How the past year taught not-for-profit leaders to create a plan when the future is uncertain
Can volunteers and donors connect with a not-for-profit organization’s mission without face-to-face interactions? Are not-for-profits an anomaly to the flexibility of a work-from-home situation? Is it a misuse of funds to require employees to work in an office space versus their home offices? The past year-and-a-half tested leaders across the country (and continues to test!), as we all faced unknown challenges. Despite the struggles we endured, not-for-profit leaders also learned some lessons along the way. Here they are:
The initial transition
While no one could have anticipated the immediate need to send employees home to work where possible, many would argue this situation was successful. The lack of face-to-face communication was substituted with Zoom and Teams meetings, and annual galas weren’t canceled in all cases – they were revamped for an online audience. In some instances when galas were canceled, donors continued to support organizations regardless. Nonetheless, not-for-profit organizations are built on fundraising and volunteers. In-person events and opportunities weren’t possible during the periods of stay-at-home orders, which not only had an impact on funding but also forced organizations to think outside-of-the-box in communicating their mission with the public and continuing to engage volunteers and supporters.
The temporary solutions
Organizations faced challenges in finding unique and compelling ways to fundraise for their missions. It was critical during this time to have an online and social presence and to overcommunicate an organization’s mission, vision and goals. This was a time of tweets, video calls, blogs and emails – utilizing any and all forms of communication to keep donors and volunteers engaged.
Not-for-profit leaders saw success in making sure they were continuously building and deepening relationships as well as communicating news and updates to their followers across various virtual platforms.
Temporary solution turned permanent
Unexpectedly, supporters thoroughly engaged with organizations that maintained a strong social presence, and virtual events were a hit for many. Organizations across the globe should be eager to continue hosting online roundtables, workshops and fundraisers in an effort to reach donors in the region, of course, but also across the country. While in-person events and volunteer opportunities are happily making their way back into our lives, virtual get-togethers are still drawing a larger crowd (for a low budget). The creative ways in which organizations kept their missions top of mind, despite remote circumstances, should be a part of a marketing and fundraising strategy continuously moving forward.
While donors and supporters of causes might be wholly satisfied fundraising or networking from home, some leaders in the not-for-profit space miss face-to-face collaboration. Employees in certain departments – accounting, payroll and more – have found ways to work efficiently in a remote setting, and the future of offices might look vastly different for these team members. However, certain roles, such as program leaders and community engagers, are often actively out in the communities hosting and participating in local fundraisers and events. The future of these roles can expect a hybrid approach of some days working out-and-about, and others in the comfort of their home offices.
As organizations look to the allocation of limited funds and resources, the experiences we had during 2020 and into 2021 should influence where we spend money. Those groups that are encouraging employees to work from home might choose to rent smaller, more affordable office spaces. Other organizations might stick to online events and skip the cost of meals. Each not-for-profit will have a different, unique situation based on their successes and failures during the pandemic. One thing will be the same for every organization, however: the past year taught leaders how to create a plan when the future was unplanned. And that’s one lesson we’ll soon not forget.
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