5 ways to engage your community in times of crisis

Small businesses have been hit hard by COVID-19’s impact on the economy. Fortunately, there are nonprofit organizations like Federal Hill Main Street, whose mission is to create vibrant and thriving communities. Pre-COVID, they’d fundraise through community events like dining events and jazz concerts to keep residents and visitors engaged and revenue flowing. Now, they’ve had to shift their focus and their fundraising strategy to help keep their cherished local businesses afloat and residents fed.

In Baltimore’s Federal Hill district, Cathy Rosenbaum has been their lifeline, and everyone seems to know her by name. She genuinely loves her city and wants to see the community work together to keep the district flourishing. That’s why she’s taken on the role of Executive Director at Federal Hill Main Street.

Despite being a two-person operation, Federal Hill Main Street managed to align their community of donors around common goals as they pushed through the pandemic.

In times of need, joining forces with your community members can see you through and make you even stronger. Follow Cathy’s lead with these steps to gain their support and expand the reach of your fundraising.

Connect with Your Community Using These 5 Tips

#1. Introduce Yourself

Cathy follows local businesses and organizations in Federal Hill on social media and looks out for newcomers in an effort to establish relationships among them so that they can support and promote one another. She explains, “My experience is that when you introduce yourself to someone, they’re more than eager to find out how our nonprofit supports the local businesses and community and how they can get involved and keep abreast of what is happening in our neighborhood. We do a lot of communication by email, and we also promote businesses through social media, as well.”

More recently, Cathy wanted to establish a monthly giving program to which the community could contribute so that Federal Hill Main Street could better predict its cash flow. When COVID-19 hit, Cathy put this goal on pause and instead did what she could to support them, including providing up-to-date information about grant and loan opportunities and other important information for local businesses. She hopes to establish a donor base of residents and has purchased a marketing list of those living in her zip code to get started. But first, she’ll do what she does best: introduce herself. She shares, “I’m not going to [solicit donations] right now, but I do want to develop a connection with [residents] first by sending emails that explain what we’re doing and get them engaged.”

#2. Give Your Constituents a Voice

A true leader, Cathy takes time to listen to the concerns of the community she serves. She attends local community organization meetings, like her neighborhood and business associations to provide updates about what Federal Hill Main Street has planned and invites feedback from attendees about what they’d like to see accomplished.

Additionally, Cathy has been hosting regular video conference calls with business owners and neighborhood organizations to discuss what they need in order to be successful, especially now as businesses begin to reopen.

Cathy shares, “It’s very empowering when people start to feel like you listen, and you take action based on what you’ve heard. Not everyone’s going to get everything they want, but giving them a platform to provide input and express concerns is only going to help all of you because you’re going to make a better decision, you’re going to feel engaged, and you’re going to get more buy-in if you can do it that way.”

Before Cathy’s involvement, there was very minimal communication between businesses, and building those relationships has made a difference. Now the business owners along with residents are planning volunteer events together. Cathy says, “It’s all about the relationships. That’s fundraising 101, I know, but it’s true.”

#3. Collaborate with Other Organizations

When Cathy noticed a local church’s Facebook post about a food drive they were hosting, she saw it as the perfect opportunity to work together. Cathy immediately reached out to introduce herself and to connect the church with local restaurants to feed their community.

Their food drive “Common Table” set out to feed seniors and those on the frontlines of the pandemic by also supporting local businesses. With donations raised, Cathy was able to bulk order and deliver 300 meals per week from local restaurants. In the process, Cathy provided a platform for the restaurants to promote themselves and receive more revenue. On Federal Hill Main Street’s social media pages and website, Cathy listed the names of each participating restaurant and encouraged donors to tip them generously and safely through a virtual tip jar.

#4. Lean on Those Who Will Support You

Baltimore’s Federal Hill businesses trust that they’re in good hands with Cathy, but even Cathy could use a hand at times.

When Cathy landed the opportunity to partner with the church for the Common Table food drive, she was still in the onboarding process with DonorPerfect and it was a Friday. With Easter Sunday the same weekend, Cathy felt pressure to expedite DonorPerfect’s implementation so that she could begin fundraising as soon as the food drive would be announced at the church’s Easter Sunday service.

Having used DonorPerfect at three nonprofits before Federal Hill (twice convincing her team to switch from another platform to DonorPerfect), Cathy knew that she could rely on the DonorPerfect Team to get Federal Hill Main Street set up in time.

Cathy explains, “I called them in a panic saying, ‘Help, we’re just getting ready to start this [campaign]. We haven’t anything ready yet!’ And they bent over backwards. We were talking after hours and through the weekend. They went above and beyond, times ten. They didn’t have to do any of that. I was just so happy because I was really eager to get [the online form and payment processing] going, and they just helped me push it through.”

#5. Stay Connected

Once you’ve established a relationship with new donors, it’s crucial that you keep them engaged with all the good you’re up to. For fill-in-the-blank templates to help you creatively announce your upcoming fundraising opportunities and a timeline advising how frequently you should email them, check out The New Donor Welcome Series Email Template Kit.

The DonorPerfect Team thanks Cathy for trusting us to support her fundraising efforts and for going the extra mile to uplift her community through the COVID-19 crisis. We wish her and Federal Hill Main Street the best of luck as they revitalize this historic Baltimore community.

by Laura Bucher

Jul 13 20
2 Comments
  1. Great suggestions! Thank you so much.

    • Emily Patz permalink

      You’re so welcome! We’re glad you found this post helpful and we wish you, your team, and your organization our very best.

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