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8 Things for Charities to Consider During this Crisis

How quickly things change.

Just a few weeks ago, our clients were asking us the questions we get at all times of year—how to close a major gift that’s in a cultivation cul-de-sac, how to set campaign goals with the right balance between ambition and prudence, or how to work with non-development colleagues on articulating fundraising priorities.

For the last few weeks, we – and our clients, and the rest of the world – are looking at everything through a new lens. Carefully laid out plans, proposals and cases for support no longer apply.  In the biggest global crisis of our generation, messages and communications that don’t acknowledge the new world sound tone deaf. But our work must go on.

Last week, I participated in a meeting of the advisory committee for Offord’s pro-bono partner LEAP | Pecaut Centre. LEAP invests in and helps scale breakthrough social ventures that make significant impact. Like all of you, they’re wondering how to function and think about revenue development in this new reality.

Here are some the key elements of our conversation:

  1. Relationships have never been more important. As one of my LEAP colleagues said: “We know that relationships are what builds capital. Relationships in crisis build capital exponentially.” Reaching out to your donors and communities is a necessity right now, even if it’s just to check in.
  2. What is your unique role in this crisis? Think about the work you do, not necessarily the kind of organization you are, when thinking about how you can contribute (and how donors can support your impact). For instance, schools and community organizations might be stepping up to offer online educational tools; arts groups are connecting us with virtual performances.
  3. What story should we be telling? Who should be hearing it? Are we asking anybody to act? By now the barrage of emails from every entity you’ve ever done business with has slowed down. So, what happens now? See #2. Consider carefully whether your organization is filling an important need right now—or whether now is not the right time. Act thoughtfully and respectfully.
  4. But act quickly. Match your ability to connect with the speed of change out there. No one can wait until we have the “right” answer because there are no answers right now.
  5. Many people need help, and many others are looking for ways to give it. Again, refer to #2. The volatility of the markets will make major donors hesitant, but they may respond to urgent and specific needs. Some of our university clients paused their general annual appeals but sent out urgent asks for emergency relief for students stranded abroad. This reflects responsiveness to events in the world rather than pressing forward blindly with institutional priorities.
  6. Get creative with your partners. Your donors want to be part of the solution. How can you bring them into the conversation? Can you draw on their expertise to structure not only the work but their support? Ask them how they think they can make an impact. And don’t be afraid to be honest and candid about what your organization is experiencing. It’s OK to have a little institutional vulnerability. These are times the world has never seen before.
  7. Retool priorities, strategies, and approaches. The crisis is upending best laid plans for work, families and our day-to-day lives. Many organizations are struggling with keeping their workforce together and must make difficult decisions. Offord has heard from many clients that they are working hard to keep teams together by diverting work, reassigning tasks, and focussing efforts on shorter term projects. Organizations will want to keep a close eye on emerging government programs that aim to support nonprofits and businesses keep employees. Collective industry efforts have been impressive, such as the Emergency Coalition of Canadian Charities’ appeal to the federal government, signed by more than 160 organizations.
  8. Our humanity matters now more than ever. Recognize that everyone is experiencing the crisis differently and coping in different ways. Empathy is crucial, as is listening. And there was never a better time to cut other people a break – even if it’s as simple as laughing when a toddler or dog wanders into the Zoom screen. Take your cues from your donors and constituents but ease your way into the new normal.

How lucky we are to work in a sector whose purpose is making the world a better place. We are blessed with colleagues who share their experiences in order to help others. You are on those front lines, and we at Offord want to know what’s on your mind and what we as a community can address together.

Stay well, and let’s keep the conversation going!