Moving from the very earliest stages of the COVID-19 crisis, we at Rainmaker Consulting have a picture of the impacts, challenges, and opportunities that nonprofit organizations are experiencing. As we navigate these very turbulent waters, along with our client agencies, we are consciously nurturing a Culture of Philanthropy to meet near-term changes and create the healthiest possible newer version of our organizations. We already can observe ideas and lessons learned to strengthen your nonprofit now and enhance your leadership role.
Nonprofits vary greatly in how they are reacting to the pandemic. We see negative impacts as well as much creativity and re-focused energy. As always, crisis brings opportunities. The ability to shift focus, the willingness to try creative ideas and stay nimble in the face of ongoing change are all skills that are needed at this time. Nonprofits can be responsive during the pandemic with laser focus on how their mission is relevant and a commitment to clear engagement with stakeholders.
Here are 8 actions we believe are effective right now:
- Engage Senior Leadership– Use your board and trusted advisors to get insight from a variety of perspectives (finance, communications, fundraising, management, etc.). Board members can make phone calls to donors to check in on them, thereby strengthening their near-term and long term relationships.
- Be Brutally Honest (With Each Other)– In order to move forward in action, leadership must very clearly understand current conditions and not be overly optimistic or unrealistic about critical factors such as the budget, cash flow, and organizational morale. If you have not already, we recommend creating a dashboard of key organizational metrics as well as a near-term, mid-term, and long-term (6 month, 1 and 2 year) business plans that identifies a path from now to 2022.
- Maintain Strong Communications– Organizations should communicate MORE than usual, with recommended 3x the engagement.
- Refine your talking points, emphasize your relevance during this crisis, articulate new needs of the organization (demand for services, loss of income, need for new equipment to successfully move offerings online).
- Tell stories of impact and the recent successes in achieving the mission.
- Be creative in your communications to cut through the noise (using videos, memes, humor, emotion, etc.). Personalize as much as possible!
- Explore and Use Partnerships– Identify potential partnerships that will amplify your existing work or help reach new audiences. Arts organizations are doing online concerts to benefit food banks. Similar organizations are teaming up to deliver a single fundraising event (rather than host two in close proximity) and sharing the proceeds. While this is only in the nascent stages, partnerships are likely to become increasingly important and prevalent.
- Be Bold and Visionary–Many nonprofits are having success by thinking outside of the box and claiming their bold vision for the future. Now more than ever, people are hungry for community solutions. People are looking to invest resources in organizations that demonstrate that they are ahead of current thinking. As Henry Ford said, “If I’d have asked people what they wanted they would have said ‘A faster horse.’” Do not be afraid to articulate your vision and the ongoing need for your organization in the months and years to come.
- Know the Needs of Your Constituents– As with all companies, we have different services and products and we market them differently. A school may have parents, alumni, faculty, donors, and the general public as constituents – all of whom need to hear slightly different things. Make sure you do not take a “one size fits all” approach to your messaging or product and program delivery.
- Stick With the Fundamentals– Remember that there are nonprofit and fundraising fundamentals that should not be ignored just because we’re in a crisis. For example, you STILL cannot solicit a donor in a first conversation. As the poet Robert Duncan said, “The rush to publish is the push to rubbish.” There may be urgency, but there are no shortcuts in good management, fundraising, or marketing.
- Maintain Abundance Thinking – No doubt there is considerable scarcity right now. Drastic cuts in nonprofit support will continue to hit some sectors especially hard. That said, you MUST not default to scarcity thinking or believe that it is not possible to get support (and therefore stop asking, stop communicating, etc.). There are resources available if you identify them and connect the dots to your mission.
Communities are responding very generously in the face of crisis. Nonprofit agencies are playing a critical part to connect people to the needs of the society. The effective organizations will be the ones who can create a path forward, take the hard steps to get there, and communicate a positive and realistic vision.