Times are tough. It’s easy to get demoralized. Especially if you work for a business, nonprofit or otherwise, that doesn’t feel ‘essential’ in today’s environment.
It’s human to feel depressed.
A survey conducted in June by the Kaiser Family Foundation found more than 30% of adults in the United States were reporting symptoms consistent with anxiety or depression since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Even our former First Lady revealed in a recent podcast:
“There have been periods throughout this quarantine where I just have felt too low… I have to say, that waking up to the news, waking up to how this administration has or has not responded, waking up to yet another story of a Black man or a Black person somehow being dehumanized or hurt or killed, or falsely accused of something, it is exhausting. It has led to a weight that I haven’t felt in my life — in, in a while.”
I know it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes. And waiting for time to pass sucks.
Yet my Mom always said, “This too shall pass.”
I found it comforting.
It was like she was sharing some universal truth by telling me time-specific depression need not turn to despair.
There’s another path.
Mrs. Obama said she had benefited from keeping a routine, including exercise, getting fresh air and having a regular dinner time. I’ve found these things useful as well. Most important, I’m learning to focus more on what I can control than what I can’t. Plus I’m learning to accept there are some things I can’t do. Some things I can’t fix. Not now.
Sometimes we have to wait.
Meanwhile, there are things to do to make the waiting bearable.
What Nonprofits Can Learn from the Blues
While you’re waiting, you can still make beautiful, stirring music.
The Blues stir people’s emotions.
“Blues music accepts that things are, indeed, bad right now. Someone’s lost a loved one. Someone’s lost their job. Someone’s been cheated. The blues hits us between the eyes with our stark reality (what is), while never losing hope and optimism for a better tomorrow (what will be).”
— Keith Reynold Jennings, V.P., Community Impact, Jackson Healthcare
The best fundraising is emotional and hopeful.
When you can help another person find hope, and even help them find a path to restore hope for someone else, you may be doing the world’s most important work. I sincerely believe this is the work of the philanthropy facilitator.
Discovering the path towards hope… towards meaning… towards individual and communal purpose… comes in many forms.
Restoring hope is essential work.
Whether you do so through social services, education, science, religion, the arts or anything else.
Blues Today? Hope Tomorrow!
Your nonprofit has something the world needs right now.
And you can give it even if the tune you’re playing today is more ‘blues’ than a rousing Sousa march.
What’s important right now is transparency and reality, with a dose of optimism.
Your donors know what’s going on. If you pretend it’s ‘business as usual,’ they won’t believe you. [Note: I still see theaters, symphonies, opera companies and the like acting as if their upcoming seasons, just short months away, are still going forward.] People don’t want to support things they doubt you’ll be able to do. They do want to support your survival – and all the things you are doing right now to keep the faith with the constituencies you serve.
- Talk about your challenges.
- Talk about what’s not working.
- Talk about what is working.
- Talk about new initiatives in which you’re engaged in response to the current environment.
- Talk about where you’re headed.
- Talk about the opportunities that carry you forward to a bright future.
Weave everything you’re feeling and thinking and believing into a compelling narrative.
You still have a story.
It may be a different one than yesterday’s.
A story that may simultaneously break someone’s heart and restore their hope.
A story that will lead people forward.
People Need Hope
Without hope, people get stuck. They shrivel. They give up. They ask “Is that all there is?”
Even during the darkest times, humans search for purpose and meaning. Those who find it are able to make it through. Some find it through their faith. Others find it through their family or their career. Many find it through helping others.
Rise above your own grief and loss to help others deal with theirs.
And, yes, you are likely grieving a loss right now.
I don’t mean a personal loss, though that may also be true. If true, I would like to pause a moment to extend my sympathies and a virtual hug. If you can, cling to the bright spots. In so doing, you may shed a tear. Yet there may be joy in that tear, mixed with your grief. I share with you these words from a truly original American fabric sculptor, dancer, and performance artist:
This feeling… of alertness to the inner-spirit of things — this humming — comes from a hard-earned understanding of the impermanence of things and, indeed, our own impermanence. This lesson ultimately animates and illuminates our lives. We become witnesses to the thrilling emergency of the present — a series of exquisite and burning moments, each extinguished as the next arises. These magical moments are the bright jewels of loss to which we cling.
In times of loss, move towards hope.
Nonprofits – YOU — are grieving the loss of business as usual.
