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The decision you’re making, whether you realize it or not

Third in a series of five

Years from now, when we look back on the impact that the crises of 2020 had on the social good community, we’ll see the next 90 days as the tipping point.

We’ll look at this time as the moment when nonprofits made the decision that would define them, and their fundraising, for the next five or ten years.

The decision is this: Will we take this opportunity to move our fundraising culture in a direction and at a pace that have never been possible before? Or we will stick with business as usual, because it’s just too difficult to change?

There is no skipping this question, by the way. Every nonprofit organization is making this decision right now, whether they realize it or not.

In the five-part Growth out of a Crisis webinar, my colleague Alan Clayton at Philanthropy & Fundraising International offers a blunt, data-driven assessment: The leadership behavior of fundraising organizations during and after a period of crisis exacerbates the long-term outcome, whether for good or for bad.

Drawing on more than 350 case studies from clients in more than 30 countries, Alan describes the two types of nonprofit leaders making fundraising decisions today. The first are those who are saying, “I can’t wait until this is over and we can get back to normal.” (“Normal” for many being declining numbers of new donors, plateaus or declines in individual giving, difficulty retaining existing donors and other disturbing trends we’ve been talking about for years.)

The second are those who are saying, “This is a rare opportunity for me to address the problems we’ve been talking about for years. If I take this time to quickly analyze the situation,

I can make key decisions and accelerate my fundraising for years to come.”

The question is, which of those fundraising leaders is answering the question for your organization right now?  Unfortunately, for some, internal politics and the albatross of the 12-month budget cycle will prevail, and the decision will be made for them.

But others will seize this moment, guiding their organizations to the kind of fundraising success that we’ll all be talking about for years to come. The leaders who aren’t waiting for things to go back to how they were before the pandemic are doing these things right now:

  • They’re moving fast to set the long-term dream/goals/ambition of the organization’s fundraising. They’ve turned their growth planning into an emergency project, assigned it to experts who have the authority and the resources to act decisively. They’ve set a deadline. And they’re working toward it.
  • They’re emphasizing simplicity. These leaders are asking themselves and their hand-picked teams: What is the most fundamental problem we exist to solve? How do we express that emotionally? Have your copy/creative team get back to basics, distilling the features of what your organization does and extracting the benefits.
  • They’re telling their team and senior leadership that if we don’t ask and answer these questions honestly, the decision will never get made. And that is, in and of itself, a decision. They’re getting right to the bottom of things. No rose-colored glasses. No excuses.
  • They’re strategically determining their time to act. For some it will be tomorrow. For others, two to three months. Either way, the window is short. Four factors will affect the timing of what you do to position your organization for the long-term growth that can be yours, for less trouble than you might think:
    1. Relevance to the crisis
    2. What other nonprofits are doing, or not
    3. Cash flow
    4. The level of organization-wide buy-in and support

As we’ve seen in the fundraising results many nonprofits are reporting, donors are proving the data that my colleagues and I have seen time and again. People need to give during a crisis, and this is not the time for fundraising organizations to be timid. Now is the time to test and reinvest. This isn’t a directive on which channel you test. Or what message. Or what tactics. Increased direct mail. New digital ads. DRTV. All of the above or none. Just do it now, while there is still less competition from the private sector … while media is still cheaper than it ever has been … and while people still feel the need to give to address the crises we face.

Most nonprofits maintain a cash reserve for a rainy day. THIS IS THE RAINY DAY! What are reserves for, if not to be invested into growing your donor base to secure the organization’s impact for years to come? The string of crises gripping the nation are an incredible opportunity for nonprofit organizations to change their fundraising and gain the momentum they need to solve the many problems facing our communities and our world today. And we might never get another opportunity to do what’s needed to simplify our fundraising and position it for massive growth.

Case in point: KPIs. If you can’t remember all your KPIs, you have too many KPIs. As Alan points out, the only two KPIs that really matter are cost per donor (CPD) and long-term value (LTV). The one-, two- or three-year timelines that most nonprofits focus on are not much use to fundraising, because they show all the investment and none of the return. Instead, the focus should be on 10 years+ 90 days, i.e. creating a plan to move quickly now to grow the donor base (90 days) and secure the organization not just for the next quarter or for the next year, but for the long term (10+ years).

This can be done!  If you’d like to view the “Growth out of a Crisis” webinar series to see case studies of the implications of these decisions, please visit or leave a comment in this blog post. I’ll also continue to summarize the series here in my next installment: “Donor Needs and Communications.”

Every business book ever written tells us that crisis brings opportunity, and for nonprofits, there may NEVER be another chance like this one to transform your fundraising culture for the better. If you’ve ever wanted to change how your organization fundraises — what you invest in, how you message,  how you analyze results, and how you can bring the whole organization along with you — speak now or forever hold your peace.

Kyla Shawyer, CEO Philanthropy & Fundraising North America and Creative Consultant, DSIL Global, 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 barriers and open our minds and our hearts to new ways of collaborating together.

Kyla Shawyer
Author: Kyla Shawyer

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