The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on many non-profits. Revenue is down, staff is dispersed and working from home, and many programs have needed to shut their doors (albeit temporarily) due to government quarantines.
Smart non-profits, though, see this time as an opportunity… an opportunity to reevaluate their operations, their programs, and their fundraising. Now more than ever, the non-profit sector needs strong, visionary leaders who can help the organizations they serve weather the storm and come out on the other end stronger and more effective charities.
Here are four concrete ways you can be a more effective non-profit leader as the world works through the Coronavirus pandemic:
#1: Take a Hard Look at Return on Investment
COVID-19 has changed the way most non-profits operate. Fundraising events have been cancelled, programs shut down, and offices closed. Because things have changed, this is an excellent time for your organization to take a good, hard look at the return you are getting for your investments of time, money, and energy. In doing so, you can be sure that as things open back up, you are focusing on where your non-profit is getting its highest return on investment (ROI).
Start by taking a look at your programs: which of your programs are having the most impact, dollar for dollar. Should you move some of your resources away from underperforming programs to focus on those programs which are having the most success?
Next take a look at your operations: is all of your infrastructure and overhead necessary? For example, if your staff has been working from home for the past 4 months and it has been going well, do you really need that large headquarters office? If not, could you invest them money elsewhere?
Finally, take a look at your fundraising ROI. What types of fundraising are giving you the highest return on your investment? Which strategies are giving you the lowest return? Do you really need all of those fundraising events? Can you invest more time and money into major donors or other areas that are working for your non-profit? COVID-19 has provided your organization with the chance to reset your priorities, your budget, and your time allocation.
#2: Invest in Fundraising
Every non-profit wants to raise more money, but not every non-profit is willing to make the investment in fundraising that is required to really grow your development program. COVID-19 has showed us the power of strong donor relationships – the kinds built by smart development directors, major gift officers, and other fundraising team members. Donors who were well cultivated before the pandemic were willing to donate online when gala events were cancelled and were willing to turn breakfast meetings into Zoom calls with staff from their favorite charities.
Now is not the time to pull back on fundraising, now is the time to invest in fundraising. The world changes rapidly… another economic downturn, pandemic, or international conflict is coming at some point… and the only way your non-profit will be ready is if you have invested in hiring great fundraisers and building a great development program for your organization.
#3: Be More Personal with Donors, Volunteers, and Other Supporters
Before the pandemic, most non-profit leaders were wary of getting too personal in their non-profit communications. They were willing to talk about programs… but not about the fact that it was the Executive Director’s birthday, or that the office needed to be painted, or that one of the board members got lost on the way to a donor meeting but ended up asking for directions at a coffee shop that has now decided to sponsor the annual gala.
Yet, once the pandemic started, personal became the norm. Fundraisers were doing calls with donors from their apartments and explaining why the donor heard a baby crying in the next room… leading to amazing conversations about the donors’ own families. Board members were doing Zoom meetings and talking about the art they had up on the wall in the video or what it was like to go out to the supermarket wearing a mask. And everyone was asking everyone else how they were doing, feeling, and coping.
Getting personal helps relationships grow. Of course, there’s a danger to being too personal, and no staff member should be overly personal with donors and supporters… but your non-profit can certainly open up the curtains a little to build a more personal relationship with your network of supporters… the kind of relationship that leads to lifelong giving, lifelong volunteering, and lifelong cheerleading for your non-profit.
#4: Be Open to New Ways of Doing Things
Finally, if there is one thing that COVID-19 has taught us, it is that as non-profit leaders, we need to be open to new ways of doing things.
Prior to 2020, how many fundraisers would have thought that making a major ask via video conference could be as effective as an in-person ask? How many executive directors would have thought that allowing the entire office to work from home would be a success? How many board members would have agreed that you could raise as much money via an online crowdfunding campaign as through your annual spring event?
To be an effective non-profit leader, you need to keep that openness to new ways of doing things going in the post-COVID world. Question everything. Always be asking yourself, “why can’t we do it this new way?” Chances are that somewhere out there, there’s a better way to do nearly everything you are doing… you just need to be willing to try it.