I’m in the midst of a series on building strategy -- any kind of strategy -- for your non-profit. The first post in this series shared 4 Questions to Make Strategic Decisions is worth reading before you dive into this one.
As I wrote in that post, we are living through a time that is deeply impacting our ability to make decisions about our fundraising and communications programs. For some organizations, this time and set of circumstances is evoking panic.
I understand that impulse to panic. I’ve done it several times myself in the last couple of months. But let me tell you what I haven’t done in the midst of panicking. I haven’t thrown out everything because I was convinced that the only way forward is to start over from scratch.
Does reading that ring a little too true? If it does, that’s okay.
The temptation to overhaul EVERYTHING is real. So many circumstances have changed and will change. Plans we made pre-pandemic may feel like they were made in some kind of utopic vacuum where you were able to go to your favorite coffee shop without giving it a second thought, which incidentally is something I haven't done in months! But I digress…
The question that I have asked myself about work I’m doing for clients these days is this -- Is there actual hard evidence that I really need to start over with my plans and strategy?
Asking this question gets me out of a fear mindset and back to the facts at hand.
Yes, the facts! Here are some examples to consider.
- Have people actually stopped donating?
- Are your email stats actually plunging?
- Has there actually been a change in social media engagement?
- Has there actually been a change in your website traffic?
Whatever the nature of your work, I encourage you to dig in to think about the indicators of your work’s success, pull some numbers and seriously consider if the changes you assume are happening are actually happening.
This is a critical exercise for strategy right now because it will give you some amount of objectivity because let’s face it, even in the best of times we’re often in an emotional pigeon hole about our own work.
If things are okay or better than you imagined…
First, allow yourself to relax for at least a minute (ideally more!). It’s not as doom and gloom as you thought, which is a great thing!
Before you look closer at your work and results, I want to encourage you to question your thoughts and concerns that fueled you thinking that things aren't going right. Recognizing the root cause of that thinking can help you pump the breaks if this starts to happen again.
Back to your actual work… If you realize that something is okay or better than you imagined, your next step is to identify the factors that are contributing to the success. Once you’ve identified why something is working, you can go to work on amplifying your success. This will help you optimize and improve your results.
If things are as bad as you imagined...
First, take a deep breath and don’t panic. Panicking leads to bad decision making, which is what we are trying to avoid.
Your task in this situation is to try to identify why things aren’t working and that requires you to do some kind of critical analysis by asking questions. Asking questions will lead you down a path to better decision making and (in all likelihood) avoid throwing everything out the window.
Let me give you an example. If I were working with a non-profit who suddenly saw a dip in online giving, here are some questions I would be asking.
- What is the conversion rate on our giving page? How has it changed recently compared to past months?
- What’s our website traffic like? How much of that traffic is going to the donation page? Are we doing what we can on the website to direct traffic to the donation page as often as possible?
- What has been done/what have we been doing to drive traffic directly to the donation page? Do we send emails, run ads, post on social, etc? Have any of these traffic tactics changed?
What I’m ultimately looking for when I go through a series of questions like this is to see what’s worked in the past and why it might not be working now. There very well could be a clear reason why the results have changed that may be independent of donor giving behavior.
Now, I know this analysis does not account for something like an economic downtown and donors deciding to give less. This is of course something to consider, but I wouldn’t automatically go to this reason until I’ve ruled out everything else.
A few final thoughts from an anxious person…
Listen, I’ll be the first to tell you that my anxiety often gets the better of me. I am 100% percent experiencing this in parenting right now and have had it crop up in my work in the past. But this is what I know to be true for myself -- acknowledging the feeling of anxiety is often the first, most critical step to not letting it control me. Once I name it, it suddenly has way less power over me.
I share this because many non-profit friends and colleagues are experiencing some amount of anxiety these days and that anxiety is leading them to consider overhauling everything. Hence this post.
The last thing I share (which I’m pretty sure I’ve written about before) is that being confronted with a ton of uncertainty is tough. Right now, it feels very front and center for many of us. Take heart in the fact that we navigate through a lot of uncertainty in life on a regular basis, knowingly and unknowingly. You have the skills and ability to keep making decisions even though there are many unknown and uncontrollable variables.
With that, I want to turn it over to all of you reading this. Are you feeling like you need to start from scratch? After reading this (or even better, digging into your data), how are you feeling? Let me know in the comments.