January 2020 was full of anticipation for MMS Advancement Associates and our clients. Together, we were busy developing fundraising strategies for operational support, major gifts, and capital campaigns. But the year didn’t progress as planned once COVID arrived. By the end of March, the nonprofit sector was racing to respond to the shifting needs of clients and communities. The initial reaction of many of our clients was, “We can’t ask for money in this environment.” The temptation was to put fundraising, especially major gift and capital campaigns, on hold.

The advice we gave at the time was, “Don’t make assumptions about your donors. Reach out to them. Continue to build relationships. Ask them how they are, how they are managing in these times. Share what is going on in your organization.”

“And keep focus on your plan.” When the pandemic hit, organizations were in various stages of campaign preparation, planning, and implementation. Time frames didn’t proceed as they might have in a typical year, but most of our clients successfully balanced short-term needs with long-term strategies and made significant progress by year’s end.

Some were beneficiaries of particularly large, unexpected gifts in 2020. Some of these contributions were made to help the organization face pandemic-related challenges. Others were for capital campaigns and were the result of the active relationship building and communications that kept the organization’s stories in view.

As we launch 2021, our advice to focus on relationships, engagement, and telling your amazing stories has not changed. Two significant transformations of 2020 are expanding our conversations.

  • How will you use the digital transformation to your advantage in 2021? At every step of the fundraising cycle, donors, volunteers, and friends have become comfortable with using online tools and engaging through virtual experiences. We all long to return to in-person relationship building, but for those who are not able to join us in person, we now have new ways to engage.
  • How will you respond in the months ahead to the heightened awareness of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in nonprofit organizations? As you work to build relationships and engage new friends, how will you be certain that you are truly welcoming and valuing of the contributions of people from all backgrounds?

The key to success, especially in times like these, is to balance the need to react to the challenges of the moment with a focus on long-term strategies. As we emerge from the pandemic, renew your focus on mission and vision. Let donors and community know where you are headed and how they can help you get there. 

Marcella Schick, MA, ACFRE, CAP