Jason Lewis

How Can Nonprofits Mitigate the Effects of Covid-19 on Fundraising Going Forward?

Earlier this week I had the privilege of being a part of an international panel to discuss how Covid-19 has affected fundraising and how we can mitigate its effects going forward. I am very grateful to Miriam Hussain and the team at IDConnect UK for allowing me this opportunity to share my thoughts.

What was most encouraging about the experience was that even as the panel was in touch with the challenges we face, they are were quite optimistic about the road ahead.

My first observation may be the most obvious: charities have experienced a reality check with special events and are evaluating the role these events will play going forward. That said, the virtual event which became the most natural pivot has proven itself a viable contributor to an overall strategy and may remain strong even after in-person events resume.

My second observation which may not be surprising to most fundraisers is a word of caution to employers. Even before Covid-19 shut the entire world down, I was beginning to sense a lot of tension between the fundraiser in the field and the boss at the office. An underlying culture of metrics has overrun any semblance of a culture of philanthropy and, in some cases, any commitment of developing sustainable relationships with our donors. I get the impression that Covid-19 has exacerbated the sense that expectations from overhead are out of line with reality.

This might be my first ah-ha moment for some. I believe high context communication is going to make a serious comeback in the next twelve months. While grant-writing, direct mail, and online fundraising can be done very efficiently and at an arms-length, the donor is insisting that they be listened to, better understood, and communicated with in meaningful ways. I am repeatedly hearing that donors are picking up the phone, increasingly receptive to conversation and eager to engage in ways they might not have had the time or desire for even just a couple of months ago.

If you’re not quite convinced that donor expectations are high, just wait until we edge closer to the November election and, perhaps, as we begin to genuinely resolve some of the social unrest that has played out in the last couple of months. Context is king. If you’re not relating to your donor in ways that signal, “yes, we know who and where you are in the world,” they will not listen to you.

Quick case in point, I recently watched closely as a long-time leader in direct response shamed an organization that failed to meet his expectations of a response to his gift of $1,000. He represents the same soon-to-be major donor cohort who, even as they might only be half as generous as their parents, will be increasingly intolerant of most of the sector’s shallow fundraising tactics. This donor has experienced a marketplace that has responded to his every whim his entire life; why would he not expect fundraising to behave the same way?

All that said, my final thought was about turnover. I believe we can anticipate lots of movement in the months to come as fundraisers have become increasingly aware of how unprepared they and their employers were for Covid-19 and, subsequently, how much pressure they experienced as they did their best to chart such unfamiliar territory. Complicating this movement is the reality that most nonprofits don’t have the resources to pay executive recruiters to navigate these changes on their behalf and those that could afford it may not have seen this approach play out all that effectively pre-Covid. For a number of reasons, I believe these organizations will first attempt the search process on their own; and if that fails them, they will look for innovative, non-traditional talent solutions next.

With all this in mind, our team at Responsive is gearing up for opportunities to both identify and train talented fundraisers who can deliver on the meaningful relationships that we believe donors will expect in the near future. We are also helping organizations create places where these individuals can be most successful. We believe the profession has experienced a growth spurt in the last ten years that has resulted in a more discerning fundraiser who desires to be recognized and admired for meaningful work and, with the help of recent events, has developed a better sense of what those places look like.

If your organization is determined to get fundraising right but not quite sure what that looks like in this new world we live in, reach out anytime. I would be happy to volunteer an hour of my time to understand your circumstances, share a few of my ideas, and provide some encouragement.

Jason Lewis

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