Fundraising for the “Next Normal”

For those of us in the United States, March 11 is being hailed as the day everything changed. On 3/11, the World Health Organization declared that the spread of COVID-19 had become a pandemic. It’s also the week that deaths in the U.S. first started to balloon. Just two days later President Trump declared a national emergency.

It’s also when the daily national conversation around the pandemic blew up.

But did everything really change? Only time will tell, but here, seven weeks out, one thing is clear — things won’t be the same for a long while to come. For the foreseeable future, we are living in a post-COVID world.

What does this mean for marketing and fundraising in 2020, and beyond? 

This post is intended to answer that question, as best as we know at this point — Wednesday, April 29, 2020. For the past seven weeks, we’ve been providing weekly guidance to clients. We’ve been watching the trends, performing tests, analyzing the data. Last week, we convened 15 of the nation’s most prominent Christian nonprofits and heard from them — what’s working, what’s not? How have they adjusted? What strategies are they employing? And what are they doing to plan for the future?

Now. Next. Later.

The best framework I’ve heard for the response to COVID-19 comes from Bill Gates. Gates has become a prominent voice in the strategy for addressing COVID-19, in part thanks to his warnings dating back to 2015 that a global pandemic could cripple the country. 

If you look at how Gates has outlined his strategy, it’s pretty simple and powerful. 

Now: Extreme social distancing + rapid testing in all 50 states.
Next: Find a vaccine. Fund the most promising candidates. Pick 2.
Later: Develop the systems to never be in this place again. 

Bill Gates Approach to COVID-19

Let’s use Now. Next. Later as our framework for fundraising in the “next normal.” 

NOW: Be relevant to the present circumstances in your communications. Keep asking.

Whether you are responding directly to the COVID-19 situation or not, it’s important to acknowledge the elephant in the room. COVID-19 has impacted everyone. You’ve been impacted in some way. Your donors certainly have been impacted. 

If you are doing anything directly connected to COVID-19, include that in your fundraising. You might be providing relief or medical assistance. You might be educating the public. You could be changing your outreach programs or strategies. You might be sharing the Gospel with people who are more open to it than ever before. 

And whatever you do, keep on asking. Don’t pull back. Connect the dots between what you are doing and why it is so important in the context of the present world we are living in.

NOW: Move fast. Do more of what’s working.

Those organizations that shifted in their messaging and strategy the fastest in mid-March are seeing the greatest gains — upwards of 2-10X or more increases in returns. However, while we are seeing some initial softening of results here in late-April, results are still much higher than pre-COVID. The best time to act is now. There is still tremendous opportunity.

The principle is powerfully simple — do more of what’s working. When things are going well, the best organizations don’t stop there. They ask the question, if I’m getting a good return, how far and how fast can I scale that? 

Now is the time to be results-driven, not budget-driven. We’ve seen organizations whose CFO says, “It’s not in the budget,” but when you are seeing immediate returns of better than breakeven, that doesn’t make sense.

NOW. Innovate in the face of barriers.

There is no way around the fact that many of you have hit significant barriers. You had a major gala planned in late-March. You’ve been told you can’t do in-person ministry the way you had planned. 

What do they say about necessity being the mother of invention? Instead of looking at the situation as impossible, look at it as an opportunity to innovate. 

If you’ve got an event, how can you do that virtually in a way that is better than it could have ever been in person? Do you have staff that can’t do their role in the current situation? Think about how you can temporarily re-assign them to work on something you might not have otherwise gotten to — data entry, calling donors, etc. 

I’ve heard it said, don’t waste a good crisis. Right now there are so many disruptions to the status quo — what disruption are you facing right now that could result in innovation you talk about for years to come?

NOW. Take care of your staff.

So many of you have shared how you are taking special care of your staff during this time. Human beings were not built for the world we live in right now. So many stresses are exacerbated by the present stay-at-home conditions. We’re learning from you — how to take care of your staff. Many nonprofits have set up leadership task forces specifically focused on staff care. Those organizations that take care of their staff during this time will not only feel the short-term benefits of more productive people and innovation, but they’ll also engender loyalty and gratitude. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do!

That’s NOW. Let’s turn our attention to NEXT. What should you be thinking about NEXT?

NEXT. Manage to reality, not predictions.

There are as many forecasts as to what the future will hold as there are people giving them. Some prognosticate a dire multi-year slump, while others say we will never be the same again. Still others are more optimistic. But no one knows what the future holds.

That’s why it’s important to understand what is really happening empirically and to manage to that reality. Some organizations are pulling back in anticipation of a falloff in results. It’s far better to manage to hard data about what is actually happening. In the weeks and months ahead, it’s going to be more important than ever to have measurements in place to discern reality and to be nimble to respond to that reality as it changes.

NEXT. Plan around scenarios for the “next normal.”

Since no one knows the future, it’s important to manage by considering multiple scenarios at 6 months, 12 months, 18 months. What is the worst-case scenario? What is the best-case scenario? If these come to pass, what might you do?

Consider how your way of doing business might be impacted. For example, if your ministry or fundraising models rely on large gatherings or public events, you’re more likely at risk than if your model is primarily online or distributed. For the former, you may need to develop strategies to mitigate risk, while for the latter, you may have a tremendous opportunity to grow, if you are prepared to seize it.

We’ve heard from several organizations that they have set up special task forces assigned to do this scenario planning, separate from the people who are on the ground in triage mode doing the NOW response. The reasoning is that it is very difficult to both be in the NOW, triage-mode doing what needs to be done every day, AND be in the NEXT future-casting mode. 

NEXT. Identify weaknesses or opportunities in your model and try new things.

Some organizations are facing tremendous opportunities in the present situation. For some reason, their particular way of doing fundraising or ministry is perfectly suited for the present environment. Still other organizations are facing existential threats — their ministry and fundraising models are not built for the present reality. 

Whichever type of organization you find yourself in, the challenge is similar — understand those weaknesses or opportunities in your model and design strategies or changes in your model in response to that. If you’ve got a weakness, how are you going to shore that up or diversify? If you’ve got an opportunity, how can you take maximum advantage of that? Either way, it’s safe to say you should be trying some new things.

LATER. Build a durable ministry model.

The furthest out, this is the most difficult to predict. Think about it this way — if you knew three years ago that in 2020 COVID-19 would hit and we’d be facing the present moment, what would you have done in your ministry and fundraising models differently to prepare? You can’t do that, of course, but think about that same question today and in the coming months — what can you do to build your organization, your efforts, so that you are better prepared to both weather the storm and thrive in this “next normal”?

I turn the question to you. What are you doing Now, Next, Later? What is your biggest worry right now? Are you optimistic about the future? I’d love to hear from you personally — email me at

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Dave Raley
Executive Vice President, Strategic Innovation

Masterworks Fundraising & Marketing Blog
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