So, Wake Me Up When It’s All Over

There’s a line in the well-known Avicci song that goes, “So, wake me up when it’s all over.” It nicely sums up my feelings about 2020. It’s been a stressful year for us all in so many ways. Yet, despite the strain, I keep seeing articles and webinars full of unfounded optimism, particularly as they relate to fundraising in the post-COVID-19 world. Here are just a small number of the titles I’ve come across:

  • Rebooting and Managing After COVID-19
  • How to Keep Your Donors Once the Crisis Ends
  • Fundraising Predictions for After COVID-19
  • Fundraising Post-COVID-19
  • How Nonprofits Should Approach Grant Makers Post-Covid-19
  • After the Pandemic Fundraising

So, when is this post-COVID-19 time supposed to arrive?

No one knows. However, we do know it’s not going to arrive anytime soon. As I write this, the USA, and much of the world, is experiencing a coronavirus pandemic resurgence following efforts to reopen economies. We still don’t have a vaccine. While there might be a viable vaccine by the end of this year, experts say broad distribution will not be possible until probably the middle of 2021, at best. In the meantime, we still do not have solid, reliable therapeutics to treat the disease.

Even once people are vaccinated and the pandemic is brought under control, economists tell us it will take months, if not years, for the economy to recover. The Federal Reserve says that the jobless rate will remain elevated through 2022. The Congressional Budget Office believes it will take two years for the economy to recover to a pre-pandemic level. Even once things do return to “normal,” we do not know what that new normal will look like. For example, “about 2 in 5 Americans in a nationwide Bankrate survey from May, for instance, said they expect to shop less at traditional in-person retailers.”

While it will take time for the overall economy to recover, it will also take time for individuals to recover from financial as well as other physical and mental health issues made worse during the pandemic. For example, the percentage of individuals experiencing depression doubled even during the early months of the pandemic, according to the US Census Bureau.

So, if the lovely post-COVID-19 world is not going to arrive anytime soon, what should you really be focusing on over the next several months or longer? Here are just a handful of ideas:

Planning. Carefully plan your work. Then, revisit and adjust your plan frequently. Remaining adaptable is key.

Ask. Seek support sooner rather than later. Putting off an appeal until “things get better” could end up delaying an appeal indefinitely. Furthermore, as with past economic downturns, charitable giving will decline at some point, if it hasn’t already. If your organization needs support, go ask for it now. Avoid the trap of making negative decisions on behalf of your supporters such as, “Oh, they won’t feel like giving to us right now.” You don’t know what they’re thinking until you ask.

Build Your Case. To ask effectively, you will need a robust case for support that inspires people. Simply asking for a contribution because it’s Giving Tuesday isn’t going to get the job done. Seeking a year-end donation just because December 31 is approaching is not good enough either.

Engage. While it was always important to look for opportunities to engage prospects and donors, it is especially important, though more challenging, now. As people continue to feel isolated, you have a chance to help enhance their sense of well-being by enhancing their sense of connectedness. When you do that, you will be more likely to build a strong, loyal relationship with your supporters.

Thank. This is a great time to thank your supporters. That includes lapsed donors, donors, and volunteers. Let them know that they are appreciated and important. Do not just thank a donor for a generous gift, thank the donor for being a generous person who made a gift. Thank them for being kind and caring.

Communicate. Let supporters know how your organization is doing and what services it is continuing to provide. More importantly, update supporters about how those your organization serves are doing. Your supporters care. They’re worried. Keep them informed, and try to do so in creative ways. For example, you can invite them to a virtual town meeting with your organization’s CEO where they can hear an update and ask questions. Even if they choose not to participate, they’ll appreciate the invitation.

Essentially, my ideas for what you should be doing now fall into three broad categories: 1) plan, 2) ask for support, and 3) build strong relationships. I have oodles of ideas that can help you in all those areas. If you need any assistance, please contact me.

To download a FREE copy of the whitepaper that Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP® and I authored, “Legacy Giving: The Best of Times or the Worst of Time,” just click here. It provides plenty of tips for how to promote legacy giving in the current environment.

My final tip, for now, is: be sure to take care of yourself. If you don’t do that, you won’t be any good to anybody, professionally or personally. Eventually, we will get through this. It will just take time and effort.

What are you doing differently now to keep your organization moving forward? I’d like to hear about your tips.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

5 Comments to “So, Wake Me Up When It’s All Over”

  1. Ha Michael, great one… but you forgot one thing that makes me want to sing this song too… the elections… wake me up when it’s all over please… you certainly don’t want to hold up your asks because of it, I still hear people who hold up their appeal… don’t;-)

    • Erica, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I thought about mentioning the election, but I really am sick of it and chose to ignore it. I live in Pennsylvania, a swing state. That means that every day I’m bombarded with political direct mail, text messages, telemarketing calls, door-to-door canvassers, and ads. Enough! Ugh!

      By the way, another reason for my election frustration is that I have yet to receive my mail-in ballot. I requested it in July. I’ve reached out to various officials since then. One said he mailed it. I still don’t have it. I don’t know if it’s incompetence or voter suppression. My wife, who requested hers two weeks after me, got it and sent it off; the election office even received it. I may have to risk my life and vote in person.

      By the way, in 2016, I did a blog post about the impact of the presidential election on charitable giving. Spoiler Alert: It had little to no effect. You can find the post by clicking here.

  2. Great advice. During the Covid crisis my philanthropy has actually increased, but from my perspective, the organizations are doing a poor job of properly acknowledging and thanking. Donors, regardless of amount, want to feel valued.

    • Steve, you’re a good guy for increasing your philanthropy at a time when so many people and organizations are in greater need. What we’ve seen so far with the pandemic is that philanthropy has been robust. This follows an historical pattern during economic downturns. Unfortunately, an initial philanthropic spike is usually followed by a significant drop after a period of months. It will be interesting to see if and when the bottom falls out of charitable giving during the pandemic. Much will depend on when and how quickly the recovery is.

      As for thanking donors and making them feel valued, this is something charities should always do. The fact that many don’t is why donor retention rates are poor and are getting worse.

  3. Excellent summary of proactive steps to take, Michael. Maintaining flexibility in one’s plans is critical as the impact of the pandemic will be with us for longer than most anticipate. A number of my higher education clients with May/June events are already rethinking those and making alternative plans to seamlessly transition to virtual formats if needed. When you are ready I would suggest another list for the “new normal” on staff and in-person office work as that world is also changing.

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