The Sky Is Not Falling
The Power of Cautious Reality
As I work with my clients, colleagues, and friends, I find myself in constant discussions on how/if and when to proceed with our fundraising plans and events. Do you meet with people personally? Do you have group meetings? Do you postpone all events? What are the ramifications of these decisions, and how do you deal with all this in a politically charged environment?
I thought I’d share a few recent experiences and sugestions that may help.
What we know is that most for-profit organizations are going forward with business. Football stadiums are full, stores are open, and people are traveling in record numbers. I just read that Delta Airlines is hiring a record number of flight attendants. They aren’t the only one, as it appears that many companies have concluded that things will get better soon. And they are not waiting.
On the other hand, we all realize that most non-profits are very conservative and that volunteer boards are generally risk-averse. Understandable, not a criticism. But despite this natural caution, quite a few nonprofit organizations are going forward with their activities, particularly in November and beyond.
So how are they reaching these decisions?
One organization I’m working with has chosen to postpone their walk until March. Not an easy choice as it had already been postponed once. But this organization deals with many adults and children who suffer from a chronic medical condition leading to a weakened immune system. Their analysis revealed that a significant proportion of walkers were families at-risk from this condition.
So despite vaccinations and all the arguments, we concluded that the risk was just too great.
Full Speed Ahead
But another organization I counsel is continuing with their November gala. Fortunately, the chosen location has both inside and outside space, a contingency that had been considered over 6 months ago.
That’s the easy part.
But is everyone welcome? Do they check the immunology records? Require a PCR test? We ran through the many scenarios and came to a solid solution: guests will be respectfully asked to be vaccinated or have a recent COVID test, and of course be symptom-free. But proof will not be demanded. Those who are uncomfortable with this may choose to join the program virtually.
Are you uncomfortable with this? So let’s imagine a scenario where each attendee must provide proof: “Dear friend, thank you so much for agreeing to support us, but you must now prove to us that you are vaccinated and don’t currently have COVID. Your word is not enough.”
Just imagine trying to monitor this. Who would be responsible for serving as the COVID-police? And are you really going to stop an important donor from entering if they haven’t proven their status? This scenario offers more to lose than to gain. Our conclusion was that if we needed to go that far, it was better to postpone.
So they’re moving forward instead. And they are far from the only one!
Board and Committees
How about board and committee meetings? I have found this to be 50/50. Some clients insist on having zoom meetings (I really believe this has more to do with traffic than COVID), but most have opted for live meeting combined with hybrids.
Here’s an important tip for a hybrid meeting scenario. Don’t just ask people to join a hybrid meeting on some small laptop, with a few people in attendance and some on the tiny screens.
For $50/$60 you can buy a wide-angle camera on Amazon that can be plugged into a computer and broadcast on a television. Much easier to do than most people imagine, and with way better results.
The work of non-profits can be life-changing for those we serve. So at the risk of making some people upset, here are a few concepts and ideas to consider.
Doing Nothing is Easy
It’s usually a lot easier to do nothing than to do something. But we should also consider the real-life ramifications of doing nothing. What’s the impact on those who depend on you? On your organization's future? What’s the risk/reward?
Perhaps it is not best to take zero risk, while those who need help continue to languish. Your call.
It is difficult to have real dialogue when consensus and politeness are the top expectations. But I believe we are past the time where difficult conversations can be put off. I have urged board members and staff to speak up when they are not comfortable.
An example? In a discussion last week, one board member stated: “I am worried about group events, because you can still get COVID even if you’re vaccinated. And we have an image to protect. Imagine if we have an event and everyone gets COVID? (editorial comment: why would everyone get COVID if they are vaccinated?). Finally, someone said, “yes, and we can still get in a car accident - even when we drive safely and wear a seat belt. And we could hurt others, so does that mean we should not drive?”. They decided that with certain safety protocols in place, it was reasonable to continue planning for the event.
Small gatherings seem to make people the most comfortable and COVID or no COVID, usually are better than big events. Getting a few people together at someone’s home or other appropriate location seems to be working while we await a total re-opening of society.
A small parlour meeting or friendraiser, as they are called, often leads to surprising progress with little pressure or planning.
Meanwhile, too many people are wallowing in the negative news and dire forecasts. So what can you do instead? Make a conscious decision to communicate positivity, progress, opportunities, and impact. Don’t be a Debbie Downer. Everyone is tired of bad news and negativity. Let’s face it, the sky already fell, let’s start enjoying the clouds.
People are ready to follow.
Fudge is Fattening
Be specific. Uncertainty breeds anxiety. Anxiety is reduced through clarity and direction, especially during these bewildering times. Try to be a calming influence in the midst of confusion.
It’s a lot safer to fudge, but that’s not leadership.
COVID, COVID, COVID
Do not dwell on COVID in making your case for support. EVERYONE has been impacted by the pandemic by now. Go back to your core mission – why do you exist? What needs are you meeting? What can be done right now to help? Focus on what you have done and will continue to do and make COVID just another obstacle to overcome.
Can you imagine a time where we don’t hear the word COVID for 24 hours? Can’t wait.
The Power of Optimism
We should try to be more optimistic as we enter the Fall and reach Winter. There is a great eagerness to get going again and to a certain extent, we’ve learned to live with this pandemic. Some people have suffered more than others, and it is understandable that choices are difficult and emotionally charged. This isn’t a blame game. But for many, it’s time to get past it.
Communicate your choices respectfully. Each organization must set its own path. But don’t just stand still without considering the options and don’t hesitate to speak up or encourage others to do so.
Best of luck, hope I can help!