Nonprofits Can Take Steps Now to Create a Positive Future
By David Sharken
Experience gained since the coronavirus pandemic struck shows that the nonprofits best able to respond to the upheaval are those which can stay nimble, shift focus, and try creative ideas – all critical skills practitioners will find useful to embrace in the face of ongoing change.
Above all, organizations should maintain a laser focus on the relevance of their mission and a commitment to clear engagement with their stakeholders. Here are some recommended practices:
Engage Your Senior Leadership
Challenging times are WHY you surround yourself with others who believe in your mission.
Use your board and trusted advisors to get insight from a variety of perspectives (finance, communications, fundraising, management, etc.)
Ask your board to make major donor calls to strengthen relationships.
If you have not already, create a dashboard of key organizational metrics as well as a near-term, mid-term, and long-term (6 month, 1 and 2 year) business plans that identify paths from now to 2022.
Be Brutally Honest
Leadership must clearly understand current conditions and not be overly optimistic or unrealistic about critical factors such as the budget, cash flow, and organizational morale.
Maintain Strong Communications
Organizations should communicate MORE than usual, with a recommended three times your normal level of engagement:
Refine your talking points, emphasize your relevance during this crisis, articulate new needs of the organization (i.e., increased demand for services, loss of income, need for new equipment for online programming and operations, etc.).
Tell stories of impact and recent successes in achieving your mission.
Be creative in your communications to cut through the noise (use videos, memes, humor, emotion).
Personalize as much as possible!
Explore and Use Partnerships
Identify potential partnerships that will amplify your existing work or reach new audiences. While this is only in the nascent stages, collaborations will become increasingly important and prevalent.
For example, arts organizations are doing online concerts to benefit food banks.
Like-missioned organizations are teaming up to deliver a single fundraising event (rather than host two timed close together) and sharing the proceeds.
Be Bold and Visionary
Nonprofits that are thinking out of the box and claiming their bold vision for the future are having success. Now more than ever, people are hungry for community solutions. People are looking to invest resources in organizations that demonstrate that they are ahead of current thinking. As Henry Ford said, “If I’d have asked people what they wanted they would have said ‘A faster horse.’”
Again, use your trusted advisors to help clarify your vision
Keep articulating the community’s need for your organization.
Know Your Constituents
Do not take a “one size fits all” approach to your messaging or product and program delivery.
For example, a school needs to speak with parents, alumni, faculty, donors, and the general public, all of whom need to hear slightly different things.
Make sure you understand the needs, desires, motivations, and concerns of each sub-group within your community.
Stick with the Fundamentals
There are nonprofit and fundraising fundamentals that should not be ignored just because we’re in a crisis. As the poet Robert Duncan said, “The rush to publish is the push to rubbish.”
For instance, you STILL cannot solicit a donor in a first conversation.
There may be urgency, but do not take shortcuts in good management, planning, fundraising or marketing.
Uphold Abundance Thinking
No doubt there is considerable scarcity right now. Drastic cuts in funding will continue to hit some sectors especially hard. That said, do not default to scarcity thinking or believe that it is not possible to get support (and therefore stop asking, stop communicating, etc.) There are resources available if you identify them and connect the dots to your mission. Fundraising success is out there!
Some nonprofits, for example, were able to double the gifts they received in their appeals this past spring.
Others reported “spontaneous” gifts arriving in response to donor communications.
The bottom line is that communities are responding very generously in the face of crisis, and nonprofits are playing a critical part connecting people to the needs of society. The effective organizations will be the ones who can create a path forward; take the hard steps to get there, and communicate a positive and realistic vision.
David Sharken, principal of Rainmaker Consulting, consults with nonprofits on organizational development, board development, fundraising strategy, and strategic planning. Email him at email@example.com or call 413-835-1930.
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