The Light At The End of The Tunnel?

Wow! Nine weeks seem to have come and gone, and the time seems to have both crept and flown by at the very same time.  And now, as attention shifts to reopening plans and dialogue about what the future looks like, us fundraisers are left searching for the path forward.


But before we talk about the weeks that lie ahead, let’s take a brief stroll down memory lane.


At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, there was much speculation about the impact this global pandemic would have on fundraising.   Nick Ellinger provided some context within this white paper, and we did our own pondering in various content that can be found here.


Today – over two months since MINDset’s first published content on the subject, results indicate that direct marketing has held steady for most, if not increased slightly/significantly.  From analysis of both our clients, and research industry-wide, those organizations with a direct tie to COVID frontline efforts (i.e. health organizations, food and international rescue, etc.) have fared the best, while those that have missions not directly tied to the pandemic’s wake have experienced the most struggle.


Sadly, the increases that many have seen has not come without its share of heartache.  Revenue streams from face to face, peer to peer events and galas have all but halted, leaving many with real budget shortfalls.  So, as the conversation globally shifts to reopening, what is a savvy fundraiser to do?  How can and should we plan for our next phase of ‘new normal’ (which will ultimately occur simultaneously to what is forecasted to be a tumultuous election season) while mitigating as much risk as possible?


Create a Plan (or Two).  Use real-time information, as well as prior year performance and other relevant channel data points, to create a 3-, 6- and 12-month roadmap for your program.  Creating plans for short chunks, as well as a longer time period, will allow for incremental changes and benchmarking to occur.  This will be especially important as we think towards the future – and planning for a potential second wave of the virus.  The future is unknown, but we can take what we have learned to help create pivot-plans for the coming months.


Stage Gate Innovation.  Now, more than ever, launch new innovations with great care.  If you choose to continue down the innovation road (which may be a good idea, depending on the specifics), develop a plan with several test/analyze/review milestones so overall learnings are optimized, while risks are minimized.


Paint Done.  As the acclaimed Brené Brown has said, it is important for everyone to be clear about what success looks like.  And as we march into this new frontier together, the definition of success may have changed.  Be clear on intended outcomes, and ensure any new expectations are communicated with internal stakeholders as relevant.


But Wait…There’s More.  Wouldn’t it be ‘nice’ if the only thing that we had to worry about right now was COVID-19?  Frankly, that would be more than enough. But the truth is, most programs had individual disruptors even before the pandemic.  And sadly, those have likely not gone away…in fact they may have grown in size over the last several months.  Take time to remember the plans that were being made before this pandemic shook our world and infiltrated our brains.  Now is the time to get back to basics, while evolving for current situations.  Pragmatic innovation for the win!


Listen.  Now is not the time for singular agendas.   For organizations to be relevant and sincere, they will need to carefully listen to what is happening around them.  Listen to donors, volunteers, staff and industry peers.   While there’s more to life than this pandemic, terms like ‘social distancing, flatten the curve and #stayhome’ have become regular parts of our shared jargon.  Specific organizational messaging will need to balance this ‘new normal’ with the organization’s specific mission and work.


The future may still be unclear, and we are all learning as we go.  But in relying on a careful mix of ‘tried and true’ principles of direct marketing, along with a little appetite for the unknown, we will all make it over to the other side.  And one day – we will look back on this and remember how strong we all really are!




Written by:

Erica O’Brien




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Candice Briddell

Candice Briddell, Managing Partner and Co-Owner, has worked within the fundraising and marketing industry for nearly twenty years and has been a part of the MINDset team for over a decade. Prior to that, she was integral in the retention marketing program at AOL.