Planning for the New Normal in 2021: The 3 Cornerstones to Success

By Karen Rotko-Wynn, CFRE, Chief Business Enterprise Officer, The Alford Group and Immediate Past-Chair of the AFP U.S. Foundation for Philanthropy

As I have stood side-by-side this last year with some of the brightest and most creative fundraisers that I know, I have continued to be amazed and in awe of the strength and utter tenacity of the individuals who lead our sector. It is an understatement to say it was an unusually challenging year.

However, our nonprofit leaders not only made major strides in how they “pivoted” (okay, I know the word has been overused) — AND they have proven that by staying focused on what is most important – the mission of the organization – their work has resulted in significant dollars being raised, closer relationships with volunteers and donors, and new innovations being created in the way we do business.

The other day, I was meeting with one of my amazing and innovative clients in a meeting with a prominent philanthropist in Seattle, sharing the challenges and successes of this past year. I found myself saying, “when things get back to normal….” and we all stopped for a minute to acknowledge that things will never be “back to normal” as we knew them to be in the past.

2020 was a year when everything paused for a moment and then all plans were revised quickly. We saw leaders completely adjust the way they had gone about their work – fundraising strategies, donor appeals and major gift approaches adapted significantly.

We found new ways to reach out and connect. And we continue to see the impact of our fundraising in the people and communities we serve during these difficult times.

This is a time we will reflect upon when new best practices were initiated and established that will remain a part of how we work together moving forward.  Not only is this true for fundraising and communications activities, but we have also seen organizations deliver upon their mission in new and innovative ways.

So – what will the “new normal” look like?

Will we go back to having large in-person galas? Mandatory in-person board and committee meetings? Requirements to work in an office 5 days per week? How will our use of technology change the way we work moving forward? And how will the way we communicate with our donors be different going forward?

I believe that we have learned valuable new skills and norms for the way we work, communicate, engage with donors, and involve our boards and volunteer committees.

I hope that each nonprofit reflects on what it has learned and incorporates new thinking and new best practices into how it works with constituents in 2021 and beyond.

#1 Technology

One of the most noticeable ways we have had to adapt to moving to a virtual environment due to a global pandemic is becoming more comfortable using technology.

As AFP puts it in a recent article, “Technology never goes backwards.” In 2021, we can expect the new norms around using technology to stay.

So, what about in-person events?

That’s a tricky question to answer because the future is still uncertain at this point. Perhaps by the end of the year it may be safe to resume in-person events, but a survey of nearly 100 nonprofits has shown that almost half were undecided at the time of the survey in October, and most of the nonprofits who had decided had chosen to avoid in-person events in 2021.

According to Forbes, there’s a number of reasons to believe that in-person events aren’t necessarily going to come back quickly. Clients and donors may be uncomfortable attending an event in-person due to residual crowd anxiety.

Plus, since we’ve all become accustomed to using virtual platforms like Zoom for information sessions, meetings, events, etc., many people may prefer to continue attending such events online until they can ease back into safely being around large groups of people.

Key Takeaways

For this reason, it will continue to be extremely important to stay technologically savvy and keep up an online presence in 2021. The internet is where your prospective clients and donors will be looking for you. The best ways to increase your online visibility is what you may already be familiar with – social media and video marketing.

Videos are important to your online presence for a variety of reasons. A video is more personal than other forms of marketing. It sends out a specific, targeted message from your own voice and leaves a stunning first impression on a prospective client or donor.

A recent Google survey tells us that a majority of donors surveyed said that video ads were the most useful online marketing that they had seen. It will be essential to use this trend to your advantage in 2021.

For more tips on how to take advantage of technology in 2021, check out these blog posts:

#2 Equity-Centered Philanthropy

Recent events across the country and across the globe have shed light on what we already knew – our sector needs to lead in creating a fairer and more just world for all people.

Read The Alford Group’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion here.

In 2021, it is imperative that your organization is visibly and transparently committed to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts both internally and externally.

Doing work in the DEI area requires that you build yourself a lens of understanding – understanding what equity means and how to center it in your work — and then make a commitment to apply that lens to everything you do for your employees, co-workers and community members you serve.

Looking through that lens will not only help you reflect on your own actions but will also set an example for your clients and peers, enabling you to be a resource for those who need to elevate their work in this area.

It is important that you apply this lens by being intentional relative to engaging donors and leaders of color and expanding the definition of who is a philanthropist. Remain open, engaged and transparent with what you learn. With this knowledge and experience, you will soon discover noticeable ways you and your organization can continue to improve and grow.

Key Takeaways

The importance of making a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion cannot be overstated. It is time to make change where change is due.

As a firm serving the nonprofit sector, The Alford Group has embedded an equity lens into every engagement. At The Alford Group, we recently launched our new Culture of Equity Assessment, which aims to assist organizations in assessing their own organizational culture of equity and identify areas for change and improvement.

Doing work in this area is challenging. For more resources to help you create and/or enhance your equity lens, see our blog:

#3 Donor Retention

We saw incredible generosity from donors this last year in response to the pandemic. It is extremely important to steward these relationships with those who have given and continue to keep them close to your mission. Historically, crisis donors often only give once, creating a greater need now than ever to focus on donor retention.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Keep your donors close by keeping them informed of your progress, challenges and successes. They gave to your organization because they believe in your mission.

Keeping in touch via e-mail, video messages, phone calls and social media are just some of the great ways to stay connected. Make sure that they hear from you more often than only when you are coming back with another ask.

Key Takeaways

Once a donor has already given, it means that you’ve convinced them that your mission is worthy of their support. The real work begins with keeping them informed and engaged.

Donor stewardship is the key to long-term success – your immediate personal thank you letter or phone call is so important. You may consider new creative ways to show appreciation, including a video message, if appropriate. Donors have seen endless calls to action in the last year – the way you will set yourself apart is by making your personal online messages genuine, personal and down-to-earth.

Take hints from the relationships you have with long-time donors and ask yourself (or them!) why they keep giving. What was it about you or your organization that earned their loyalty?

Every donor, even if it seems like they intend to only give once, brings with them an opportunity for a relationship. For all the fear and isolation the pandemic brought in 2020, it also brought an abundance of opportunities to connect with each other in ways we haven’t before.

Make 2021 the year of reaching out.

Here are some more resources to help you retain donors in 2021:

Hang in there!  We will get through this challenging and unprecedented time. Be sure to keep some of the great new lessons learned and take the best of your new best practices into the future way you do business.

Lean forward into the growth and impact you have in making the world a better place!

The Alford Group is ready to be your partner. Please contact us to share your new best practices and how you are planning for your organization’s “new normal” in 2021!