It’s depressing not to be able to go into the office, hang out with co-workers, attend live meetings, have coffee with donors, go to Galas, plan for your usual fall mailings, escort donors on behind-the-scenes tours, create donor recognition events, and just do all the ‘normal’ things this pandemic environment makes impossible. Instead, you’re having to learn new (virtual) skills, scale back programs you’re good at, and embark on programs you’re not quite sure about yet. It feels like a lot of work, and maybe you’re doing it with fewer staff. It’s hard.
Okay. You can share your difficulties. You cannot give up hope.
You still have agency.
It’s within your power to make the situation work.
Fight for Survival
The survival of the folks who rely on your programs and services.
The survival of your supporters, both donors and volunteers.
The survival of all of the folks who care about you and your mission, vision and values.
The blues has been called the music of survival, community and solidarity. What a perfect soundtrack for the times we’re living.
Rather than going dark on folks when they most need to hear from you, why not play the blues?
Voice your narrative with clarity, honesty, simplicity and the beauty that comes from sharing your soulful mission.
Think, and talk, more about the opportunity that lies ahead, less about the loss.
The blues, at its core, weaves together loss and hope. Sorrow mixed with joy. Realism and inspiration.
Even if it’s hard, try to improvise and harmonize by singing or playing the metaphoric blues.
Sell Hope and Something Bigger
Remind yourself of your nonprofit’s big, overarching vision.
I’ll bet it’s a big, inspiring one.
If you need to, first sell or re-sell yourself on your ‘bigger than self’ vision.
Once you believe, you can sell others.
Even though times are tough.
Even though just survival seems in question right now.
While you fight for survival, remember there’s more to life than that.
On the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, survival is at the very bottom. Once survival is met, people find it’s not enough. They want something bigger. They want their life to matter. They want family, community and purpose.
People live for significance.
As you prepare your fundraising appeals and marketing communications moving forward from today, do what you can to sell the sense that, by joining with you, people can contribute towards something transformative. Something they could not have accomplished on their own.
People want hope and meaning right now, and that’s your advantage.
The values your organization enacts daily are the values for-profit businesses desperately seek to find. Sometimes they’ll even partner with you (cause-related marketing) in order to piggyback on the meaning you deliver. Because people seek purpose, people will align themselves with purpose.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t ever remember so many people telling me they want something purposeful to do!
Reach for Community
It’s what the social benefit sector is really all about.
It’s what people desperately seek right now.
In an era of social distancing, with so many people starved for connection and community, your blues composition will not fall on deaf ears.
Top 10 Actions to Share Your Compelling ‘Today Narrative:’
- Host a virtual Town Hall on Zoom, or a similar group meeting platform, to actively engage supporters and source collective wisdom from your community.
- Host a group conference call to update folks and/or answer FAQs.
- Meet for virtual coffee with major gift donors and prospects using Zoom, Skype, Facetime or whatever medium suits your purpose and constituency.
- Host a virtual fundraising event to bond with supporters while raising needed funds.
- Host a virtual recognition event to build your donor and volunteer relationships.
- Host a virtual program event via a medium like YouTube, where you can showcase your art, performance, animals, educational program, research, individual stories or just helpful tips.
- Telephone donors to thank them for past support.
- Send personal notes to thank supporters for past support.
- Make a simple, brief video and send to supporters via email, text and/or social media (e.g., say thank you; tell a story; offer meaningful opportunities to engage).
- Email useful content such as ‘How to (something based on your area of expertise);’ Recommended reading, videos, podcasts, television shows, movies; Inspirational poetry; Recipes (perhaps from clients, actors, doctors, teachers, donors – get creative to relate back to your mission).
Figure out what you can realistically offer to your community right now, and be willing to offer opportunities for them to give you what they can offer you.
Successful fundraising is a value-for-value exchange.
- Ask your supporters for gifts. They want to give them.
- Give gifts to your supporters. They want to receive them.
This is a time to admit and accept today’s reality that people, including those running and supporting your organization, are grieving right now. Yet there’s no reason to lose hope or optimism for tomorrow.
Think about the power of the blues to harness a powerful reality and take you – and yours — on an uplifting journey.
7 CLAIRIFICATION KEYS TO UNLOCK YOUR NONPROFIT’S FUNDRAISING POTENTIAL
This 42-page e-guide includes a wealth of materials to help you take some time to develop the necessary mindset, and supporting infrastructure, to show donor-investors what’s in it for them to affiliate with you. What value do you offer? And why is it better than what anyone else is offering? Grab this series of clairifying worksheets, individual and group exercises, templates, checklists and more. You’ll learn to be genuinely thoughtful about your goals and objectives — something needed today more than ever.
As with all Clairification products, this comes with a 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% refund guarantee. There’s no way you can lose. If you’re not happy, I’m not happy.