking a video of the empty space and sharing the video at the beginning of a call can showcase your work without interrupting the privacy of your beneficiaries.

Do you want to foster communication and connection between donors? Should the connection be one-on-one, or as a group? If you would like for donors to connect amongst themselves, consider an in-person event or an avatar-based platform like Event Farm. If you are facilitating one-on-one connection, breakout rooms on Zoom could be a useful tool if you choose to stay digital.

Scheduling a Virtual Solicitation

Scheduling a virtual visit is similar to scheduling an in-person visit. It is important not to discuss details of your visit agenda when scheduling. To avoid this, remind the person that you have some materials you want to share with them during your conversation.

Step One: We just went through a global pandemic, which was a difficult and isolating experience for many. Start off with a personal check-in and show empathy by saying something like:

“This is (your name) calling from (your organization). We are making an effort to reach out to folks right now to make sure they are feeling connected and see how you are doing during this phase of re-emergence. We’ve missed seeing you!”

Step Two: Make the pivot from small talk to business with a phrase like:

“Have you received our emails about updates to our volunteer and services policies, etc.?”

Step Three: After connecting on a personal level you can extend the invitation to have a virtual visit. Consider saying something such as:

“As you know, we are engaging in an initiative here at (your organization) to address some of our pressing needs and we believe (the project that you are working on) will be life-giving to our organization. We are committed to advancing this effort in a way that makes sense for the current circumstances we are facing as a community. I was wondering if you might be interested in having a conversation with me over video call about this initiative? It’s been a nice conversation to have with folks, particularly at this time when we are so focused on what’s next after the pandemic.”

After Scheduling

When prepping for the visit, consider the following.

Materials should be shared with prospects prior to the meeting. It is ideal to mail the prospect the materials, so they have a hard copy to look at with you during the visit. This is also an opportunity to send a gift, logo items, or other treats. If you are unable to mail materials, you can send a “PDF packet”’ via email and/or a link.

Send a follow-up email to the scheduled prospect to confirm the date and time and include the details to call into the meeting. For some people, this may be their first time participating in a video conference. Screenshots and step-by-step instructions are a helpful resource to provide. Create a backup call-in option in the event the video conference cannot be accessed.

Conducting the Virtual Solicitation

You can conduct a virtual visit the same way you would an in-person visit. Stick to key best practices:

Open with small talk before transitioning to the case.

Present the case. Be sure to focus on your mission, the story of your organization, and your current needs.

Introduce the request for support. You can do this by demonstrating the credibility of your fundraising ask and your enthusiasm for the support you’ve received thus far.

Make the ask by articulating a specific number. Feel free to share your screen and show them the gift table for illustrative purposes. Finally, pause to give them time to process the request.

Handle their response. Some potential reactions could include articulating understanding for their financial situation, expressing gratitude for their generosity, or explaining the methods of executing the donation.

Keep timing in mind. Build in time at the beginning of the meeting for technical issues and aim to keep the overall timeline for the visit to no more than an hour. Finally, schedule a time to follow up with the donor.

Success Stories

Social and human service nonprofits across the United States have developed innovative digital communications strategies, including cocktail hours for spread-out communities, video tours of new building construction, and one-on-one video meetings with individuals who have been hard to reach for years.

In particular, one human services nonprofit in the Intermountain West offers marginalized women employment, career guidance, and life skills. Despite not having a background in major individual giving, this organization has had tremendous success through entirely virtual briefing and solicitations. They are on track to achieve their benchmark goals and are 38% toward their campaign goal in one year. The key to their success was keeping the mission and vision of the organization at the forefront of every conversation. The CEO and Development Director tailored conversations with donors to the donor’s interests – for those who appreciate data and results, they focused on current outcomes and the return on investment the campaign would have in making a difference in the lives of women. For donors who are compelled by stories, the team highlights individual women served and shares the impact the organization has on each individual to help them gain self-sufficiency.

Another social services organization on the West Coast approached virtual solicitations differently. This organization offers a range of therapeutic services on a beautiful campus, where they held a drive-through carnival barbeque complete with prizes, dinner, a take-home swag bag, and a band. Children were able to shoot hoops with a take-home basketball and have a family picture all from their cars. Invitees included big-ticket buyers and sponsors for the event. The event also acted as a cultivation touchpoint before a virtual major gift ask, and thus offered a great conversation starter during the solicitation.

We hope that your organization finds similar success as you refresh your virtual meetings approach post-pandemic.

About the Author

Julia M. Siebel is a Vice President with CCS. She has more than two decades of experience in the nonprofit sector that has focused on empowering communities through effective action and capacity building. Her work spans the sectors including social & human services, education, membership organizations, and health care. She holds her Ph.D. in U.S. History and Women’s Studies from the University of Southern California.