At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic with business closures and sheltering in place across the country, nonprofit organizations scrambled to deal with their new reality, which included the uncertainty of fundraising, budget cuts and laid-off employees. Most nonprofits began to settle into a cautious routine with most asking, “What should we do next?” In my organization, we continued to discuss the need to be aware of what was happening around us and be sensitive to our donors. Many nonprofit publications, blogs and resources provided much-needed advice to nonprofit professionals, and particularly fundraisers, as to the most effective approach to navigate what was to come.
As a former nonprofit professional, I fast forward a year and a few months later, and the world is beginning to reopen. The contemplation nonprofit organizations are trying to figure out now is how do we navigate this next normal? A world of racial consciousness, social justice and, of course, the health crisis that spurred the shutdown that left a number of fundraisers scratching their heads.
Whatever the decision of your organization, nonprofits that survived will see greater success on the other side by sustaining organizational structure; connecting with employees; engaging loyal and committed donors; and rebuilding the funder pipeline.
Do What You Know How to Do
One of the most important steps is to let your people know that you need funds now more than ever. With so much uncertainty, even in a post-COVID-19 environment, it is imperative that fundraisers articulate to donors that they need to step forward and support the mission of your nonprofit. A key factor for fundraisers in this next normal is to pay close attention to your donor base and your fundraising programs. Diversifying your fundraising programs and channels will be critical to sustaining the organization for years to come. An important lesson from the 2008 financial crisis is that nonprofits with diverse revenue streams typically did better and survived.
Continue to grow your active donor groups. These donors are your foundation and will most likely stay with you, even in tough times. However, diversifying your fundraising channels will be key to long-term survival and sustainability. One important factor that entered the ecosystem during the pandemic was digital capacity and virtual experiences. Digital capacity will continue to be a priority. The entire digital landscape — websites, social media platforms and emails — will play an increasingly important role in fundraising since they are often the entry point for many donors.
Develop a Strategic Plan
Regardless of the extent to which your organization has been affected by the pandemic, your team will have to retool, rethink and rescale plans for now and into the future. The pandemic has been a catalyst for nonprofit organizations to try new things and seek alternate solutions for long-term change. Experience shows us that working with community partners has been effective. This post-pandemic environment creates an exciting opportunity to collaborate in ways we might have considered, but had not yet acted on. Involving your volunteer leadership and donors in your strategic planning will be a critical step as you develop and execute your post-pandemic next steps.
The engagement of board members and key stakeholders in your strategic conversation is critical, if not paramount. A community of executive volunteers and leaders will be a great resource. They will understand how the pandemic has affected people and will help you adjust your organizational priorities. Pay attention and learn from what they and their peers are experiencing and expecting from your organization.
Pay Attention to Your Culture
The pandemic has changed the way in which nonprofit staff and employees traditionally rely on each other. With the number of layoffs organizations experienced, fundraisers have taken on additional and different roles, including frontline service delivery, stewardship planning and, in some cases, administrative responsibilities.
Many nonprofit organizations are experiencing an increased crossover and intersections between different teams and functions. Given this next normal, it is vital for nonprofits to foster a culture where everyone has a role to play in service delivery and administrative duties, in addition to fundraising. Nonprofits must reposition themselves and shift the organization culture to nurture a stronger collaborative approach where shared responsibility is part of their overall mission.
Nonprofit employees are at a point now that they need to stop treading water. Executives need to make sure their teams have the right tools to move forward. It is important that executive leadership pays attention and makes decisions that will ensure the mental health and well-being of their staff.
Nonprofit organizations have an opportunity in this post-pandemic environment to set a plan for immediate success and long-term sustainability of their organizations, but paying attention to donors, strategy and staff will be key. The next normal is upon us, let’s make the most of it.
Editor's Note: This “Corner Office” column was originally published in the May/June 2021 print edition of NonProfit PRO. Click here to subscribe.
Tarsha Whitaker Calloway serves as vice president of philanthropy for Tessitura Network. For almost two decades, Tarsha has helped nonprofits develop fundraising, board governance and fundraising strategies to further their mission. Tarsha has directly led efforts to raise more than $50 million for the nonprofit organizations, including the Woodruff Arts Center, Emory University and the American Cancer Society. She frequently presents locally, regionally and nationally on fundraising; organizational and board development; and diversity and philanthropy.
Outside of work, Tarsha has a monthly column in NonProfit PRO magazine and is actively involved in her community, including board of trustees for Destination Imagination, board of directors' executive committee for Leadership DeKalb, board of directors for National HBCU Hall of Fame and former board chair for Atlanta Shakespeare Theater. Tarsha holds a master's of business administration in international business from Mercer University Stetson School of Business and a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and theater from Texas Southern University. She also holds certificate in current affairs fundraising from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University and a certificate in diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace from South Florida University.
Tarsha resides in Atlanta with her husband and son.