COVID has impacted every person, community, and organization across the globe. Today, together, the world is grappling to find a new balance between the challenges and loss COVID has brought with adjusting to a new post-COVID reality. Some think (hope) the world will go back to “normal” soon. Others wonder if we’ll ever be the same and maybe, in some small way, have enjoyed the shift in priorities. And still, others who have been disproportionately impacted have not yet had space to even think about future implications.
Looking ahead, the philanthropic community has distinct opportunities to carry forward new approaches and perspectives that, while the result of 2020’s struggles, could become a lifeline to a better way forward.
1. A Willingness to Show Up
When the world shut down in March 2020 and most non-essential staff were sent home to work remotely, virtual engagement became a new normal for private companies and NGOs alike. As teams swiftly adopted new ways to meet, train, and complete work virtually, ‘showing up’ became synonymous with ‘logging on.’
While once viewed as a potential barrier to collaboration or productivity, a person’s physical location may no longer be seen as a barrier to effective engagement. Staff, donors, volunteers, board members, and partners can all connect via video conferencing and achieve success at the same caliber as before.
The Zoom era has also created another opportunity for nonprofits and community foundations: the ability to engage with constituents beyond the time-and-location bounds of an in-person event. As virtual events continue to pop up worldwide, attendance and engagement are no longer dependent on someone’s schedule or location. This has allowed organizations to reach new audiences that may never have been reachable otherwise.
Here’s one more bonus: the ability to record and share events after they’ve happened. A major donor prospect can’t attend your virtual fundraising event? No problem--you can now send them a recording.
While there’s something to be said for sharing space with other humans and connecting in person, the new opportunities that virtual conferencing has created can continue to be part of organizations’ strategies moving forward.
2. Increased Emphasis on Workplace Wellness
Almost every person on the planet has felt the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and employers have taken notice. Across the workforce, organizations are launching new initiatives to promote workplace wellness and support their team members.
In addition to permitting flexibility around workplace locations, both during the mandated shutdowns and since, many organizations are taking additional steps to care for staff. For the past 14 months, many families have been trying to work and learn from home, balancing jobs with childcare responsibilities or remote learning support. Organizations that offer flexible schedules make it possible for families to ‘do it all’ in the COVID era.
More organizations, too, are encouraging staff to take mental health days and set healthy boundaries as work and life become increasingly overlapped. When things go back to “normal” (whatever that looks like), don’t lose sight of the importance of wellness. Remember, overall, a happy team is a productive team. Organizations can continue to promote workplace wellness by continuing to treat people as just that: people with lives, stressors, and responsibilities outside of work.
3. Viewing In-Person Events in a New Light
As the world slowly reopens and in-person events become available again, there may be a renewed sense of gratitude and privilege among supporters and staff. The joy of sharing space, sharing food, and sharing stories in person will likely ripple through the philanthropic community for months to come. People may come to events with higher energy, greater engagement, and stronger enthusiasm. Organizations should be ready to nurture that enthusiasm and celebrate with their supporters.
At the same time, the world has seen what’s possible in a virtual format. This will likely give organizations the ability to make different decisions around an event’s location based on what is feasible, practical, and best for the organization. When planning an event, there is a new space in which to explore questions like: “Why is it important to hold this event in person?,” “What do we gain/lose from an in-person or virtual event?,” “Can we justify the costs of holding this event in person?,” and “What are our supporters saying they want from us?”
With new proof of what’s possible for virtual gatherings, organizations have an opportunity to consider all aspects of event planning and to create events that are truly in the best interest of the organization, its supporters, and the overall mission.
4. Getting Creative with Philanthropy
In 2020, people embraced nontraditional approaches to ‘philanthropy.’ Supporting a cause, an organization, or a movement can include far more than traditional donations, and more people than ever before are participating in creative giving. Today, people can, and expect to be able to, contribute by:
- Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding is like a new kind of capital campaign. Organizations can set a target fundraising amount, identify an end date, and then leverage their supporters’ dollars and digital reach to meet that goal. People may be additionally motivated to support crowdfunding campaigns that align with their personal values, are also supported by their friends, and can be shared on social media. Crowdfunding also helps people visualize how their gift--no matter its size--is helping contribute to a larger goal. The sense of community that this creates helps encourage giving at all levels and across all demographics.
- Volunteering time: The COVID-19 crisis had a profound economic impact worldwide, with as many as 115 million people experiencing job loss due to the pandemic. While budgets tightened, bills piled up, and wages declined, people found new ways to support causes they cared about. In New York, one woman who was furloughed from her job organized fundraisers and volunteers for a busy food bank in New York City. As paychecks ran out, time became a new form of available currency for millions of people.
- Helping community members: From buying someone’s groceries to treating the next person in line to their morning coffee, community-based “random acts of kindness” have become increasingly popular. While this person-to-person philanthropic action may not directly benefit a nonprofit or community foundation, these actions are helping promote a broader awareness and interest in philanthropy, and overall are helping create stronger communities.
- Spreading awareness online: One thing has become increasingly apparent: even without time or financial flexibility, anyone can support a cause. Thanks to social media, anyone with access to a phone or computer can help spread awareness about a campaign, fundraiser, or cause. The increase in digital awareness-raising has helped organizations reach new audiences, find new supporters, and create more authentic connections with people through direct online engagement.
- Voting with dollars: Like the examples above, the ability to ‘vote with one’s dollars’ is not new, but has established itself as another popular form of alternative philanthropy. People are embracing the ability to use every available dollar--from a grocery budget to household project funds--to support organizations and brands whose values align with their own. The philanthropic community can leverage this by getting creative with business partnerships, which can allow people to make a contribution simply by getting gas or buying produce.
COVID-19 spared no one. We have all been affected, suffered loss, or struggled as a result of the pandemic.
Moving forward, it’s possible to both recognize the devastation that has occurred and embrace the opportunities of this challenging time. The ability of the philanthropic community to adopt new ways of thinking and new approaches in a post-COVID world may have profound impacts on long-term sustainability and resilience. I look forward to witnessing the creative ways our clients, partners, and friends across the sector find to continue building impact and strengthening communities.