Last year, we urged our friends and partners in the nonprofit community to Keep Calm and Keep Moving. While we are not completely past the challenges we faced in 2020, we wanted to take a moment to recognize the incredible tenacity shown during this unprecedented time. While there are dozens of examples of innovation and creativity to point to, the following are a few highlights of how our clients adapted their programs and services this past year.

Driveway Cabaret, Civic Theatre – As they say in the theater, the show must go on! And this was certainly true for Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, who reimagined the way they brought performing arts to the community after having to cancel most of their season. With Driveway Cabaret, actors brought the show to lawns and driveways across the city, delivering short productions at each stop before moving to the next home. This initiative was incredibly well received with the Theatre hosting over 100 outdoor performances. This clever adaptation kept the spirit of the theater alive at a difficult time for the community and provided a critical source of revenue while the theater was closed.

Farmworker Safety Kits, Migrant Legal Aid – Migrant Legal Aid is a trusted community resource for migrant farmworkers seeking legal justice, and last year, MLA’s work adapted to the needs of farmworkers who have been heavily impacted by the pandemic. More than 5,000 safety kits were distributed to area farmworkers and their families with information about COVID safety measures, reusable masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves. MLA’s outreach ensured reliable supplies and information reached this vulnerable population that often faces increased barriers to accessing preventative and emergent health care.

Supporting Student Learning, Numerous Organizations – Students throughout the community faced many new challenges this year with virtual learning taking place for at least part of the year at most area schools. For many families, supporting students at home was a significant challenge. Across West Michigan, numerous organizations stepped up to provide additional resources and support to students and families. In Grand Rapids, the Boys and Girls Club’s Learning Assistance Program offered a physical space for students to participate in online learning, with access to technology, academic assistance, extracurricular activities, and meals. On the lakeshore, Read Muskegon partnered with other area agencies to develop the Muskegon Heights Hope Center, a drop-in learning center for families in transient living situations or without the technology to complete online learning. In addition to supporting learners, the center also provided family literacy programming, meals, and connection to social support services.

As we move into the new year, there is still some level of uncertainty impacting not only the ways organizations offer programs and services that are core to their mission, but also how they approach fundraising. With each of the clients we work with, we are continuing to evaluate the best ways to communicate with donors, plan events, and prioritize fundraising needs for 2021 based on the trends we are seeing across the entire sector. As you make your fundraising plan for the year ahead, here are some of the key things to keep in mind.

  • Continue to be flexible and adapt – Last year required new approaches to fundraising, and while we are slowly returning to “normal,” we must remain flexible and develop plans that can be adapted as needed. Events planned for 2021 – even those slated for the fall – should take into consideration that even when larger in-person gatherings are allowed, donor behaviors may take time to shift back. Not only should virtual options continue to be offered, but it may be a good time to reconsider or reimagine long standing events. Technology has enabled us to connect with individual donors in new ways, some of which can and should continue.
  • Your donors still want to hear what you need – One of the most encouraging trends from last year was how donors stepped up to support the organizations they care about. While giving early in the pandemic was focused on basic needs delivery and health care services, many organizations we work with across the sector continued to see strong fundraising results later in the year, with many even seeing growth over 2019. In part, this was due to strategic communications that clearly indicated what the organization needed. Donors recognize that it will take some time for nonprofits to recover from 2020 – continue to share how you are adapting and what additional resources are required to do that, while also making sure to keep the focus on the future.
  • Continue to broaden and diversify your network – The pandemic has not affected all parts of the community – or all donors – uniformly. Organizations with diverse networks are better positioned to weather times of challenge. Leveraging your board and volunteers is a great way to reach new networks – if you lack diversity in these areas, now is a good time to implement an intentional strategy to grow your reach.

While it may feel like additional effort up front, these practices will continue to pay off well beyond the current season. As we have certainly seen over the past year, through adversity comes innovation and progress. Keep moving forward – we’re here to help.