The times we’re in are extraordinary, and ‘business as usual’ isn’t. Having strong coping skills today are truly important. As is being more thoughtful and strategic than usual, because you can’t rely on the ‘normal’ playbook.
I recently happened on a thoughtful article I want to share from the University of Colorado, Something for Everyone: 25 Tips to Get Through Your Day. I’ve selected what I believe are the Top Ten Tips for nonprofits.
Use these tips to help you make the most of this time into which we’ve been thrust. See if you find anything that speaks to you. Apply to both your personal and professional life to the extent you can. I’m quoting from the author in the highlighted segments, and following with a number of targeted fundraising and donor communication strategies you may want to consider.
1. Find something you can control, and control the heck out of it.
You can’t do everything as usual, but you can do something.
In moments of big uncertainty and overwhelm, control your little corner of the world. Organize your bookshelf, purge your closet, put together that furniture, group your toys. It helps to anchor and ground us when the bigger things are chaotic.
- Rather than stressing about what you can’t do, consider what you can. There are new opportunites with which everyone is now familiar, like Zoom meetings. Try a virtual ‘coffee date’ with a major donor prospect. Or hold a monthly donor club ‘recognition event.’
- The telephone didn’t go away. Call your donors to check in with them. Not necessarily to ask for a gift, but to see how they’re doing. And thank them for their steadfast support. You know what they say: what goes around comes around. They’ve been giving to you; now give something to them.
- Email didn’t go away. Craft some relevant messages to let folks know what’s going on with your organization, and how grateful you are to them for all their support – past, present and future. Whatever you do, don’t go dark on folks now.
2. Reach out to others
You can’t meet in person, but you can still meet. In human.
Try to do FaceTime, Skype, phone calls, texting—connect with other people to seek and provide support.
- Seize this opportunity to get to know your donors. All of fundraising is a value-for-value exchange. You can’t effectively offer donors the value they seek unless you know what they most care about. Find out! With your most loyal major and monthly donors, call them. With other donors, now’s a great time to send a survey.
- Excuses not to meet have gone away. Donors no longer have gatekeepers you have to get through to speak with them. They also won’t be saying “Why don’t we talk after I get back from vacation?” In other words, your chances of ‘getting a visit’ are better than ever.
- People are welcoming human interaction. Though we are physically distant, virtual connection is a newly accepted possibility. Where in the past people may have put you off, now they may be eager for the interaction. By offering this opportunity, you’re actually providing a donor service.
3. Find a long-term project to dive into.
Think about something you’ve been meaning to do; take it off the back burner.
Now is the time to learn how to play the keyboard, put together a huge jigsaw puzzle, start a 15 hour game of Risk, paint a picture, read the Harry Potter series, binge watch an 8-season show, crochet a blanket, solve a Rubix cube, or develop a new town in Animal Crossing. Find something that will keep you busy, distracted, and engaged to take breaks from what is going on in the outside world.
- What about delving into donor research?
- How about ramping up your monthly giving program?
- Why not grab the software you need to implement an online P2P fundraising program?
4. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and a wide berth.
Empathy and kindness will see us through.
A lot of cooped up time can bring out the worst in everyone. Each person will have moments when they will not be at their best. It is important to move with grace through blowups, to not show up to every argument you are invited to, and to not hold grudges and continue disagreements. Everyone is doing the best they can to make it through this.
- Show up. Don’t go radio silent out of fear or a feeling your contributions to the world right now don’t matter. They do! Contribute.
- Check in with your co-workers, volunteers and donors. Ask how you can help them. Think about why you are grateful to them; tell them. There’s no better time than the present.
- Choose your battles. Let go of the little stuff. Focus on what makes you grateful, and how you can extend your feeling of gratitude to others. Know that this is what’s most important.
- Forgive yourself for blow-ups or lack of follow-through. It’s also okay to ask others for forgiveness.
5. Lower expectations and practice radical self-acceptance.
This is connected to knowing your own values, personality and strengths; no one can do everything and no one is perfect.
We are doing too many things in this moment, under fear and stress. This does not make a formula for excellence. Instead, give yourself what psychologists call “radical self-acceptance”: accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame, or pushback. You cannot fail at this—there is no roadmap, no precedent for this, and we are all truly doing the best we can in an impossible situation.
- Create a step-by-step revised plan and be realistic about calendaring out the steps for yourself. This won’t be the same plan you had pre-Covid-19, so take some of what you were previously planning off the table. Save it for another day.
- Know that you don’t have to do everything. At least not all at once. Pace yourself by using your plan to hold yourself accountable. But to your new plan, not your old one.
- Ask for help; accept help that’s offered. Your board, donors and volunteers really do want to help you right now. Give them that opportunity.
6. Find lightness and humor in each day.
When you bring a smile, you get a smile.
