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Check-Up Clinic: Looking Ahead

Posted: 5/19/2020

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2020 Revision: Rewriting Your Organization's Future

Ideas to Help Stabilize Your Nonprofit

by Christie McWilliams

The reverberations of the COVID-19 pandemic continue. During this crisis, the world has seen both highs and lows. Many local nonprofits and relief agencies have seen increases in giving from both small and large donors. At the same time, many nonprofits are experiencing declines in giving and have been forced to make cuts to staffing, expenses and even services.

The peer-to-peer and events world has scrambled to identify new approaches, and many organizations predict significant deficits from those income sources. As the debates about stimulus packages rage on in Congress, there is even concern about the future of the United States Postal Service.

One thing we know for sure is that things will change. Consumer behavior will change, as it did after the 2008 financial crisis; along with that, expectations. Moving ahead, there will be a greater need for omnichannel communication from all brands. Significant improvements in personalization and customization will be required. And for nonprofits, that means really finding out what your donors want and sending that right message, that right story, that right offer, at the right time, in the right place. Real transparency will be critical. Donors will demand more reporting about charitable missions, and they'll want to see progress or demonstrable proof of good work. We will likely see new approaches to peer-to-peer programs and events, some of which are being tested now and will help to create a new normal. A new normal will emerge, and innovation will happen — some of which has already begun.

We will see alternative channel engagement and communication innovation, new business models emerging and the redefining of many roles and "traditions" in the nonprofit world. This crisis is demanding more focus and agility than ever before, and organizational survival will require you act quickly in the near term and plan new approaches for the longer term. The good news is there are several things you can do now to stabilize your organization for the road ahead and prepare to move into the post-outbreak world.

Don't abandon a persistent brand or fundraising presence. Even though the initial instinct during a slowdown might be to reduce marketing or fundraising investments, it is essential to stay connected and to focus on driving better customer experiences and measures to improve retention now.

Brand-level investments in customer experience optimization and loyalty helped winners thrive and establish commanding leads during the last economic downturn, keeping some of their momentum going during a very weak market. Focus your efforts on maintaining a healthy funnel, continuing to solicit and maintain relationships with donors who have supported you in the past, and don't shrink from working to acquire new donors.

Understand how donors and prospects are engaging with your brand. Execute social listening for donor and brand sentiment, and review web content that is heavily accessed along with the calls-to-action, paths to conversion and user experiences that are driving donations. Leverage more of that content to inform your messaging and your future calls to action.

Keep your most valuable donors close to you. Using the 80/20 rule, know the top 20% of your donors who commonly generate the largest share of your revenue. Reach out to them, and keep them updated about your efforts — what you're doing now and for the future. Ask them to continue their support, which is more critical than ever. Run reports regularly to watch their giving and engagement. Plan for special gap closure efforts with this audience in Q4 if necessary.

Assess your opportunities to do more — now. Identify where you can expand your audiences, channels and tactics. Understand that people want to help now. A compelling ask or interaction across the widest possible universe and channel mix will help your organization drive more revenue now and bounce back more effectively when the first wave of the crisis is behind us.

Expand your digital presence and investment now, as the cost has declined, and there is inventory available, along with audience interest and focus. If you're not leveraging digital channels to their fullest fundraising potential, use this moment to influence an increase in your organization's digital efforts. Acquisition of new donors is likely to be much harder in the years ahead, so driving revenue and learnings from digital efforts now can help buoy you through future uncertainty.

Plan a strong Q4 multichannel strategy that integrates messages and leverages a full omnichannel push. Expand your footprint and maximize your revenue generation opportunities during this critical quarter. If the current USPS model does change, that could impact everything from increased postal rates, to less frequent delivery and service interruptions, or even a paid-subscription model for services.

Those organizations with an omnichannel game plan and audience will be ready to react to multiple potential scenarios and be better prepared for our new reality. Be aware of potential fall virus outbreaks and respond appropriately with revisions to messaging or investments in digital, telemarketing and direct mail.

Plug holes in your systems and processes related to donor-advised funds. DAF grants have been strong in the first half of 2020, and Fidelity Charitable is pushing its DAF audience to grant even more for the remainder of this year. Make sure your DAF research, identification, crediting, acknowledgement and stewardship processes are well defined and promote DAF giving across your enterprise. These valuable donors remain committed and may increase their giving this year.

Deploy resources against new and emerging opportunities and look to monetize them. Social distancing and potential postal changes will inspire new platforms and revenue models across the industry. Leverage this moment of necessity to explore new ways of engaging with your donors across non-traditional platforms. Test new offers and ideas to keep donors close.

Don't be afraid to try new things that push the envelope. Newly incubated ideas and emerging strategies will help reduce your reliance on legacy programs that no longer generate strong returns and may no longer be viable in a post-outbreak world.

Use this crisis as an opportunity to work in a more agile fashion and redefine how your organization drives revenue and delivers services. Learn how to set up cross-functional teams that respond more nimbly to address hot spots in declining or growing parts of the organization. Update "ways of working" playbooks to better perform and adapt more effectively, using today's experience as your blueprint. Identify any areas that are difficult to track or manage effectively, and prioritize a focus on fixing or reengineering the higher value ones.

Be dynamic. Dynamically adjust your forecasts to respond to prolonged economic downturns and develop aggressive go-to-market strategies and programs to deploy when the opportunity strikes. Existing strategies and business models may not be relevant in a post-outbreak world. Be prepared to shift planning and resources accordingly.

Plan for new technology roadmaps and investments now. Despite resource reductions and cutbacks in spending, technology improvements connecting the identities of your donors across the marketing ecosystem are an important consideration for your future. They will change your customer experience, provide strong insights to influence investments and offers, and they will no longer be "nice to have." Commercial brands are planning their technology investments now as part of their phased recovery approaches. Nonprofits should do the leg work now to be ready to "buy" when the dust settles.

As people come to grips with the new reality, they will look to their preferred brands and partners to help craft a way forward — looking for signs of recovery and a kind of stability. The most trusted brands will provide roadmaps to help consumers shift into the new normal.

By making some definitive changes now, your organization can be a resilient force for everyone in the face of great change and remain (or even become) one of those trusted brands. The global pandemic demands new thinking and new planning — and a look toward the future instead of grasping to hold onto the past. Our world has changed. It requires that nonprofits change, too.

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