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How to help your fundraising graduate from good to great

First in a series of five

If you’re like me, you have been invited to many webinars lately, most of them focused on how social good organizations can survive the COVID-19 crisis. But if our missions are as important as we know that they are, survival is not enough. 

Whatever the end of COVID-19 looks like, and that of course is highly uncertain, one thing is clear: The vulnerabilities and injustices of the world, pre-pandemic, will still be there post-pandemic. Many will be far worse, and our work will be needed more than ever.

That is why the social good community needs to be talking — right now — about how to take our fundraising from good to great. We absolutely can position our organizations not just to survive but to thrive. But we also must understand that whether our organizations will come out on the other side of COVID-19 stronger or weaker rests almost entirely on the shoulders of the fundraising team.

My colleague Alan Clayton at Philanthropy & Fundraising International is kicking off this important conversation in a five-episode, research- and case study-based webinar series that will be available mid-May: “Growth out of a Crisis.” I want to share a sneak peek with you from the first installment, “An Introduction to Great Fundraising in the Time of COVID-19,” because what you do now is critical to answer the #1 question of how soon, and how well, you can relaunch your fundraising.

Regrettably, some organizations will not survive this crisis.  Research that Philanthropy & Fundraising International has conducted since the Great Recession of 2008 puts at 1 in 5 the number of non-profits that will buckle under the weight of decisions — like cutting back on fundraising — during this crisis. They will emerge in an L-shaped, water-treading recovery. The future will not be bright.

Most non-profits — about 2 in 3 — will continue to fundraise (well done, you) but with a business-as-usual mindset. They’ll proceed cautiously so as not to offend anyone. They’ll send an emergency appeal here and there that will bring in some cashflow, but few new donors. When the dust settles, they will be facing a U-shaped recovery of slow, gradual gains. 

However, a few organizations — Alan estimates 1 in 10 — will grow and grow quickly because their fundraisers did more than pivot. Embracing “turnaround leadership,” they stared down the biggest barrier of all, internal conflict, to prepare them to create growth for their organizations as soon as the time was right. Most importantly of all? They did it with the kind of thorough and fast thinking that Alan refers to as “crisp decision-making.” Their reward will be a V-shaped recovery:  Long-term growth opportunities that will bring in 2X, 3X or even 4X the funds they would have raised had they given in to the fear and procrastination we all are facing at this moment. 

The questions you should be challenging yourself to answer right now include: 

– Why should donors want and need to give to your organization right now?

– How can you turn crisis into opportunity? The cost to acquire new donors across many channels and trigger massive growth for your organization will never be lower than it is now. Nonprofits that seize this moment will grow very, very quickly.

– Have internal conflicts been paralyzing your non-profit, even in good times? If so, how can you cut through these and take on Fundraising vs. the Culture, Fundraising vs. Investment in “substantive” programs and Fundraising vs. Communications?

Donkey making it hard for a hiker to lead him

These and other important insights into what differentiates great fundraising leaders and organizations, especially in times of crisis, will be shared in future blogs. (If you’re interested in attending the “Growth out of a Crisis” webinar series, please visit

Sink, swim far ahead of the rest, or simply stay afloat. These are the options that the social good community faces. In my next blog in this series, I’ll talk about the leadership behaviors which set the great organizations apart. In the meantime, challenge yourself to imagine what thriving would look like for your organization, and the role you will play in that success story.

Kyla Shawyer, Chief Transformation Consultant, DSIL Global; CEO Philanthropy & Fundraising North America, is a passionate advocate for sharing and collaboration in the social good space. After 14 years leading nonprofits, including Operation Smile, the Resource Alliance and the IFC global nonprofit community, Kyla has seen firsthand the magic and impact that can be created when we break down internal barriers and open our minds and our hearts to new ways of learning and working together. 

Kyla Shawyer
Author: Kyla Shawyer

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