There is a lot to be worried about, and with good reason. Counterbalance this heaviness with something funny each day: cat videos on YouTube, a stand-up show on Netflix, a funny movie—we all need a little comedic relief in our day, every day.
- Even if your mission is front line response, find something heartwarming and upbeat to share. You don’t have to tell a joke to make people smile. Have you been watching the videos of hospital staff applauding as someone is taken off a ventilator? This reminds donors all is not hopeless. Together, you and your supporters are working towards something good.
- Even if your mission isn’t frontline, your work is still important to your supporters. Have you seen the videos from Shedd Aquarium of penguins let loose to wander through the aquarium?
- Find something fun to share with your supporters virtually. Try a recipe, poem or recommended reading or viewing list. The joy you bring will make them feel good, which they will associate with you.
7. Remind yourself daily this is temporary.
My mother was famous for saying “this too shall pass.” I always found it calming.
It seems in the midst of this quarantine that it will never end. It is terrifying to think of the road stretching ahead of us. Please take time to remind yourself that although this is very scary and difficult, and will go on for an undetermined amount of time, it is a season of life and it will pass. We will return to feeing free, safe, busy, and connected in the days ahead.
- Hang out (virtually) with your more optimistic colleagues and friends. Both positivity and negativity are contagious.
- Take time for self-care. Self-love makes it possible for you to practice donor-love.
- Do not stop fundraising or communicating. You want to stay strong, and your donors want you to stay strong. This is not business as usual, but the sky is not falling either. The sun will shine tomorrow – and most of us will survive.
8. Help others.
Think about how you can lend other’s support to get through this uncertain time.
Find ways, big and small, to give back to others. Support restaurants, offer to grocery shop, check in with elderly neighbors, write psychological wellness tips for others—helping others gives us a sense of agency when things seem out of control.
- Give back to your philanthropists, donors and volunteers. Now is the time to stay in touch. Don’t abandon folks! They need to know they matter to you. Shower them with gratitude for their steadfast support, be transparent about what’s going on, and offer clarity as to how they can help. Remember, they love you.
- Give back to your staff. They’ve been your rock. Be as kind as humanly possible. Try to fundraise to keep salaries and benefits intact as much as you can. If you lose too much experience, talent and institutional wisdom, it will be hard to return to normal.
9. Find the lesson.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to kick ‘status quo’ to the curb.
What can each of us learn here, in big and small ways, from this crisis? What needs to change in ourselves, our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world?
- Re-order your strategic priorities for today. Take this opportunity to get rid of low ROI programs. Sometimes ‘pet projects’ (beloved by someone on staff or your board) have a way of lingering long beyond their ‘past due’ date. Now is your chance to say ‘bye-bye.’
- Re-order your strategic priorities for tomorrow. This crisis has given us a rare chance to see ourselves plainly and to plan ahead to adapt to a new future. If you’re adapting through invention (as ‘necessity is the mother of’), don’t assume you’ll give up the advances once the worst of the crisis has passed. Those innovations are a gift.
- If you have downtime, use it wisely. At home, folks are cleaning their closets, garages and attics. What have you back-burnered at work? The folks at M+R have created a list of marketing and messaging tasks to get you started.
10. Notice the good in the world, the helpers.
While you’re at it, notice yourself and the important work you do.
There is a lot of scary, negative, and overwhelming information to take in regarding this pandemic. There are also a ton of stories of people sacrificing, donating, and supporting one another in miraculous ways. It is important to counter-balance the heavy information with the hopeful information.
- Tell stories of healing. People won’t know what’s happening, and want to join in, unless you tell them.
- Tell stories of hope. People won’t feel the joy their steadfast support of your mission is bringing to the world, unless you share.
- Banish your fears, especially when it comes to connecting with your helpers. As long as you lead with gratitude, transparency and empathy, you have nothing to fear. Stop worrying your donors won’t give to you – today or in the future — if you ask them for help today. If your worry leads you to withhold meaningful giving opportunities, you put your future at risk.
Fast and nimble wins the short-term game.
Now is a time for fresh ideas and being bold. Your immediate strategy must begin with charting your own course, rather than defaulting into one of these less effective coping modes: (1) freezing in fear; (2) reacting impulsively, or (3) waiting to be told what to do. While you’re frozen and waiting, folks who rely on you may be suffering. Or simply missing you in action. Including your supporters. Use the 10 tips above to discover your agility and stay relevant and useful for your constituents. Don’t wait!
Slow and steady wins the race.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. Getting through this pandemic now is not just about surviving; it’s about thriving once the worst has passed. So revise or build a new strategic plan and get your key stakeholders on board.
What you do today is not just for today, but also for tomorrow.
We will get through this, and learn something about ourselves and humanity in the process.
Stay strong. Be kind. Be patient. Collaborate. Take care of yourself.
Images: My bears being careful; Splenda packages collage.