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  • Writer's pictureKyla Shawyer, PFNA

Long-term growth out of a crisis

Nine months since Covid-19 brought the world to its knees and many nonprofits are still in crisis mode. Exhausted, frazzled, and out of the initial adrenalin that launched a thousand emergency appeals, many organizations still face an uncertain future.

But as famously quoted by John F. Kennedy,

“When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

And for nonprofits, there may NEVER be another opportunity like this one to transform your fundraising culture for the better.

Survive or thrive

The leadership behaviors that win the day now will determine which organizations merely survive and which thrive for years to come, powered by a committed team, passionate supporters and accelerated fundraising growth.

There will no doubt be some organizations who will sadly have to close their doors. The most vulnerable of these will have cut back their fundraising spend the moment the health crisis broke out. These will be few and far between; as history suggests we will see many mergers or bailouts from other organizations with similar missions.

Most non-profits — about 2 in 3 — will continue to fundraise but with a ‘business-as-usual’ mindset. They’ll proceed cautiously so as not to offend anyone. They’ll send an emergency appeal here and there that will bring in some cashflow, but few new donors and supporters. They will achieve a gradual recovery in the short term, followed by a longer term of flat or declining revenue.

According to research carried out by Philanthropy & Fundraising International since the Great Recession of 2008, 1 in 10 will emerge from Covid-19 with a renewed passion and commitment to their cause both internally and externally, expanding their donor and supporter base often on a massive scale.

This could be your organization. But how?

Focus, energy and action

What I love about PFI’s work, drawing on Professor Adrian Sargeant’s research and working with hundreds of organizations around the world, shows us that Great Fundraising organizations are the ones that know how to put long-term priorities into sharp focus. They apply crisp decision-making and focus the organization to create energy and momentum that will transform the fundraising culture for the long-term.

My colleague Alan Clayton puts it succinctly in a seminar he recently delivered about creating the culture bounce back at this difficult time:

“The very best fundraising leaders understand that in times of crisis, there is not only an opportunity in the marketplace, there is also an opportunity internally. There might never be a better time to improve the quality of the organization’s fundraising while making fundraising efforts better-embraced by the entire organization for years to come.” Alan Clayton, Philanthropy & Fundraising International

Leading out of a crisis

Here are a few things that the truly great fundraising organizations have been doing for the past several months — and it’s not too late for you to follow suit:

1. Get through the emotional barrier of worrying about money. Believe in yourselves and believe in your donors and supporters. Together, you can do this.

2. Appoint a team of experts, fundraisers and money people. Give them the authority to create the ideas, make the decisions, then let them do it.

3. Move quickly. COVID-19 will be here for a long time. People won’t stop giving but the opportunity to turn things around internally and transform fundraising exponentially will be relatively short.

4. Have the right people leading the fundraising function. Leaders that understand the importance of uniting and aligning the whole organization behind the fundraising drive chain.

5. Reach out to your donors to meet their needs. Put yourselves in their shoes. Ask how they are? Right now people need all they can to help them feel good. And donating to something they believe in will do just that. Done well they will remember you as we emerge from this crisis. Those that understand fundraising will get this.

This week the UK charity RNLI Lifeboats shared their story at the IFC (International Fundraising Congress) of how, with upfront investment in fundraising, firing up the internal culture, and focusing their fundraising communications, they were well prepared for the Covid-19 storm that has hit. The results speak for themselves.

If this was easy, everybody would be doing it.

This could lead to some of the hardest decisions an organization ever has to make. Ensuring underlying fundraising resilience could mean the choice between layoffs, funding a beloved project now or investing in fundraising for the long term. When it is appropriate, this is the most difficult leadership decision there is, which is why it takes great leaders to make it.

You can learn from the lessons of the past to help your organization build a better future. To learn more about the behaviors of the greatest fundraising organizations around the world, please visit, or leave a comment. And if you need a bit of help, we are here for you.

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