Communicating During COVID-19: Interview

March 25, 2020

How are you communicating with your supporters during the COVID-19 pandemic?

When I highlighted this terrific email, from my local film institute last week, I knew that I wanted to learn the decision making processes behind their quick and effective response to our current crisis.

That’s why I was delighted when the Bryn Mawr Film Institute Director of Marketing, Gina Izzo, agreed to a short interview.

1.) As Director of Marketing for BMFI, how do you coordinate with Development?

Gina explained that she’s always collaborated with both Charles Grafman, BMFI’s Director of Development, and Heather Rosenfeldt, Art Director, on communications, including campaigns, appeals, reports. She allowed that there’s a fine line between asking and empathy. The primary goal of current communications is that their supporters like what they’re doing and feel a strong sense of connection and community.

And she acknowledged that BMFI is not the neediest of organizations right now. For that reason, they’re not actively fundraising, and working on primarily being very sensitive while keeping people connected. As a team, they’ve decided against actual hard asks, but communications do note that “a portion of the proceeds will go directly to compensating our part-time and hourly staff.”

Takeaways: Avoid silos. Understand your purpose. Avoid sanitized language. Be up-front about your needs.

2.) At what point did BMFI begin to consider how they would pivot to address COVID-19: In terms of communications? In terms of programming? In terms of staffing?

Staff got word of the theatre’s closure on Tuesday at 2:00 on March 14th, right in the middle of their 15th Birthday celebration, complete with 500 bundtinis. They knew that they had to shift to focus on messaging right away. Fortunately, BMFI is part of Art House Convergence, “an association dedicated to advancing excellence and sustainability in community-based, mission-driven media exhibition” and Gina noted, because AHC is international, the pandemic is something that had been in discussions for a while.

She generously credited AHC, noted that there was already quite a bit of massaging out within the group that helped to provide BMFI with a blueprint moving forward.

Another tool that has aided them is a private Facebook group for staff members, which has evolved into a terrific workflow tool and enabled them to gather fun content quickly for their fans and supporters.

Takeaways: Avail yourself of available resources. Use social media beneficially.

3. The bane of nonprofit communications is oftentimes writing by committee. In crisis communications, the ability to act quickly is critical. How has BMFI managed to create such timely messaging?

In a word, leadership. Gina notes that Executive Director Sam Scott has always put full faith in their communications team, giving them the ability to act quickly.

Takeaways: Trust the experts. As Lisa Sargent so eloquently notes: “…if you have trusted and effective fundraising consultants, this is NOT the time to go it alone! Lean on them now more than ever: mistakes you don’t know you’re making could jeopardize your organization’s future.”

4. What has been the response from the community to your COVID-19 initiatives, including the Entertain, Engage, and Delight page, which includes a crossword puzzle, timely articles, and streaming sites 

Response from the community, notes, Gina, has been “Amazingly positive.” In fact, their most recent mass email, had the highest open rate of any email ever. Check it out below.

Takeaways: Donor service…donor care is more important now than ever.

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