It’s. Been. A. Year.

By: Nadine Gabai-Botero, CFRE, President

March 9, 2021

No doubt that March will be filled with reflections on the 12 months we’ve all spent dodging and dealing with Covid. While “where were you when the pandemic hit?” will surely be this generation’s “where were you on 9/11?” question, I’ve been thinking about the more specific questions that fundraisers (and really, every industry and sector), should be asking. 

On a recent webinar with members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals DC Chapter, we talked in breakout rooms about how things have changed, what we should continue to do, and what we’d be ok to toss post-Covid along with our expired yeast packets and those masks that just never fit right. 

While some of the observations were pretty standard (like the easier connections to see donors via zoom), others were more nuanced. For many of us on the call, the good and bad came to light only after operating in shut-down mode for a while and we were able to see what aspects will definitely make next year’s strategic development plan and which just make our work more challenging.

So, in honor of our one year Coronaversary, I decided to share a list inspired by my AFP DC colleagues detailing activities that I hope will become standard operating practice in development going forward. 

  • Transparency with funders - Let’s face it, fundraisers are usually optimists (we have to be!) and that often means glossing over the not-so-great-news. But last spring and throughout 2020, we had to tell donors what was really going on and how they could help. That honesty really resonated and, in many cases, led to stronger relationships where it was ok to talk about the impact of the shut-down, tough decisions, and experimental programs and services you were considering. 
  • More frequent, intentional communication - While some organizations have robust comms plans they execute flawlessly, for many nonprofits regular outreach with individual and institutional donors just wasn’t happening as often as it should have. Without events or other opportunities to see donors, we’ve now gotten quite good at more consistent and creative messaging, varying who reaches out and the stories you share.This is so good and necessary; I hope we keep it up.
  • Inspiring virtual events - While I miss the impromptu conversations and connections that are often part of galas and house parties, I’ve really enjoyed seeing how nonprofits have expanded their event playbook in the past year. From gift box deliveries and special guests zooming in from anywhere, to compelling videos and a broader reach when there’s no cap on attendees or a per person charge, we’ve seen what can be accomplished and I believe these kinds of events are here to stay. Ideally we see a mix going forward, where in-person and virtual complement each other and enable an organization to cultivate new supporters while deepening ties with longtime donors.
  • Diversified giving - For years many nonprofits were too dependent on one or two giving channels and they didn’t -- or couldn’t -- build a broader fundraising program. This last year exposed the risk we knew was there, and some organizations are hurting as a result. While PPP, robust Giving Tuesday and year-end campaigns, and new institutional funding opportunities helped close budget gaps for some, the rest of 2021 may be a reckoning for other nonprofits that don’t have reserves or other giving channels to rely on. If this sounds like your organization, I hope you start to build where it’s needed now, so you weather what’s left of Covid and are better prepared in the future.
  • Quick pivots - Let’s face it, most development shops aren’t known for their nimbleness and experimentation. But when the game changed last spring, we HAD to toss out our fundraising plans, rewrite the case for support, and think through new outreach strategies. While that was crazy stressful, it also was dynamic and bold and enabled many connections that might not have been possible. How can we keep that energy once we’re back in the regular day-to-day? 

Well, this is my list right now. Covid’s not over so let’s see what the next few months bring! What am I missing? Reach out and let me know what you’re learned and how you’re doing!