Triage, Transition, Transformation

moving forward

Triage, Transition, Transformation

During a call with two of my clients last week, one of the participants described the COVID-19 pandemic in stages, using three words:  Triage, Transition, Transformation.

She said it was helpful for her to have it organized with three words, all starting with the same letter.  We went on to share thoughts about what this description really meant and discussed a few other models that we’ve heard in the press or other conversations.  I wrote down those three words, as I wanted to think about how they apply to the world of fundraising as a result of the pandemic.

Since the shelter in place order began, the world of fundraising has gone sideways.  Our team of consultants has seen a wide range of reactions from our clients.  Some have experienced positive surprises, as unexpected donations have arrived.  Others have expressed fear – “we can’t ask people for money right now!”  (Yes, actually, you can.)  And all of our clients are exhausted, as everyone is trying to reimagine events, figure out how to participate in another Giving Tuesday and recast their fundraising goals, all while trying to navigate working from home and ensure those they serve are safe and protected.

So how do these three words apply to Development?  Let’s think about it.

Triage – One key component of triage is to “allocate limited resources to maximize results”.  It seems like the Development department at most organizations is woefully understaffed to begin with – and then a crisis comes around.  The first order of business was to ensure those we serve are safe and put processes and procedures in place to make sure they continue to be safe.  Next, we had to assess what this means for our fundraising efforts.  “Will we be able to host our event?”  “If we can’t host our event, what will we do instead?”  “How will we make up for lost revenue?” “How will we engage donors?” And so on.  I am sure those are just a few of the many questions you asked while this crisis was unfolding.

Transition – The simple definition here is “changing from one state to another”.  Whether it is moving from an event to a virtual event, rethinking the strategy behind your spring appeal, or simply moving from in-person meetings to virtual ones, we have all had to change and adapt over the past few weeks.  And while we are all anxious to move to the “new normal”, we must remain flexible and adaptable for the foreseeable future.

Transformation – Transformation is a “dramatic change”.  While we may realize it on the surface, the reality here is harder to conceive for the long-term: much of our work as Development officers is transforming, and will continue to do so.  (Face it: Events will never be the same again.)  And perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing.  Our team has a standing Zoom call every Monday morning.  Most of our time is spent discussing the latest binge watch recommendations or sharing what we cooked over the weekend, but we do also talk business.  And there is one great silver lining we as Development professionals all agree on, and that is the chance to “reset” our priorities.  Specifically, this crisis has given everyone in Development the opportunity – and the time – to cultivate donors.  We have been encouraging all of our clients to take this time to call donors and check in on their well-being.  Since donors are also stuck at home, many are in need of social interaction, and therefore interested in engaging in conversation.  Writing personal notes or even sending a well-prepared email can elicit a positive response.

I am hopeful this change of direction will result in a permanent transformation for many organizations in how they do development work going forward.  Cultivation and stewardship takes time and it typically doesn’t have a deadline, so it can often fall to the bottom of the “to-do” list.  My challenge to each of you is to maintain this practice of connecting with donors, even when we are no longer sheltering in place.

by: Susan Matejka, Managing Director, HPS Chicago

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