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Finding the smooth air amid turbulent times

Take a moment for mindfulness. That’s what my Apple Watch tells me daily.

I don’t always use the Mindfulness app, to be honest. But I should. I really should.

And I’m guessing you should as well.

Nonprofit marketers have endured—and continue to endure—a massive new era of uncertainty. It can be overwhelming just to list out some of the broad challenges of the last 30 months.

  • COVID’s impact on the world around us, including our staff, our donors, our work environments and more.
  • The supply chain’s impact on direct mail—from raw materials to production.
  • Even more specifically, labels. Many nonprofits are accustomed to the use of labels as a device for acquisition and cultivation. The Finnish Paperworkers’ Union strike from earlier in the year just added to mounting challenges in delivering on the control packages that many organizations rely on.
  • Rising costs, both as a result of supply chain, as well as factors like the Ukraine-Russia conflict, which has reshaped international energy costs on a global basis. * Inflation, which has taken a toll on both our lower-dollar and high-dollar donors.
  • Recession, which remains a threat.
  • The Great Resignation has disrupted our teams and created instability in delivery of many aspects of our services. 48 million people quit their jobs in 2021—and another 8.6 million in the first quarter of 2022.
  • Looming threats on changes in data privacy legislation, which could massively complicate the ways that nonprofits go to market.

Heavy, isn’t it? And that’s the broad view, not specifically in your walls or mine.

In recent weeks, I’ve become overtly interested in the weight of these uncertainties, the reality behind them and how nonprofit marketers should navigate them. As a part of my journey, I went back to read my colleague Max Bunch’s TNPA blog post on fatigue and burnout—published almost a year ago.

If we were fatigued then, we may be war-torn and ragged now. My look at uncertainty has fueled a series of conversations on RKD Group’s podcast, Group Thinkers, wherein we’ve uncovered three ways to navigate current and future turbulence. And, in many ways, they connect back to the notification I receive on my watch to be more mindful.

•   Stay connected. Whether or not you are on staff at a nonprofit, or in a for-profit organization that supports nonprofits—you are not in the uncertainty alone. In this Group Thinkers episode, featuring TNPA’s CEO Shannon McCracken, we discuss current status of key legislative items like the Universal Charitable Deduction and Data Privacy. If you’re reading this, you’re likely already aware of Shannon & Team’s efforts to be a strong voice for the nonprofit sector as it relates to strategic legislative issues. I know that I don’t have to burden uncertainty alone, because I can rely on The Nonprofit Alliance to stay out front and keep me in the loop.

•   Invest in others. It is far too easy to allow isolation to make your work interactions more transactional and less collaborative. Navigating uncertainty with your best self means putting others first—especially when it comes to attracting and retaining staff. In this same episode of Group Thinkers, Shannon shares a few ways that you can invest in your staff:

o There are a growing number of professional development and industry-groups, like Chief, that are bringing like-minded people into community. For me, community is like the kitchen table—it is where important discussions are had; where iron sharpening occurs; and where you deepen bonds. Networks like Chief are a brilliant way to invest in others.

o Enable new, creative benefits for employees. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) is a relatively unknown way that nonprofits can bolster recruitment and give nonprofits an edge. These sorts of benefits can make your nonprofit more competitive versus commercial jobs, while still offering the opportunity for new staff to be touched by the mission of the work your nonprofit performs.

o TNPA has also made the strategic decision to come alongside the next generation of nonprofit leaders through its Rising Leaders Summit. While leadership development opportunities are important to senior leaders, we must go further to invest in the emerging leaders of tomorrow. This event is something that RKD is committed to attending and supporting—and I hope you’ll join me in committing to this (and other means) for the growth of those around us.

•   Be present. Perhaps the single-biggest throughline in all of my conversations on uncertainty comes back to this idea of “now.” Don’t get so caught up in overanalyzing the past or worrying about the future. Be mindful of those around you. Be present in the moment. Heighten your use of emotional intelligence. Use intentionality with your team by asking questions and paying attention to their responses. Listening is so important—and yet, so difficult. We think four times faster than we speak, so we must work even harder to do the work of active listening.

Who knows what will come next? More turbulence? Or some smooth air?

Either way, the rate of change and flow of data will continue to make both marketing and management ever more complex. It’s only by being better versions of ourselves that we can face bigger challenges with confidence.

Watch the full Group Thinkers episode featuring TNPA’s CEO, Shannon McCracken

Justin McCord
Author: Justin McCord

Justin McCord is the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at RKD Group. Justin oversees brand management, business development and content marketing for RKD, and he hosts the award-winning Group Thinkers podcast.

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