As a coach and consultant to nonprofits and their leaders, this unique moment has resulted in my having a recurring conversation with my clients. We’re living in a time of fear and it's apparent in these discussions. Many of the leaders, staff, and volunteers of nonprofits are finding themselves paralyzed and wondering:
While there’s no perfect or “correct” answer to these questions, I believe charities and their leadership will respond based on their shared values and what they deem most appropriate.
As for me, my response has been the following:
Nothing Has Changed while Everything Has Changed
For clarification, nothing (about your mission and vision) has changed while everything (about the world we’re operating in) has changed - at least for the near term. I believe our actions should be driven by that reality. My response is formed by personal experience and perspective.
I started my nonprofit career a week before September 11, 2001. I was living in New York City and life there was an endless reflection of the grim events the world had witnessed. If you worked for a nonprofit that wasn’t saving lives or caring for those involved in the rescue efforts, it was a struggle to feel relevant. It was even harder to feel like it was appropriate to ask for support for your work. At the time, I was a volunteer fundraiser for a nonprofit doing wonderful work for children in hospitals. I truly believed the organization’s work was important at that very moment and would be once life resumed with some sense of normalcy. I felt compelled to ask for donations even in the midst of this challenging environment.
I’ve also been thinking about conversations I’ve had with volunteer fundraisers hesitant to reach out to donors year after year for a campaign or event like a walk. These volunteers feel the need to “leave the donor alone for a year or two” thinking the donor is tired of giving - and hearing from them. Personally, if I was giving to (for example) heart disease research, year after year and then I stopped being asked, I’d be a little curious... Did they find a cure? Did the fundraiser stop caring? What’s up? If it was important last year and the year before that, it still is unless something has changed about the cause.
Here’s my major point: If you believe in the work of your organization, continue to believe in it, advocate for it and fundraise for it! The need for what you do hasn’t changed, only the environment in which you work has. You may need to make modifications to be respectful of what individuals and families are going through. However, I believe you’ll be well served by taking a proactive approach to communicating with your constituency and stating the need for support. Here are a few guidelines for doing so effectively:
I can’t guarantee that doing the above won’t result in the occasional grumble or unsubscribe. But if your work was worthy of donor support before we knew about the coronavirus, unless something’s changed about your mission, it still is. I believe that by continuing to communicate your presence and need for support, you’ll be better positioned once we find ourselves in that new normal.
If I can be of assistance in crafting your approach, I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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