I know it is a hard argument to make when everyone around you is making sacrifices for the health of the organization; however, protecting your advancement team might just be the most selfless move you can make and one that could protect your organization’s long-term viability. Here are some ways to assess, rethink and reset.
It is a reality that you will likely have to freeze or cut budgets. As you do, please treat your revenue-producing areas with care. Your donors and friends who support you will continue to support you, but they will need to be treated well, communicated with often, and tended to with care (see ALG article: Embracing Donors). Working with less might work in some parts of the organization, but you cannot allow these important relationships to suffer. And they will if you stretch your advancement team too far.
If you furlough or cut front-line fundraisers and staff who support them, there is a loss of institutional knowledge and likely loyalty to the organization. The opportunity cost of not nurturing a major gift portfolio and the cost of losing relationships with donors needs to be considered as part of the collateral damage of such cuts.
How many volunteers and donors do you have who consider your organization a priority in their lives? Every one of these needs to be kept close, through as much one-to-one conversation as possible. Many of our clients are finding that it’s easier than ever to get through, given reduced distractions; one client held a video call with the chancellor, inviting 125 top prospective donors, and more than 90% attended.
Philanthropy will be one of the key pillars to restoring your organization to whatever new normal looks like. With that in mind, how much of your agenda from the spring have you put off until the fall? If you have cut staff, who is going to handle all of the fundraising and engagement activity you have already rescheduled? The volume of that activity and those solicitations will be enormous come fall, and those who have the teams to accomplish this heavy-lift will reap the benefits. If you do not have enough human capacity to do the outreach and relationship-building all along, and especially as recovery begins, your recovery will be delayed and revenue from fundraising will be reduced.
There will likely never be more talent in the market than right now. As organizations are thinking about cutting, really great people will soon be available and grateful to have the opportunity to work for your organization. Also, consider the advantages of going into the market for a search today. Your new person will likely start in July or August – saving you costs right now – and enter your organization at the precise moment when you are going to need the most help.
If the goal is recovery and relaunching to serve your mission in the best possible way, you will likely need to persuade your leadership team to rethink the impact of cutting your front-line team. You can and should take a close look at underperforming staff; this may be the time to move forward with changes you knew you needed to make. At the same time, building and strengthening your revenue-producing team in the short term will give your organization the critical lift it needs to achieve medium- and long-term plans.