It was second weekend of March 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the western world. PreK-12 schools flipped almost completely during this weekend from in-person instruction and activities to virtual. Restaurants, bars, and other public spaces closed. Airline travel basically disappeared. Business offices and workplaces shut down and “#WFH” became a reality for hundreds of millions of people.
Meanwhile, there were headlines in the press focused on dire predictions about 2020 (and beyond) giving totals and how nonprofits of all types would be severely impacted. A disappointing 80.5% of fundraising practitioners were predicting that their 2020 giving totals would be less than 2019.
Of course we know those predictions were wrong. Giving results in 2020 were not only durable, they grew significantly.
But some nonprofit and advancement leaders struggled in the moment to understand how to respond. Indeed, many decided “now is not the time,” to invite gifts in support of their mission. Direct mail solicitations were scrapped. Phone outreach stopped. Social media campaigns were scrubbed.
For those institutions that failed to meet the moment with the right combination grace and grit, their 2020 results were indeed negatively impacted. They received less total giving support from fewer donors all because they decided for their donors that their mission was less important than the crisis.
Tomorrow – some tomorrow in the future – another crisis will hit. It may be public health related. It may be economic. It may be climate related. It may be an international crisis. It may be some combination of these, or something completely different. I don’t know what it will be. I just know that there will be another crisis.
When that time comes, remember the most fundamental and important lesson from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic: Continue the work. Continue to engage donors. Continue to invite gifts. Yes, be aware of the context. But, never allow an evolving context to supplant dependably accurate assumptions about our work. Almost assuredly, this time probably isn’t that different.
Whether you serve in education, healthcare, social services, arts and culture, animal, faith-based, or some other charitable institution, your mission matters.
And, it will matter even more when the next crisis comes.