Looking Back on a Year Like No Other: A Letter from Gail Perry


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Dear fundraising leader –

The last 12 months have offered fundraisers and their teams challenge upon challenge. As a nonprofit leader, you have faced huge issues. It’s hard to imagine, but you may have even been forced to overhaul your entire fundraising program.

Reimagining everything you and your team do is not for the fainthearted. And to make matters worse, you’ve had to deal with the challenges of working and managing teams from home. This year has created untold amounts of stress and exhaustion, as we all well know. Yes, you are probably worn out by now.

I appreciate all that you’ve done.

I hope you also take a moment to appreciate all that you and your team have accomplished over this past year. You’ve developed new ways of thinking and strategies for daily life that you want to carry forward into a post-COVID world.

Your hard work and dedication has made a difference and I want to commend you, and make sure you know that you are appreciated.

Disruption brings innovation.

Remember that all this disruption forces new levels of change and innovation. Think about the creativity that this crisis inspired. You and your team have probably developed new strategies, new ways of working together, and new ways to connect with your donors. 

You and your team have literally learned an entire new set of skills in a matter of months. Congrats!

For example, you’ve learned how to: 

1) Connect with major donors virtually 

Your major gift team has learned how to shift away from all the coffees, parties and committees that were great donor cultivation tools. All the usual ways we used to connect with donors disappeared. Gone. What to do now?

Yet you adapted. You learned that one-on-one Zoom meetings with donors can be quite positive and productive – perhaps even more so. Many of us also learned how to take donors into a Gift Conversation virtually. We’ve seen our clients close 6 figure gifts repeatedly without face-to-face meetings. We learned that it can be done, even nicely.

2) Create an engaging virtual event 

Another key area many organizations reinvented were their events. No more huge sparkling gatherings of donors and party-goers. No more dances and exciting live auctions. No more VIP events to entertain important donors.

Yet many of us adapted again – we learned new ways to make online gatherings exciting. We even learned how to stage auctions on Zoom– and still make them successful, raising lots of funding.

We learned that who is in the room still matters. You can see all the event attendees on the video stream, and still feel connected. It was a weird way to connect, but it did offer some special advantages, because even people far away could come and feel involved.

3) Rethink Old Ways

In a way, this awful crisis has helped us rethink anything that was tired, old, or not working. What a great time to trash the event or fundraising strategy that had just been holding on, declining slowly.

Once, a university dean said to me, “Never waste a budget crisis.”  This is a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

In times of crisis, you have a rare opportunity to clean house. This year, it’s been easier to make big changes that may have been blocked earlier. With everything tossed up in the air, we’ve been forced to reconsider everything.

Perhaps this year, everyone had the opportunity to finally rethink the traditional gala that ate up so much time and netted so little in return. Who knows, you may have demonstrated that your team can raise even more without the time-sucking annual big event. If you can show that, hopefully you will be able to shift away from the gala to more productive fundraising strategies.

Pause for a deep breath.

Now, finally we can breathe a bit more easily. With vaccines on the way, life – and work – may gradually start to return to as it was. But we will take what we have learned into this new era. As spring comes and the winter fades away, hopefully you will see an easier road ahead.

Even better, there’s great news on the horizon. The fundraising outlook appears to be excellent. The well-respected Lilly Family School of Philanthropy recently shared a report projecting total giving to rise 4.1% in 2021, and 5.7% in 2022.

So remember all those new digital strategies that you and your team were forced to develop during the pandemic? You can put those skills to work building a more robust, loyal cadre of donors who will support your nonprofit year in and year out.

Let’s celebrate the good news on the horizon. And let’s be glad that the worst year ever, for most of us, is over and done. 

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