The storm, the accident, the flood, the illness. Crisis has a way of focusing our minds on what is truly important.
As the pandemic unfolded, we were all consumed with the crisis and a sense of how can we possibly carry on? Every organization, sector, service, and area of our lives had to reinvent, shift its operation, and change. Necessity drove the way we worked and the way we delivered. Many new approaches and new solutions have been created along the way – and they continue to be created.
Crisis focused our minds. The first learning we have observed is a renewed and energized attention on the true core of our organization’s work – we see our mission and purpose as the way to deliver and advance the core elements of what we do and who we are. It helped reconnect thinking, galvanize teams and actions around the rediscovered simple “why?” of our work and our lives.
Crisis stripped everything back. It focused the minds of donors and our organizations back to a simple connection to what matters. The problem was clearer. The challenge more urgent. Complexity was suspended. Single focused clarity of messaging and campaigning surfaced. Reconnection with what is important to us was established. This is evidenced by the increase of new donor engagement and increased revenue across 2020 in key annual, mass digital and high value giving areas including many major gift programs.
So, in the great reset that took place for so many, what can non-profits learn about their real purpose, what matters most to donors and stakeholders, and what is key for moving forward? Having been alongside many charities through this reset, we have seen what is working and what is not. Here are 5 key learnings from these observations that we need to take forward in our planning and strategies around purpose:
- What got us here, won’t get us where we need to go
As we look at where the market, our programs, and our focus need to be next, it’s clear that going back to what was, will not work. We have already reinvented, innovated, made simpler, and can now decide what we can take forward and what we should leave behind. Whatever that is, it’s different and we need to embrace it.
- We can do it at a distance
There are many who had embraced a flexible way of working pre-pandemic. The way we work was changing fast, but necessity has opened a new way for almost all the functions that had previously remained fixed in an office. That accelerator is enduring. We can all do it differently. As we emerge, true flexible working will be the norm now, opening up new ways to hire, communicate and lead our teams. We must embrace it.
- Processes and systems need to help not hinder
Processes and systems sometimes tread a fine line between helpful and an unnecessary burden. The experience of getting things done at speed, driven by urgency, has cut through much of what we had. We freed ourselves from processes that added no value and simply held us up. Communications have changed and having the right conversations with the right people at the right time means that hierarchy is less relevant, and leadership is driven from a place where we need to ensure that people are having the right conversations together to expedite solutions. We have clarity on what systems need to work together and actually enable us to do our jobs in a way that is successful. This clarity means we have cleared some of the weeds and we cannot go back.
- People really matter
We have learned a lot about ourselves. We learned about each other. We suspended the flexible, casual banter of physically being together and replaced it for the efficiency of Zoom or Teams. But as isolated as we were, we soon came to appreciate the value of our worth and dependency on each other. We are great assets to our organizations, and we have the ability to adapt, think critically and do things differently. We are resilient and we are amazing at changing gears and doing what’s really needed. We need to celebrate our smallest accomplishments and continue to pay attention to our teams and to ourselves.
- We reconnected with purpose
Many charities had, over time, added and developed offers and expanded work and complexity. Some supporters had lost connection and understanding of the why. Many found that again. This clarity and concise expression of the why cannot be lost – it’s the magic of integration. We have demonstrated the power in clearing the way for our most important why’s and all of the communications that it drives for each of our audiences which is a powerful tool as you work to inspire people to engage and give based on shared values and common goals.
In the midst of these learnings, it’s clear that we have all changed in some way. We are starting to get together physically again, but as we do, what can we embrace as action? We believe there are 4 key things to focus on as we move forward:
- Revisit aspiration, purpose, and proposition and commit to being bold
It’s time to be bold. Our causes expect us to reignite the passion to make change happen. To do that, we need to embrace and reconnect, with purpose and design, better ways to let that drive our mission, stay focussed and connect with supporters and our audiences. If you are confused about your offer or your proposition, imagine how your stakeholders and donors are feeling. It’s time to sort this and be clear.
- Build a new culture
People and talent are your greatest assets. Time to invest in deliberately paying attention to the culture and systems that drive your organization forward. Embrace diversity and inclusion and put it into action to build stronger teams. Find and keep talent by shifting your culture and treating your teams, as well as stakeholders and donors, well. Everyone’s expectations have changed, so we need real leadership and systems that actually support this diverse, talented, amazing group of people in doing great work to engage your key audiences in making a difference for the communities you support.
- Understand your audiences
To embrace the amazing connections within your audiences and to grow and find new people, you need to fully understand them. Now is the time to build the culture, tools, and partnerships to really get inside the motivations, needs, desires, barriers, and behaviours of your audiences. Get to know them and build your strategies, journeys, go-to-market campaigns, and comms to inspire and retain them.
- Create a new journey forward
Align your audience and organization on a powerful journey for change. Strategy, culture, core purpose, and engagement married with some great tools like insights and clear propositions will help you build new momentum. The creation of powerful supporter journeys will allow real energy, synergy, and opportunity to develop and it will allow your teams to solve problems and create cross channel and cross-department solutions that will change outcomes. It will provide clarity on communications and help you identify resources and systems to support them.
We want to set ourselves up for the next year by learning from the last 18 months and reconnecting with the simple clarity of your purpose and your story. By finding new ways to work and the boldness to set a new course, we have a powerful opportunity to focus on what’s really important. There is no room to compete with ourselves and not be clear about our why’s, because this is what is going to keep our teams motivated, our stakeholders connected, and our donors engaged as we continue to solve big challenges in the year ahead!