“Yes, the field is burning—but don’t worry, it will come back greener.” – John Thaxter Ghiorsi
During our 31 years in business, we have experienced a number of crises—9/11, Super Storm Sandy, the Great Recession—that have caused our nation to face unprecedented economic challenges. Our clients and colleagues were justifiably anxious about waging campaigns and carrying on with business as usual. While each of these situations presented financial hardships, philanthropy was a backbone to recovery, and in each case, when normalcy resumed, the fields indeed came back greener!
Americans are extraordinarily generous in good times and bad. Buoyed by that thought during those tumultuous periods, we offered our best advice, which remains just as germane in today’s social and economic climate. Of course, we have the additional layer of complexity in the form of COVID-19, a pandemic that is rewriting the rules of social engagement, at least for a time. Still, what we said to our clients, colleagues and friends in prior difficult times still resonates powerfully in the context of our current reality.
Here is our advice:
Key to managing change is being as informed as you can possibly be. Read, observe and understand the nature and totality of circumstances. Listen. And share what you learn by communicating often and openly with colleagues, donors and constituencies. Filter information carefully; be discriminating in separating the truth from the myth.
Go the extra mile with due diligence and discovery. Draw upon the depth of talent and experience around you, both peers and consultants. Even the most accomplished among us won’t be able to find the solutions alone. We are all in this together.
Individual situations differ greatly. Tailor decisions based on the specific nature and nuances of every situation. Avoid across-the-board decisions because no one size fits all. Trust your good judgment and instincts.
See the Forest for the Trees
It is enormously helpful to step back periodically and envision the big picture. This will reinforce the fact that the crisis will pass. Keep firmly in mind that the job at hand is to get through these difficult times and appreciate all that has and can be accomplished.
Keeping it simple will increase focus and help maintain a direction, a plan. Always come back to your organizational mission and vision. Your organization’s needs have not changed—they have only amplified.
Stay out in front of work developments with your campaigns and development operations. Position yourself in lockstep with donors, prospects and volunteers to better read the signs and get a sense of what they are thinking. Play through scenarios and be ready to respond. Anticipate!
Nurture Existing Relationships
Of necessity, donors will be much more discerning about whom they support. Naturally, those with whom you have close relationships will always prevail. It is crucial to stay close to your donors, redouble stewardship efforts and nurture close relationships. Your best prospect is a previous donor.
Integrity is the Watchword
Our business of raising money has no more important core value than integrity. It is the foundation of all strong relationships and governs our work ethic. Now more than ever we are called upon to apply sound principles coupled with open, honest communication. This is the conduit to that special trust, which is the hallmark of philanthropy.
Let patience, persistence, and great sensitivity guide your work and keep you on course in sustaining your organization’s mission and philanthropic endeavors.
All of us at GSI are here to help you navigate these troubled waters. We invite current clients, prior clients and all colleagues in our special industry to reach out to us with questions, concerns and advice of your own. We are in this together!
Be safe and stay healthy.