Lessons Learned While Leaning Into the Headwinds

imageIt’s been two months since our lives were changed – radically and suddenly. Everyone has faced new and unfamiliar challenges.

Since COVID-19 became our new reality, I’ve been impressed by the courage, conviction and tenacity of frontline fundraisers who passionately believe in the power of philanthropy.

I’ve also been encouraged by the new, meaningful interactions between nonprofit organizations and donors – all eager to be an essential part of the important work taking place. There are always reasons to be grateful, but I have been humbled by the extraordinary generosity on display in recent months.

Several principles have emerged that may benefit you in your work advancing your organization’s important mission. I call them “lessons learned while leaning into the headwinds.”

Headwinds blow directly against us, creating oppositional, forward motion. Flying directly into a headwind provides lift that works against gravity. Think of Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

There always will be headwinds of opposition for raising money: “It’s not the right time, because …” Researchers have found that sadness and fear trigger a part of the brain connected to memory, making negative memories more vivid than positive ones. It, literally, comes more naturally to be negative than positive.

“Headwinds” of negativity come at us all the time. But as we lean in and move forward, we can gain new heights.

I’ve learned the following lessons from leaning into the headwinds, continuing to champion nonprofits and encouraging them to raise their sights:

Committed fundraisers give donors courage.

A courageous fundraiser gives donors confidence that a nonprofit’s mission will continue into the future. By keeping donors informed, and inviting them to consider supporting the organizations they care about, fundraisers convey an assurance that even COVID-19 cannot deter a nonprofit’s important work.

Difficulty amplifies opportunities.

For many organizations, the onset of COVID-19 has provided a platform for sharing the positive impact they make in people’s lives and expressing their mission in clearer, more meaningful terms. Many nonprofits – whether direct service agencies or arts organizations – exist to support people and lift them up, especially in difficult times like those we are experiencing now. Don’t be shy about sharing your nonprofit’s story.

Courageous donors have responded with remarkable generosity.

In the last several months, the responses of donors to various organizations – nonprofits that have continued to present their cases and distinguished the importance of their missions – has been remarkable. It has been my honor to counsel organizations that have inspired six- and seven-figure gifts from individuals and foundations committed to ensuring people continue to receive the critical supports they need. Additionally, major gifts have gone to important capital expansion initiatives in the last two months, clearly signaling the belief of philanthropists that we are stronger than this pandemic.

One of the most impactful lessons from our company’s Founder and Chairman Emeritus Bob Hartsook is his conviction that: “There is no security. Only opportunity.” While always true, this has become self-evident in recent months.

There is still opportunity everywhere… that is, if we are willing to move against the headwinds of doubt, hesitation and naysaying.

According to the most recent U.S. Trust Study of High Net-worth Philanthropy conducted in partnership with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the overwhelming majority of American high net-worth households (90%) make charitable donations. Their four top reasons for giving:

  • Belief in the mission of an organization.
  • Belief that their gift can make a difference.
  • Support for the same cause or organization annually.
  • To experience personal satisfaction, enjoyment or fulfillment.

Additionally, one of their greatest needs is to receive knowledge and advice about giving and to become more familiar with nonprofits and how they serve their constituents’ needs. That’s where you come in.

Donors are looking for fundraising leaders who can demonstrate needs, solutions and outcomes. Nearly every time donors are asked what helped them come to a decision about giving, the fundraiser’s role is mentioned.

Right now, we are on the fundraising frontlines of an extraordinary time – an opportunity to give donors the personal satisfaction, enjoyment and fulfillment of giving gifts of significance.

I commend you for all you have done in recent weeks and all you will do in the months ahead. Continue moving forward, serving as bold representatives of the causes you represent.

Pick up speed and proceed with confidence, even against headwinds of doubt. Let them lift you and elevate your organization, as we work together to unleash the unstoppable power of philanthropy for nonprofits across the country and around the world.

matt beem

Matt Beem, PhD, CFRE
Chairman and CEO
[email protected]