You know a good thing when you see it. When I read the article, “The Color of Money,” in the latest issue of Advancing Philanthropy, the magazine published by AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals), I knew within the first two paragraphs that it was worth sharing with you, our Social TrendSpotters. In these times when there are many opinions on how to navigate uncertainty, you see a lot of theory but rarely real-world-tested methods. When it comes to learning, I place my bets on people who have been in the trenches and can speak from their hard-won wisdom. In their article, both authors – Lenita Dunlap, nonprofit executive coach and consultant, and Shawn Wills, senior development executive – articulate an amazing battle plan for nonprofits using the three P’s – pivot, prioritize and people. They also include a lot of great practical advice. I encourage you to share it as a pre-read at your next staff or executive team meeting, assess how you are doing and then create a custom battle plan of your own.
In troubling times, such as the current global pandemic and recent civil unrest, philanthropy requires a diverse eye with regard to funding sources and brand messaging. It is now more important than ever to consider the new faces of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. How are you positioning your organization to flex and pivot in difficult times? Here we explain and share insights based on our work cultivating diverse donors and boards.
Pandemic and Protests. We are in the middle of one of the most devastating economic, health and safety crises of our lifetime. As Black women with more than 40 years of combined experience navigating the nonprofit sector, we’ve had our share of challenges and frustrations leading in predominantly white spaces. Yet, we have had successful careers in fundraising and met audacious fundraising goals by using innovative campaigns and strategies. Not only have we learned and adhered to best practices in raising much-needed resources for various organizations, but we have also committed to following the three P’s: Pivot, Prioritize, People.
Our motto is Pivot to thrive, not just survive. Ask yourself if the current mission is meeting the moment? Are you looking at ways in which your organization is equitable from the board to your clientele? What is your messaging? Are you making bold statements in support of Black lives, yet failing to address the inequities within the sector or your organizations? Are you asking the tough questions? Do you take on a savior complex with your clientele? Do your programs empower? In what ways are you driving impact, and is it effective?
First things first: breathe. The reality of this situation is that it’s bigger than anything you have ever faced; you can’t get anywhere in panic. Put your mask on first. Get some oxygen into your system. Breathe. Take time to think and realize what you can actually do. Develop a 90-day strategy and, if necessary, revamp fundraising programs and build key relationships. You may have to relax your timeline, or you might connect with some funders who will extend grace and create some unexpected partnerships.
Keep the main thing the main thing. Focus on key relationships: board, staff, funders and clientele. Ask yourself, what can you do right now? This is difficult because your instinct is to try and take care of everyone. In a crisis, you have to think about triage and respond with a mission-first mindset. You will have to make the tough calls to stabilize the organization, but don’t forget about humanity and dignity and always handle situations and people with respect. In a “survival only” mode, you’re not thinking long term and will get bogged down with the day-to-day.
So much has happened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet there are still so many unknowns. What we do know, however, is that using virtual platforms; practicing social distancing; and finding new ways to engage our members, donors, clients and students are here for the foreseeable future.
According to a Barclays Lifeskills report, 60% of employers say adaptability has become more important over the last decade, and it is one of the key skills necessary for career success. As fundraisers, we must think of adaptability like a muscle—the more you use it, the stronger it gets. During these unprecedented times, we have been forced to use this muscle to pivot quickly and re-strategize. Whether you are facing challenges due to the pandemic or simply at a time of transition, we can all use this opportunity to adjust our fundraising strategies, because one thing that’s sure: even though the gala halls and ballrooms have been closed since March, the show must go on. We must remain adaptable— pivoting as often as necessary. So whether you are moving your events to a virtual format, hosting more online networking and engagement opportunities, or re-introducing email campaigns, know that the sooner you can pivot, be creative, and think outside the box, the sooner you will be able to meet this current moment in time. The key is to remain flexible because what works today may not work three months from now.
When in crisis, it’s all too easy to get lost in the day-to-day. But, you don’t have control over external circumstances, so reflect on the team around you. Do you need to purge, grow or expand? Love the team and remind them of their value. When you reflect, you have the time to consider what will or will not work instead of reacting to every changing moment. Ask yourself, when was the last time you processed an organizational assessment or a did a board and organizational audit as it relates to equity? Are their diverse people and perspectives represented throughout?
In this profession, when we think about people, we think about ‘Who are we serving?,’ ‘Who are our donors/constituents?’ and ‘Who is our audience?’ In many instances, these are sometimes different people. As fundraisers, it is our responsibility to know the difference so we can craft a message (or fundraiser) that speaks to the appropriate audience.
With times constantly changing, and as we continue to see social injustices and civil unrest, we challenge you and your creative brains to explore opportunities that include different populations and demographics who have often been ignored in your fundraising and acquisition efforts. What do your fundraisers look like? Are you, for lack of a better term, “preaching to the choir”? How are you using your donor engagement opportunities and fundraisers to attract new donors and supporters without alienating your current ones? Though it sounds so simple, we must do the work that engages all people because one message may not resonate with everyone.
Here is something important to remember: You are present in this moment. Sometimes during crisis, you forget about yourself and the team around you. Celebrate the wins. Celebrate the growth. Celebrate the fact that you’ve learned something new. Seek the counsel of mental health professionals and others who have weathered the storm. Burnout is real, and because leaders and fundraisers are constantly planning for what’s next, you need to take time to reflect. Rest is mandatory to restore order. Anxiety is at an all-time high; get ahead by seeking out therapy and familial support. Trust us, the time spent will save your life.
As nonprofit leaders and fundraisers, we desire to lead with purpose and integrity. Now is the time to speak honestly about your work and needs as the world has slowed down, and we become more attuned with the ills of society. With the three P’s—pivot, prioritize, and people—at the forefront of your mind, you can breathe better knowing that you gave this opportunity the best of you. In the end, remember that you are not an island, and you can’t do it all. Give it your best shot and do the next best thing.
I hope you agree that this was an article worth passing on – we would love for you to share any thoughts on their ideas as well as your own on how you are managing uncertainty this past year.