How COVID-19 Could Change Fundraising Moving Forward
There will be life after COVID-19. That I can guarantee. What I can’t guarantee is what life will look like.
Life will look and feel different than it does today. Change is almost a constant guarantee. And admittedly, this is a moment of global change.
I tend to see the opportunity in despair or the solutions to challenges. And as such, I tend to think about what positives could come as a result of this great upheaval.
Here are some things about how I believe fundraising could be different after COVID-19:
Recognition that we are all interconnected. All of life is symbiotic. It ebbs and flows together. But what we don’t see is the global perspective. We tend to focus on fundraising from a local lens. Recognition of the universality of our conditions — we will be more apt to think globally in our thought patterns and want to understand best practices from a larger interconnected view.
For the first time, fundraising systems across the globe are being impacted equally across the board by the same health and economic situations. We are now turning toward peers in other countries near and far for solace, community and learnings. Collaboration amongst fundraisers has increased globally as we all struggle with these unprecedented times.
Because we are all interconnected, a greater focus will be placed on risk assessments at a much broader level. Who thought three months ago that this virus in China would ever cause the amount of havoc that it has? Was this something that was brought to your board meeting in January? Did you discuss risk assessments and the possibility that the virus would make its way to your state ,and how our nonprofit would pivot? Moving into the future, it should become standard practice for boards and organizational leadership to look at global crises and scan for risks and potential threats.
While fundraising diversification has always been much talked about, I hope as we move out of the pandemic, organizations will adopt the clarion call to diversify. It is those groups that have been solely reliant on grants and special events to carry them that are now most vulnerable. Even so-called “alternate methods to philanthropy,” such as social enterprise, that are quite common in other countries are themselves taking a hit during this pandemic. Social enterprise has not only lost revenue, but also jobs for the very vulnerable clients who we serve.
Along this vein, groups will need to rethink their special event strategy. There has been a movement to pivot during these times to ensure that the endless routine of special events continues in a virtual format. However, many virtual formats are falling flat and appear somewhat out of tune with these unprecedented times. The groups that want to move their events to virtual are doing so at the cost of looking out of touch with reality.
Let’s face it: With 10 million unemployed in the last two weeks, people locked in their homes with their mental health declining and rations for supplies at grocery stores, the last thing on one’s mind is grabbing a glass of wine and sitting in on a virtual gala. But it is because these groups know no other fundraising strategies that they automatically default to what they know.
Moving forward, this is the time that groups need to become much more sophisticated in their strategies, focusing on building broad donor bases; upgrading donors; tending to donor loyalty and retention; and asking donors for gifts. This trend is evident in those groups that have made efforts to this aim. They are urgently appealing to their donors and receiving gifts. I predict a revival of the gift pyramid and a back-to-basics approach.
Digital techniques have, by virtual necessity, taken front and center stage. There will be a greater emphasis on the use of technology as it pertains to fundraising. Whether it is a video in mass e-appeals, text messaging to donors or even digital lead acquisition.
Greater emphasis will be placed on having clean and up-to-date data management systems. This sector, for many, was caught off guard. The well-intentioned, but often put on the back burner, database clean up and management has led to having many groups disadvantaged. Far too many had incomplete donor contact records, lacking email addresses, mobile text numbers, etc. It will behoove groups to take a good hard look at their data and ensure that it is up to date and as complete as possible.
While it is essential to have government bailouts and loans, we can’t always expect that. Our parents taught us to always “save for a rainy day.” And that rainy day has arrived. The concern is that many groups do not have sufficient reserves on hand to weather those rainy days. It will become imperative that the board of directors take a stance on fundraising to build reserves, including starting and funding endowment funds.
In this case, organizations that have healthy reserves have been able to keep some form of direct client services in place and staff employed. Those that have not had to take stringent measures, including staff and service delivery reductions and or closures.
Endowment restrictions must be relaxed. Boards of directors must consider asking themselves the tough questions of mission versus money. During these hard times, some boards have been reluctant to tap into their reserves and/or endowment funds due to down market conditions. Again, what did we save these for? And hasn’t our rainy day arrived, which we need to ensure mission delivery? These days are a moment of perpetuity. I have seen organizations that have furloughed staff, but yet have strong endowment reserves.
Perhaps the day has arrived when foundations will finally see the need to release restrictions on funding programs versus the very direct operating costs that many of these organizations need. The recent move to free up restricted grants and open up money to emergency needs will continue as foundations realize that these groups know how to provide the services best and what is needed to operate — less dictating how services are provided and more so that they continue to be provided with the best infrastructure.
We must move toward a more virtual, remote and outsourced world. For years, I have worked virtually and have found it difficult to obtain clients who are willing to work with me in this manner. Now, we all must work together and find ways to continue our work while not being in an office. Groups will discover greater cost efficiencies as well as productivity and effectiveness. And as more groups lay off their staff, outsourced, remote employees, contract persons and consultants can provide professional services in a more cost-efficient manner.
A move towards fundraising coaching rather than consulting is evident. We, as coaches during this crisis, have provided advisory services and have helped our clients weather the storm through our years of experience in a way that consultants have not been as nimble. Coaching is a much more cost-efficient method for groups to take advantage of professional expertise and services. For me, my coaching has increased by 700% in the last two weeks, while more costly consultative project work has ground to a standstill.
Coaches are agile enough to do both at a much lower price point to the client.
And there, you have my projections. I say… let’s stick these in a time capsule and open this up in one year. What I do know is that change is inevitable, and how we use that change to our advantage is how we form and shape best practices moving into the future.
While this pandemic seems overwhelming most days, there is a legacy of growth and opportunity for those who want to take a longer and more optimistic view. After living through being in the epicenter of the bushfires in Australia, I can tell you: This, too, shall pass. And when it does, your organization should be ready for the “what’s next.”
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