Summer of 2020

I suspect a lot will be different this summer. Even the weather in the Triangle this week has not been typical.

When I entered the nonprofit sector in 1993, summer was considered a downtime—a slower pace. A time to come in a little later, leave a little earlier. Generally, get ahead. Throughout my career I have seen that change. Summer does not have the same frenzy of the fall, but it is no longer the sleepy season, especially not this year.

Summer 2020 has come at a time when we are still trying to figure out what day it is—for the most part, every day still feels very much the same. There are still a lot of unknowns and where there are unknowns, there is uncertainty, and uncertainty creates anxiety. So, what does that mean for nonprofit leaders?

Summer 2020 will feel more like business than vacation.

However, I think it is very important that all staff and board members get time to disconnect from your organization over the next couple of months. The pace since March 13th has been frenetic and everyone needs to recharge. If you are an executive director, a board chair, or a department leader, please make sure your direct reports get a true uninterrupted break this summer. Do not email, call, or text. Let everyone take a true break. This alone will make Summer 2020 unique compared to past summers.

Here are five other important considerations for Summer 2020:

1. Keep up your donor stewardship.

I have said many times, if you have not increased your donor stewardship and cultivation calls since the pandemic by at least 50%, you have missed out. Instead of taking a break from donor stewardship this summer, ramp it up. The efforts you make over the summer may be the difference between strong or dismal year-end fundraising results. People are still largely at home and are still appreciative of conversations beyond their housemates. If you are an organization that has acquired scores of new donors since the pandemic, make this summer all about welcoming them into the family.

2. If you are in a capital campaign, keep asking.

I assume that if you are in a campaign, you did your pre-campaign work. You developed an urgent and compelling case for support, you tested that case through a feasibility study; the study told you that your donors and prospects are willing to invest in your project. If this was your process, keep asking! The donors who expressed enthusiasm for your project are likely still in a position to invest. The stock market to-date has recovered its losses from earlier in the pandemic. Many Donor Advised Fund holders have released more money than ever before. If you do not ask, or follow up from a pre-pandemic ask, you will miss out.

3. Review your core values.

Summer 2020 is an opportunity to examine how diversity, equity, and inclusion are reflected in your core values. We believe that your core values should guide everything you do as an organization—how staff members are evaluated, how board members interact with one another, how clients and volunteers are treated, how decisions are made. Use your core values to guide your reopening plans. If your core values are not already your organizational compass, work together as a board and staff to adjust your course.

4. Adjust your strategic plan.

You likely have pivoted your operations and programs. Have you taken the time to adjust your strategic plan to reflect your new normal and set the course for the year ahead? If not, Summer 2020 is your time to adjust both your plan and the budget that will support it. While you are at it, evaluate whether your fundraising materials tell the story of your adjusted plan and your impact since the pandemic. Your communications must tell your current story in a real and impactful way.

5. Prepare for a crazy fall.

We have no idea what fall will bring. Will children be back in school? Will college football kick-off? Will international travel resume? There are so many unknowns. It is time for plans A-Z. You cannot anticipate every scenario, but you should try to model out some. This is a time to gather input beyond your organization’s inner circle. Consider engaging with another organization or two in think tank sessions. Invite past organizational leaders to give input. Be sure to include individuals or groups that bring diversity into your thinking. Now more than ever is a time to widen your sphere of thought partners.

The pandemic has reminded us that much in life is beyond our control. How we respond is up to us. Maximizing your time throughout the summer will position you and your organization to better respond to the twists and turns that the fall will bring. If you need help, let us know.

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