Last week I co-presented a webinar with top fundraisers Christie Wardle and Tom Petzel, memberships expert Vanessa Dal Busco, and Andrew Parsons from Professional Advantage. We spoke about how organisations can keep customers and supporters engaged while buildings and services are closed.
Whilst it all seems a bit scary now, we will get through this. Your customers wanted you there before this all happened, and they all want you to get through it and be there once we get back to some kind of normality. But what you do now may determine if you keep those relationships strong, or if people drift away.
Here are some ways you can prepare for life post-COVID-19, and set-up your organisation to succeed.
Keep in touch ✉️
It’s a tough time at the moment; you're probably feeling isolated, scared and anxious. Your customers are no different. And your older audiences will have been self-isolating for a while.
So now is the time to get in touch – call them, email them, if appropriate send them a gift (maybe you’ve got some event swag that won’t be used now!).
Don’t rely on the fundraising team to do this, and don’t only get in touch with donors. Your regular bookers, business partners, trust and foundation funders – make the time to get in touch with them all.
Box office and front of house teams will know a lot of your regulars by name, and will have excellent social skills. Who better to get in touch with them?
People across your organisation will have strong relationships with business partners. Whether it’s catering, marketing or technical teams. Don’t forget to get in touch with those partners who help you do what you do; they’re relying on you as much as you are on them.
If you're in any doubt about whether you matter to your customers right now and whether they want to hear from you, take a look at the huge number of customers who are choosing to donate ticket value back to organisations.
Two-thirds of customers are donating or crediting the value of tickets for events cancelled by the coronavirus outbreakartsprofessional.co.uk
Offer valuable content and services 😍
With a closed building you might not be able to offer your usual product. But that doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer.
Start by taking a look at your mission statement and values. Why does your company exist? Can you achieve this in other ways?
Across the arts sector we’re seeing organisations offer live streamed events and performances. You don’t need to be a tech whizz or big budgets to achieve this. Facebook live is a great tool (and Vimeo has some handy features too).
The Royal Northern College of Music, which in part exists to provide performance opportunities for their students, are live streaming concerts. Just look at the comments section, this really does show the value of providing customers and supporters with content.
Museums and galleries are opening up their archives and building virtually, like Courtauld Gallery, The Metropolitan Opera are broadcasting performances for free. And folks like Frantic Assembly, Mercury Theatre, New Adventures and Theatr Clwyd are programming a series of online events and activities.
Outside the sector we’re seeing restaurants and bars quickly move to providing take-aways and deliveries, and independent gyms are offering online workouts. And remember, these businesses have stiff competition from established online companies like Just Eat, Uber Eats, Les Mills and GymCube.
But customers are choosing to stick with their preferred organisations. We’re creatures of habit after all, and when tensions are high, familiarity goes a long way to make us feel comfortable.
Think about your brand 🤔
Nothing highlights brand values quite like a crisis. How you deal with this now will have huge ramifications for your business, possibly for years.
With social media giving a platform for staff and customers, now is the time to do everything you can to sympathise with people, and be fair. No one expects you to keep staff when it’s impossible, or continue to work against government guidelines. But being open and transparent about why you’re making the decisions you’re making will help keep people on your side.
And don’t be afraid to change your mind. Listen to feedback, engage in conversations (but not arguments!) online and make changes to your response.
Set fun challenges that don’t require too much investment from your customers and members, like National Theatre’s Create a Character challenge, Royal Academy asking people to "show us the art on your walls", and Sheffield Theatress game of Show-cial Isolation.
(You could even try to create a whole new trend from your living room, just like Joe Wicks.)
One of my favourite responses to the crisis is from Eden Court, who have partnered up with the local Highland Council to give staff employment and make use of their many and varied skills.
Experiment, be open – and listen 👂
One of the biggest outcomes of this crisis is the agility and speed with which organisations are changing. Suddenly home working is possible, live streaming is doable, and new relationships are being formed.
It’s not that these things weren’t possible before, it’s that finding the time and buy-in to get them done was a challenge.
So, whilst everything’s in flux and changing almost daily, let's all make the most of it. Try a few experiments, give new tools and processes a go, ask your customers new questions.
COVID-19 is going to have a massive impact on the economy, and it’s going to be terribly difficult for a lot of organisations, business and individuals.
But there are things you can do now to help your organisation emerge – possibly in a more resilient position – and certainly with closer, stronger relationships with your customers, donors and fans than ever before.