As you know, there’s been a tremendous surge in nonprofit fundraising lately—the political arena in particular—but what you may not know is that the surge began before Election Day. As the alternative right and other extremists were emboldened by Trump’s normalization of hate speech, alarmed progressives and nonprofits took action. And we continue on that path.
A key to keeping up the pressure must be for nonprofit organizations and agencies alike to double-down on information-sharing benchmarks, data, best practices, successes and losses.
It’s critical that we work together because what’s at stake are the causes we so deeply care about: The environment, health care, personal freedoms, social justice, poverty, education, the arts, sciences, etc. Unbelievably, all sectors are imperiled now.
Yes, each nonprofit has to fulfill its mission. And a critical part of that is understanding what’s happening around you—seeing where your organization stands in the context of the national turmoil that is taking place under the Trump regime.
Once we take stock of where our own organizations are, we can share what’s working/not working so everyone can tell the difference between an anomaly and what the new normal looks like. This will help to maximize all of our efforts because we’re all in the trenches together now.
And joining us in the trenches are organizations like the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Direct Marketing Association of Washington and the DMA Nonprofit Federation—all providing industry-wide forums for us to get together and talk about what’s going on and how we can learn from and bolster each other’s success.
Defining the New Norm
We all worry about numbness setting in. There’s so much explosive news now—threats to our climate, health care, possible Russian collusion in the 2016 election, desecration of Jewish cemeteries, the President’s truthfulness—that remarkably are not always the most volatile stories of the day.
But we can’t afford to be numb. We must define the new normal—and that’s already happening. I see apolitical arts organizations now making political statements themselves and through the art they are commissioning and exhibiting to defend the National Endowment for the Arts. I see neighborhoods and communities coming together to protect refugees and immigrants. I see people of all ages and abilities seeking ways to get involved as never before, as peaceful demonstrating has become what we do on weekends now.
From my particular corner office, I’m looking for ways that my company can reach out and share the information, data and best practices that we know are working with our peers, our boards and our colleagues. Those of us working in vertical sectors are in a post-competition era now—we all succeed or fail together, based on how we fight back against the powers that seek to turn back the clock on our hard-fought progress.
An example that I hope other organizations will piggyback on is Avalon’s recent roundtable discussion with Avalon account director Molly Barker, “Unleash Your Inner Advocate.” Fresh off her service as director of marketing for Hillary for America, Molly led a spirited discussion about how passionate advocacy, coupled with tried-and-true tactics, can work when up against formidable opposition. We talked about rapid-response fundraising (planning ahead, getting approvals lined up, finalizing designs, dropping in specific details at the last minute), pivoting your messaging and ways of communicating (e.g. Hillary capitalizing on the “playing the woman card” and “nasty woman” accusations) and harnessing the energy of the country’s renewed passion for involvement.
Collaborating With Nonprofits
Moving forward, we must collaborate and cooperate to make sure we’re all on the same page in terms of benchmarking and where we go from here. Because to win the battle for the causes we care about, which are all in peril, we must work together to find the best ways to tap into the energy and engagement that’s sweeping our industry.
The fundraising industry deserves kudos for the collaborative spirit in which we have always worked, and I hope that it trickles up to other institutions as an effective way to counter the dismantling of our agencies, free speech and democracy as we know it.
But we can and must do better. We need to consider our own work and our own organizations as pieces of a whole that must collaborate so that we all endure.