3 things I wish I’d known before the pandemic hit
What were you doing one year ago?
I don’t know about you, but I was merrily going about my business, and blissfully unaware that the world was about to be turned upside down.
When I look back at my calendar for this week in 2020, I was doing so many things I took for granted at the time - coffee meetings with clients, catching up with colleagues over lunch, booking a much anticipated business trip to California for May…
But apparently, the universe had other plans.
It may be different where you are in the world, but we’re heading into Week 10 of our current lockdown here in Toronto, so I’ve been reflecting on the last year a lot over the past few days, and wanted to share some of my thoughts.
Here are three things I wish I’d known before the pandemic started.
1. It’s ALL about relationships
Ok, we already knew this before the pandemic hit - great fundraisers are great relationship builders. But this past year brought it into sharp relief like never before.
It doesn’t matter what kind of fundraising you’re doing - from major gifts, to corporate partnerships, to direct marketing, all successful fundraising has a strong relationship at its centre.
Organizations that recognized the importance of relationships, and invested in their fundraising and relationship building prior to the pandemic, had the greatest fundraising success in 2020.
Organizations that stopped fundraising for fear of “offending” donors, or a misguided belief that fundraising was somehow inappropriate during the pandemic? These are the organizations that struggled the most.
2. Fear can irreparably damage fundraising when left unchecked
It’s crucial to understand the role emotions play when it comes to working with donors.
But what gets less attention is the importance of understanding the role of emotion when it comes to OUR behaviour as fundraisers, as well as the behaviour of decision makers like our boards and bosses.
As I mentioned above, early on in the pandemic we saw organizations pressing pause on major gifts and waiting for things to “get better”. Many organizations made unfounded assumptions about their donors, with some boards even going so far as to order a stop to fundraising, because it’s “insensitive” to be fundraising in a pandemic - possibly causing irreparable damage in the process.
I’m not pointing this out to be critical - we were (and still are!) in uncharted territory, and we’re all just trying to do the right thing to get through this time of crisis.
I’m sharing this because it’s important that we reflect on and learn from our mistakes.
Many of the pandemic related decisions to stop fundraising were driven by fear - a fear of “what will donors think?” or “what if we make a misstep?”
Fear is a natural part of the human experience. It’s hardwired into our brain - and this has evolved as a protective mechanism over millions of years of evolution.
But problems will arise when we don’t recognize the role of our own emotions, including fear, and how they impact our decision making around fundraising.
Every decision we make, from seemingly small ones, like how often we pick up the phone to call our donors, to huge ones, like suspending fundraising to avoid offending donors, is influenced by our emotions.
The sooner we start recognizing this reality, the more we can do to manage it.
3. Self-compassion is a crucial skill for fundraisers and nonprofit leaders
Self-compassion is a concept I’ve always struggled with. I grew up with the belief that you need to be tough on yourself in order to grow and achieve your dreams. Do you identify with this idea as well?
Interestingly, research shows quite the opposite - being your own worst critic can actually lead to anxiety, depression, and a sense of dissatisfaction with life. And greater self-compassion can actually help you take greater responsibility, and feel more motivated.
Self-compassion is also an important skill for organizations to support and build within teams, especially when it comes to addressing the emotional and financial cost of fundraiser burnout.
If you’re curious about this topic, I sat down virtually with a special guest - Dr. Adia Gooden, a licensed clinical psychologist and dynamic speaker and trainer who’s passionate about cultivating unconditional self-worth in others to talk about the power of self-compassion, and how fundraisers and nonprofit leaders can cultivate this important skill.
And I want to hear from you - leave me a comment and let me know, what have you discovered about yourself, your organization and your fundraising over the course of this challenging year? I’d love you to share your experience!
Emma Lewzey, CFRE is an award-winning fundraising expert
with 20+ years experience raising millions of dollars across the arts, education, health and human services sectors. If you want to raise more 5, 6 and even 7-figure donations your non-profit, you can download Emma’s free Blueprint for Major Gift Success, and learn the 4 crucial steps to raising big gifts (at any size shop!)