Ring in the New Year
As we embark on the early days of 2021, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on lessons learned. What does 2021 have in store for us? One thing we have learned from the past ten months is that we should not predict. Are we wiser from the past ten months? I hope so but I would say we are still learning.
Today’s blog deals with lessons learned from the Ashley|Rountree team. I asked some of our consultants, what were the biggest takeaways from the last ten months when it comes to fundraising or the nonprofit sector. While these remarks were compiled independently, you will see a theme evolve.
The power of nonprofits was overwhelmingly visible in 2020. Even as millions were out of work and unsure of how their most basic needs would be met, nonprofits (and their donors) stepped up to ensure their neighbors and the most vulnerable were supported. Nonprofits were able to adapt, meet people where they were and fill in the gap where other resources could not. From a marketing perspective, I saw that people who had the ability to give, were more than willing to donate to charity and just needed to be asked. Among all of the adjectives that describe the year that was 2020, selfless should be on the list!
Chose grants wisely. Don’t try and make the shoe fit. Tell the truth, but don’t beg or sound desperate. Make the argument compelling and more about the funder. Let the grantmakers know you need them more than ever. Ask for what you need and don’t be shy. Be aggressive. Seek as many grants as possible from like-minded investors.
Keep it True
I think one thing I have learned is that focusing on what’s unique to your organization is what helps an organization thrive during difficult times. There are often “buzz words” that nonprofits try to lean into and make fit when in reality, they aren’t true to the core of their mission. Staying away from the trends and maintaining focus on the crux of your mission and vision are often the tried and true way to survive. Don’t get caught up trying to be something you’re not!
The Power of Unrestricted Giving
After years of advocacy from national and local nonprofit groups, big donors have finally begun giving unrestricted dollars. MacKenzie Scott, of course, led the pack by giving away $4.2 billion in large unrestricted gifts at the end of 2020. She doesn’t have a large foundation, just a small group of advisors who helped her identify quality non-profits. She then trusted these well-established leaders to do what they do best – help people. Giving unrestricted money to nonprofits you trust is the best way to help people. New programs won’t have to be created for donors. Instead dollars can be spent to accomplish the work they are already doing. Everybody will benefit from this model of giving. Nonprofits and their staff should talk to their donors about these big unrestricted gifts. It is our job to educate our donors.
Making personal contact
One of the biggest takeaways that I’ve had during the pandemic is the importance of striving to make personal connections with donors. The pandemic seemed to create obstacles for many of our clients in terms of reaching out and staying in close communication with their supporters. Many of our clients we’re not aggressive in picking up the phone to call a prospect or setting up Zoom meetings. At the same time it provided others who were more proactive an opportunity continue to engage folks in new ways. What I saw was that the individuals who reached out and engaged more proactively had better results and forged deeper relationships and ultimately raised more money. I think the lesson from the pandemic is that personal one-on-one fundraising is still essential for ultimate success. It’s those organizations that understand this that will be effective post-pandemic.
Relevancy, Need and Adaption
Development and stewardship continue to be best practices during a pandemic. The pandemic created an opportunity for nonprofits to prove their relevance to their donors. The mission of some organizations became even more relevant during this time. It was an opportunity for nonprofits to really think about their case for support and how to articulate it. The pandemic did not slow the need for services and many nonprofits showed their resiliency by figuring out how to serve their clients in a safe manner. Flexibility became a necessity. And finally, donors still gave! Give For Good Louisville set a new record. And I would guess that many top donors experienced an increase in assets (via the stock market and donor advised funds).
I am surprised and joyous how the nonprofit world did survive through the pandemic! Adaptation and loyalty did it. Nonprofits clung to life via financial, programmatic and organizational efficiencies. Loyal donors pondered, activated and dimensionally increased their commitment more than before.
Despite being in the throes of a pandemic – or perhaps because of it – I’ve found that people are still looking for ways to get involved. In this very philanthropic community we call home, our neighbors want opportunities to help nonprofits that are suddenly experiencing pressure to continue providing services – and in many cases, more than “the before times” – while also dealing with the challenge of doing so safely. Consider whether your organization has volunteer opportunities that could be performed remotely, individually, or in small groups or family units. Make sure these opportunities are posted in a special way on your website or social channels, highlighting the fact that people can get involved from a distance or in another safe manner. By opening your doors (more figuratively than literally) to people looking for ways to contribute beyond themselves, you’ll also expose a new set of potential donors to your organization and the important role it plays in our community.
The New Year brings a fresh start. If something did not work, learn from those lessons, make adjustments and carry on! One thing we do know is that we all continue to learn. In this vein, we have teamed up with other organizations to continue to share best practices. Consider joining one (or both) of the following virtual seminars listed below.
Nonprofit Organizations: Redefining Fundraising and Service Delivery in 2021 with Strothman and Company, January 21, 8-10 am.
Predicting Virtual Fundraising Event Success: Know Your Constituents with Kentucky Nonprofit Network on February 10, 2-3 pm.