Just take that virtual

photo of man using laptop

Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

“Oh, that’s easy . . . just go virtual.”

It seems like every time I turn around, some non-profit expert is glibly sharing this advice with an executive director or fundraising professional who is experiencing organizational challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are a handful of real life examples I’ve come across in just the last few days:

  • We had to cancel our annual dinner” . . . no worries, just do a virtual event
  • We had to cancel our auction fundraiser” . . . just do an online auction
  • We can’t provide services to our clients during this stay-at-home order” . . . have you heard of Zoom
  • The print shop is closed and I can’t get my newsletter produced” . . . use Constant Contact and turn it into an e-newsletter

If I put a little effort into this crazy coronavirus inspired exercise, I’m sure that I can come up with another five examples in less than five minutes. I’m not kidding.

I don’t mean to suggest anyone should be ungrateful for the advice. But I really wish everyone would stop dispensing this type of sugar-coated advice. It is overly simplistic. And dare I say, it can even feel a little dismissive.

Going “virtual” is simply not as easy as it sounds. Consider the following issues I’ve seen non-profit organization’s grappling with just this week:

  • Employees lack the skills to do what needs to be done to take programming and services virtual
  • Internet bandwidth is challenging
  • Hardware is lacking
  • Software or online services hasn’t been acquired yet
  • The organization’s budget can’t support those tech investments
  • A digital divide in the community means clients don’t have access
  • Not every donor has a Facebook account

My “pandemic wish” for the non-profit thought-leadership community is to stop tossing around nuggets of meaningless advice and let’s start getting specific.

For example, rather than simply saying, “just pivot and take your fundraising event online,” let’s explore the organization’s current state.  What systems do they have in place? What needs to be put in place to support their people? How does going virtual impact their organizational culture and the direction they were heading before the pandemic hit?

Then after getting answers to all of the assessment questions, let’s get specific about live streaming vs. recorded online videos or cross-channel donor communications utilizing email, text, website and social media.

OK, I’m going to get down off my soapbox because this rant is going to get nerdy very quickly.

I’m interested in hearing from you about how “going virtual” (aka your digital strategies) is working for you? What hiccups, if any, are you encountering? How are you solving those challenges?

Please share your experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other!

Be well, stay safe!

Erik Anderson

About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on April 22, 2020, in coronavirus, COVID-19, Fundraising, nonprofit, resource development, technology. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Kelley Tetzlaff

    Eric! How could you say that! You just trashed a whole business model of giving “sugar coated” advice. It is all about the activity and checking the box isn’t it? It doesn’t REALLY matter if the capacity of an org. can or cannot accomplish the “glib advice”! Oy vey my friend, pretty radical thinking! (And I know you know that I am being very sarcastic here! LOL) Thanks for being ‘brave’ enough to actually say this. I agree with your comments 1,000%.

  2. Erik,

    It’s good to have you back. Keep up the good advice. For me going viral is like junk mail. It has its place, but ought not to be the only means of communicating a charity uses. After all is said and done, I still prefer personal communication whenever possible. And these days Board Members and other volunteers have plenty of time on their hands.

    Put them to work contacting proven donors (who also have time on their hands) and be sure they tell their prospects that gifts are more important than ever.

    Jerry Fazio
    San Diego

  3. Thanks, Jerry. Wise words indeed!

  4. The nonprofit I am involved with is a teeny tiny organization run by a board of directors, with only 2 part-time staff members (finance & programs). Going virtual is a huge obstacle for us. Many board members do not understand the technology, a few others don’t have reliable wifi where they live, we work in a very small community where “old school” is the only school so posters, word of mouth, and in-person are our primary means of promotion. Thank you! Going virtual is NOT always easy, possible or the best solution.

    • Thanks, Joanna. However, just to be clear, I am not opposed to digital strategies. I’m just frustrated with that being everyone’s advice to nonprofits without more substance or any consideration for organizational capacity. Good luck executing your poster, word of mouth and in-person strategies. I hope you continue having success!

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