Staying Alive

At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak (and the subsequent lockdowns), everyone I know was in some state of shock (naturally). Nonprofits that I knew were panicked that they wouldn’t be able to survive, and many articles said that 30% or more of nonprofits would cease to exist because of challenges related to Covid.

Those dire projections haven’t panned out, and hopefully, they won’t.

Many organizations aren’t only open — many are doing fine. I’ve spoken with many NPOs who have “made” their annual budget numbers this year (some of them adjusted due to Covid, but many not). Most are concerned about the future, but aren’t we all? Nobody knows how long it will be until things are some version of “normal” again.

The point is that the sky hasn’t fallen.

How have so many nonprofits sustained this year’s challenges? It seems to me that the answer lies in the word “change”. Change has been everywhere. Adaptability and innovation are the words of the day. Who knew that existential threats could push positive change in so many ways? As I write in my book, I hope that changes needed in fundraising will begin to take place, and I see some early signs of that happening.

As to keeping organizations solvent, there have been myriad surprises, including:

  1. Organizations making hard decisions about staff, costs, organizational structure, and board expectations that would have just been too hard to make before. Those programs that are “off mission” — that may be confused or weakened the core mission? Easier to make the decision now to end those programs and refocus.

  2. An influx of legacy gifts — the result, in many cases, of hard work by nonprofits who have created and grown programs to encourage bequests. I’m not sure why more nonprofits aren’t running these programs (yes, I understand resource constraints, but still…).

  3. PPP and other programs have helped NPOs offset costs and keep some or most of their staff.

  4. Foundation giving streamlined to a point never seen before. Quick turnaround, longer grant periods, less “time-sucking” restrictions, and larger pools of money made available. We could have wished for this, but I don’t know that we could have predicted it.

  5. Nonprofits noticing that they can raise money in new ways — and that the annual gala (with the rubber chicken dinners) might not be sacrosanct. When I saw that Quarantunes — a program that didn’t exist prior to this past March — had raised millions of dollars partnering with 30 organizations in about six months, it became crystal clear that there were more ways to skin a cat than the ways we were used to.

  6. Reach beyond our wildest dreams. A local organization raising money from hundreds of “viewers” in other cities and countries? Check. Conferences that, because of being online, now able to accommodate and host a wider range of top speakers than they ever could have before? Yup. Staff and supporters of NPOs now able to attend their organization’s events, since cost and travel restrictions are no longer relevant? You bet!

We’ve all done unusual things in the last many months that have kept our organizations solvent, and, in some cases, growing. So share your successes!

Now’s the time to report to your donors and let them know about your changes, accomplishments, and ability to “pivot” — all in unprecedented and hugely challenging times. Donors will love to hear how you’ve kept your organization in business. They will be thrilled to know that your changes in structure helped you continue to focus on delivering on your mission. If you share with them how hard it is and was, but how you came out the other end strong, donors will feel more like real partners — and donor loyalty will increase big-time.

As celebrity social researcher Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” And as psychologist, author, and Harvard professor Salvatore Maddi says, Resilience or hardiness is the ability to adapt to new circumstances when life presents the unpredictable.


I’m thrilled to share my first book, Philanthropy Revolution, with the world. I’m lifting the lid on our charitable sector with an authentic account that describes exactly how outdated the sector has become and why it’s at risk of collapse. Get your copy here.

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- Lisa