“What’s on your mind as you reopen?” 2 Pro Fundraisers Compare Notes

As nonprofits around the country consider what it means to be #OpenForGood, two of our Personal Fundraising Coaches sat down for a chat about the trends they’re noticing as organizations ease into post-pandemic life and how they’re supporting and advising their clients in a time of transition. Both experienced and dynamic coaches, Andrea is based in Asheville, North Carolina and supports a variety of nonprofits, many in urban or densely populated areas, while Chany focuses mainly on nonprofits in rural communities from her home in Bigfork, Montana.

Andrea Holthouser: I don’t know about you, Chany, but I’ve reached a point where I’m just so tired of talking about the pandemic. While we can’t just pretend that none of this happened, all that textbook fundraising advice has sort of gone out the window. It’s really changing the whole way I think about like talking about being open. Like, we’re open to do good.

Chany Ockert: Or maybe to continue to do good.

Andrea: Yes. We keep on doing all the great work we were doing before. I’m even starting to think about, like, how we talk to clients and ask, “how has your organization changed since last year?”

Chany: For some organizations, especially those in rural areas, the answer might be, “not much.” Where life hasn’t changed as much because of the pandemic, the idea of coming together and saying, “oh, now we’re open for good!” has the potential to be really controversial because not everybody has seen it that way.

Andrea: Especially after a really challenging year, especially as we emerge from lockdown, we have to be mindful that everybody experienced the last 15 months differently. So, while on one hand, I want my clients to celebrate being open for good, on the other hand, I’m also thinking, “how celebratory do we want to be?”

Chany: Right. And especially for us in rural areas, because that we have a high older demographic, we actually lost a lot of volunteers and donors. That base is not going to be as robust for many organizations I work with.

Andrea: That’s a great point. I wonder if there’s also an opportunity to recognize those board members and donors and employees and volunteers that passed away during the past year. I think there’s value in making sure that community members know that. Maybe through an annual report or similar publication that recognizes all of the amazing people lost in the last year.

Chany: I think that’s going to be really important. One place I volunteer at sent out an email last month with the names of volunteers who died in 2020. It was really meaningful.

Andrea: Being in a city, thinking about the future of fundraising, thinking about being “open for good,” I continue to go back to the same idea: tell the story of how the gifts make a difference and how they enabled an organization to adapt and deliver on their missions. When it comes to things like new forms of digital communication, I’m like, “Please don’t revert back to semi-annual communications. Everything you did to engage donors during the pandemic that worked — Keep doing that!” It’s also important to remember that you shouldn’t only be talking to your donors when there’s a crisis going on. The conversations you have today, as you reopen, are just as important as the ones you had a year ago.

Chany: Exactly, if not more important. Otherwise, the donors will feel like they were just taken for granted. In a rural area when you have a limited number of people, that word gets out really quickly! Like, “this nonprofit doesn’t ever say thank you,” or, “they only call me when they want money.” Maybe that reputation takes a little longer to develop in an urban area, but in a rural area, it’s immediate.

Andrea: You’re right. It’s all about finding ways to recognize and appreciate your donors. But it’s also important to take this opportunity to listen to your donors during this time. I recommend using something like a survey to try and get a read on how they’re feeling about things like in-person engagement.

Chany: Right. I’m guessing that if you’re in an urban area, you might have a lot of donors who don’t yet feel comfortable meeting together in-person?

Andrea: Correct – but even for some organizations I work with, during the pandemic, I would say things like, “how comfortable do you feel with getting ten people together?” And they’d say, “fine!”

Chany: “Can we do 50?!”

Andrea: Ha! Exactly. And I just remember thinking, “Wow, this is such a far cry from where I was five minutes ago, literally talking to two people wearing masks that their desks.” So, we just have to make sure that we’re listening to our communities.

Chany: I’ve always said that there are three groups of constituents at nonprofits: the donors, the clients, and the employees/volunteers. Each of those groups is going to react to reopening slightly differently over the next few months. Being a nonprofit leader means finding innovative ways to respond to and support each of those communities.

Andrea: Exactly. Pace yourself and take care of yourself. Maybe I’m being overly simplistic, but just remember that you’re telling the story about what a donor’s gifts made possible. Each time you make those connections for a donor, you’re making good happen. And I think that’s how you show that you’re “open for good.”

Chany: I couldn’t agree more.

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