Deep Development Work You Can Do Right Now

  • Published April 21, 2020
  • / By Sarah Cave

Lead with empathy and lean into the important work of Stewardship – this is the advice we and many others have been sharing with our nonprofit clients during this first month of our new reality.

But if we choose to see a silver lining to this situation, it’s this: in our role as development professionals, we do not often have the time to do the deep work that serves as the base for a strong fundraising program — because we are so busy with day-to-day transactions.

Beyond outreach, here are 6 other areas of your operation you should pay attention to at this time to strengthen your work and ensure you come out of the 2020 Quarantine stronger than ever before.

Dive into your database. Use this opportunity to clean up your contacts, add emails where you have them, clarify household relationships, try to find contact information for young alumni, etc. Figure out what it will take to use your data in more meaningful ways: what sort of reports have you always wanted to generate? Now is a great time to figure out the queries and the nuance. When you return to the office, you’ll have cleaner data that works to help you make strategic decisions.

Revisit your prospect pool. You know who your top donors are right now and are undoubtedly reaching out to them. But who is in the next tier? Should they be there? What work can you be doing right now to bring those potential donors closer to your institution? It would be worthwhile to schedule prospect meetings with your team and take a few hours each week to consider the status of your top 100-250 prospects. You can discuss which member of your team might be the best to cultivate and engage particular donors, spend time unassigning/reassigning prospects based on giving histories and relationships, and talk through strategy — as well as placement within the donor pool.

Create an operations plan. If you do not have one, this is an excellent time to write one – and if you’ve never done so, click here for a blog on the subject. Even in this uncertain time, you can set overall development goals for next year and talk through strategies to achieve them. If you already have a written plan in place, use this time to think about what worked and what didn’t, what you were unable to do this year, what you would like to achieve next year — and what fundraising may look like in the “new normal.“

Strengthen your team. We are hearing from clients that they are doing more as a team now than ever before. See where you can support each other, both emotionally and professionally. So often, different areas in development offices do not understand the role that everyone plays in the operation. Have a conversation about the importance of each team member’s role, then dive in to some challenging questions: are there duties that can be reassigned to promote efficiency? Is there someone with a skillset that is being underutilized? Revisit job descriptions and workflows, think through meaningful performance metrics, etc.

Reevaluate your Policies & Procedures. Chances are, at some point your office created a manual that’s been gathering dust on a shelf. Use this time to ask questions: If you were to hire someone new, do the policies make sense? Does your workflow make sense with your current staff? Have you updated the Gift Acceptance Policy recently? Put the update on a shared drive so that everyone has access.

Listen to your volunteers: Do you have a parent association or an alumni board that has not been functioning as well as it could? Bring the members together to gather their ideas and listen to their issues. Rethink roles and responsibilities, and design working committees that will help your volunteers feel well-utilized (as opposed to overworked!) and provide your office with the support it needs from these important constituencies.

We all know that fundraising efforts must continue – now and in the future. By making time today to address these development basics, your program will be operating from a greater position of strength tomorrow — ready to take on the challenges that lie ahead.