As more folks receive the Covid-19 vaccine, everyone is starting to wonder what fundraising in a post-pandemic world might look like. What lessons, if any, have we learned in the nonprofit world from this experience? What trends are unlikely to reverse, especially where fundraising is concerned?

21st Century Institutions

In my opinion, the pandemic uncovered the fundamental and often assumed values that our organizations were operating upon. Strangely, the changes made necessary by the pandemic were hard because many of our organizations are still in the 20th century as their fundamental mindset.

One thing Covid-19 did was drag many institutions that were hanging onto 20th century attitudes into a 21st century mindset, often kicking and screaming. Some will be eager to return their 20th century practices as quickly as possible. Some already have.

Take a look at this chart (which I compiled from several sources) showing the differences between how 20th century institutions and 21st century institutions operate:

20th Century21st Century
ScarcityAbundance
Top-Down HierarchyCollaboration and Partnership
Revered for CredentialsTrusted for Integrity and Results
One-way BroadcastingTwo-way Engagement
Measuring ActivityMeasuring Impact
Command and ControlTrust-based Management
SpecialistAdaptable Generalist
MicromanagerCoach
FailureStepping Stone
Work-Life SeparationWork-Life Integration
Location Dependent WorkVirtual and Flexible Work

Many nonprofit organizations are clinging to models of leadership that are grounded in the 20th century organizational mindset. I don’t think this has anything to do with when the organization was founded. It’s an approach.

It’s in the assumptions the leaders make and how leadership is viewed. A nonprofit that was started yesterday could be firmly rooted in a 20th century approach. I work for an independent seminary founded in 1904, but our school is driven by 21st century principles and was for most of its history.

As a fundraiser who works remotely from home supervising two other remote employees and raising money from donors all over the country, all for an institution that was a pioneer in online education, I can tell you there’s a huge difference in the approach to challenges when you work for a 21st century organization.

Here are a few areas where I think misalignment between those two mindsets will cause issues in a post-pandemic nonprofit industry.

Trust in Your Employees

Managers that wring their hands about whether their employees are being “productive enough” are missing the point. Mark Murphy at Leadership IQ cited that remote employees are 87% more likely to love their job than those who work in offices. That’s an astounding statistic and one that I can say is true for me.

Working from home is all about trust. If you cannot trust your folks to achieve the desired results, you need to take a hard look at your leadership. Getting things done from home is all about letting go of the need to be at a desk and having a divide between work and life.

Many organizations are eager to return to a model where you sit at a desk somewhere for 8 hours a day. I wonder though…how much demand there will be for those positions if other organizations begin to embrace remote and flexible work options.

Long term, I anticipate that 21st century organizations will become the exciting places to work and those organizations will get their pick of the best candidates in the nonprofit industry going forward.

Technology

Zoom and other video conferencing software will not be going away. Churches are discussing how to produce hybrid services in the future to increase their reach. Events are likely to become more in-person AND online rather than in-person OR online. Adaptability to this new environment where geography becomes less important will be central to our post-pandemic world.

I also think that having mobility with our data is a 21st essential. I was horrified to hear about nonprofits early in the pandemic who still had all of their donor data on servers in their offices and fundraising staff that didn’t have laptops. Invest in software and hardware that empowers your staff to do their work from anywhere: office, home, while traveling. That’s 21st century thinking.

Communication

Organizations grounded in a 21st century mindset look for ways to foster two-way communication from their constituencies that emphasizes engagement. We are moving away from a traditional, interruption-based, broadcast marketing mindset of billboards and television commercials toward exchanges through social media, websites, email, and text.

This two-way marketing has been a trend for a while now but has become even more important during the pandemic. I predict engaged marketing will be an even bigger part of our annual fund marketing in the next five years. So, keep thinking about ways to be in active dialogue with your constituency.

Fundraising Travel and Metrics

Fundraising offices that cling to strict metrics around in-person visits will lose ground with donors and frustrate their fundraisers. My prediction is now that donors have become familiar with Zoom, they will be less inclined to see fundraisers travel long distances to do an in-person visit. Donors often expressed concerns about the cost of travel in terms of time and money. Some donors have environmental concerns around traveling for visits.

If donors become reluctant to take an in-person meeting over the next few years but are willing to engage virtually, why would managers insist that only in-person visits “count” for metrics? Well, probably because that manager has a leadership mindset that is 20th century: measuring activity, common and control, etc. Instead, let’s focus on moving the relationship and mission forward, what good fundraising is all about.

Managers should be a coach for your team, not a metrics micromanager. Measure outcomes, not activity. Assume everyone is doing their best and support them in doing that and you will foster a kind of loyalty that will serve your organization well beyond this pandemic.

Fundraising Pressure

Nonprofit and fundraising roles can be extremely stressful. The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an article in August of 2019 about new research showing that 51% of fundraisers plan to leave the field entirely in the next two years. And, that statistic is from 2019, well before the pandemic. The article went on to state that a whopping 84% of fundraisers said they felt “tremendous pressure to succeed” in their role. Again, this is well before the pandemic.

With 84% of fundraising feeling pressure to succeed and almost a third of all fundraisers wanting to leave the nonprofit industry before the pandemic, we can see that fundraiser turnover is only likely to increase post-pandemic.

Retaining staff, especially fundraising staff, will be difficult for organizations that operate with 20th century principles. 21st century nonprofit workplaces will have a distinct advantage at keeping great fundraisers which will improve the viability of those organizations and their missions.

Conclusion

If I had a crystal ball to see how the nonprofit world will change post-pandemic, I think two clear pictures would emerge from the mist. Organizations that grasp tightly to those 20th century values will struggle to keep great employees and engage donors.

However, nonprofits that have fully embraced 21st century values will enjoy a distinct advantage. Those organizations will meet donors where they are, even if that’s 100% virtual years from now. Those organizations will build metrics that make sense and connect directly to mission and relationships. Those organizations will have their pick of high-performing employees, even if those work remotely or have flexible arrangements. Those organizations will continue the journey of deploying all available new technology to meet their goals and engage their constituencies in dialogue that matters.

We can view the pandemic as an unfortunate aberration from “normal” operations, or we can assess what we have learned and take a future-oriented mindset into our post-pandemic world.

Modern Tools for 21st Century Nonprofits

At Humanitru, we believe that nonprofits that create more opportunities for engagement and two-way communication for their supporters will be able to build greater donor loyalty and experience more fundraising success.

Additionally, measuring impact is equally crucial for these nonprofits. That’s why we’ve built a full, 360-degree, Supporter Engagement Platform that brings all of your supporter data and engagement together in one location with reporting capabilities that will allow you to build a comprehensive fundraising strategy.

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With over 20 years of fundraising experience, Jessica has worked for the Starr King School for the Ministry, The University of Southern Mississippi Foundation, The University of South Carolina, RuffaloCODY, and the Libertarian National Committee. As a consultant, Jessica provides her fundraising services to nonprofits and higher education organizations. You can find her at Real Deal Fundraising.
Jessica Cloud, CFRE, MA

Fundraising Success Coach

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