Automatically Inspired: How System-Generated Messaging Can Make or Break Your Organization’s COVID Response

Automatically Inspired: How System-Generated Messaging Can Make or Break Your Organization’s COVID Response

Without in-person events or meetings, organizations must now rely entirely on email and other digital forms of communication to welcome new members, thank donors, or engage volunteers. And, as the majority of nonprofits have spent the last few weeks reorganizing their work processes, rescheduling programs and events, and managing the continuation of essential services, they may be overdue for a communications check in – particularly for automated emails.  

Nonprofit outfits that use automated messages to deliver payment receipts, welcome addresses, and ongoing email sequences must ensure that their system-generated correspondence is COVID-sensitive and aligned with the pandemic-related priorities of the organization. Sending out anything that isn’t reviewed in the context of current events will come across as tone-deaf, uninformed, and possibly even offensive. 

Here are quick tips for double checking your automated messaging systems:

Membership Communications 

  • Examine your onboarding email sequence copy and consider revising the content and/ or tone.  Adding a video message from a key leader is always a great idea but will be more impactful now than ever before. After all, it’s a big deal that new members are choosing to join you at a time when distractions, fear, and income changes could put a damper on decision making. This is the time to express gratitude for your new member taking action despite the challenging environment.

Don’t have an onboarding email sequence? Download this sample onboarding sequence to guide your new members expertly through their first 30 days.

    • Revisit your automated renewal reminder messages. In his recent blog post, 360 Live Media’s, Don Neal suggests offering limited-time discounts and membership extensions. If you plan to institute these changes, be sure to turn off your automated renewal reminders (if you have them) or adjust the copy to explain the new offer. For instance, if you add a 90-day membership extension to all expiring members, be sure to explain why: 
      • “Being a member of XYZ means being part of a community that has your back….and we’re not going to let you go now.”
      • “Our mission is to help you make connections – and it’s more important now than ever.”
      • “As a member of XYZ you know that one of our core organizational values is [insert appropriate core value ie. integrity, caring, unity, adaptability, inclusion] and to show our commitment to this value, we are automatically extending your membership during this challenging time.” 

If you plan to make sweeping changes that benefit your members and community, auto-generated messages that haven’t been updated will confuse your audience and could overshadow the good you’re doing.

Donor Communications

  • Be specific in acknowledgements.  Don’t miss the opportunity to explain to donors how much their gift is appreciated during this time, what it will be used for, and how they can help spread the word to other potential donors. Ensure that all of your automated receipts/emails contain language that refers to the pandemic. Here are two examples:
    • “Thank you for your recent gift of $XXX. Your support arrives at a time when 20,000 people in our community are struggling to put food on the table. Your gift will provide XXX meals to your most vulnerable neighbors as part of our “Operation Augusta” COVID-19 response.” 
    • “Pets are often forgotten in times like these, which is why your extra support for the Animal Care Center is so critical right now. Your donation helps families in need feed and care for their pets without sacrificing their own nutritional needs.”
  • Adjust receipts. Even if your process involves sending a separate thank-you message, make sure the system-generated receipt that a donor receives has appropriate language for the times.

Newsletters & Eblasts

    • Make your messages count. Follow Filomena Fanelli’s HIM rules for how to structure your communications during a crisis. 
    • Be consistent. If your audience is used to hearing from you weekly, try to maintain the same frequency – even if they are shorter update messages or become completely COVID related for a time. If your audience is used to monthly comms, consider adding a second each month to stay better connected. 
    • Be flexible. Daily developments and rapidly-changing circumstances can get in the way of scheduling email sequences too far in advance. If you’re striving to maintain a connection with your community and encourage membership, donations, or other sales during this unique moment, your communication style and substance will need to be adaptable and responsive. Your otherwise effective drip campaigns and nurture sequences will fall flat under today’s salient conditions.
    • Look ahead: be prepared, and set calendar reminders, to revisit these messages again when it’s time to transition back to “normal” and then again once it is all behind us.

To put it plainly: if your automated messages are out of alignment with what is currently happening in the world or in your community, you’ll appear tragically out of touch. Generic and out-of-date messages are easily laid bare in this very specific crisis event. Maintain your personal connection – and even strengthen the bond with your audience – by keeping a close watch on your “set it and forget it” correspondence. Be the voice they need to hear, every time you speak. 

Bernadette Mack is a writer, educator, and empowerment coach. She provides consulting services, workshops, mastermind groups, and is the creator of the forthcoming Empowered Nonprofit Leader program. For more information about the program and other resources, visit: bernadettemack.com and @therealbernmack on Facebook and Instagram.