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Revenue Guidance for Nonprofit Leaders

Jennifer Mulholland & Jeff Shuck
March 26, 2020

In our new post-Coronavirus world, a lot can change in five days. And it has. Since the revenue guidance we published last Friday, the Olympics have been postponed until 2021 and the pandemic has further disrupted events, campaigns, and strategies across the country.

In addition, returns on advertising investments, which were already pressured because of decreased inventory from the upcoming presidential election, are diminishing even further. We are seeing large companies and buyers scramble to find effective ways get messages out during the pandemic, squeezing inventory further. 

If you have an in-person fundraising event or campaign you plan to launch, you are probably asking: What does my organization do this year? If you are running an offline or traditional development campaign, or an entire nonprofit, you are probably asking: Where do we go next? How do we plan?

As a follow-up to our initial revenue guidance on March 20th for the nonprofit marketing, social impact, peer-to-peer, and fundraising spaces, we've recorded an update to our recommendations. 

Check out the short video below for guidance and updated recommendations that include: 

  • Being mindful about the timing of your event
  • Listening to your constituents
  • Meeting the immediate need of your constituents
  • Building a virtual community

As always, we're here to help. Stay safe and be well, and don't hesitate to reach out with questions.

Initial Revenue Guidance for Nonprofit, Event, and Peer-to-Peer Leaders

Originally published March 20, 2020

To say we're in challenging times is the understatement of the decade – and maybe the century. For conscious leaders out there in the nonprofit marketing, social impact, peer-to-peer, and fundraising spaces, the disruption is particularly pronounced. An enormous wave of change is crashing down around us. 

We're getting a lot of questions about what to do:

  • Should I cancel my campaign or event?
  • Should I make my campaign or event virtual?
  • How do we continue fundraising in this environment? Can we?
  • How do I revise my revenue projections?

In the short video below, we answer these four questions and provide some further context on the current environment. For a summary and some closing thoughts, see the text following the video. 

Should I cancel my campaign or event?

Obviously, the situation is changing by the hour. A number of leaders were ahead of the curve on this, but the time is running out to make a conscious decision. Our current guidance is if your campaign or event is scheduled for before May 15th, then yes, you should go ahead and postpone or cancel. If you wait any longer to make a decision, you risk sounding really tone deaf to what's going on. We're reviewing this guidance day-by-day to see if we recommend extending that window.  Our advice is changing daily, just like the situation is changing by the hour.

Should I make my campaign or event virtual?

There was a huge rush of messages this week from companies urging nonprofits to shift their events to a virtual model. Our recommendation is to think in terms of a virtual community, not necessarily a virtual event. Shifting your focus from "event marketing" and "campaign management" to the skills, relationships, and engagement it takes to build a cohesive, collective community critical right now. 

Communities are made up of people and people need to be seen. They need to be heard. They need to be spoken to. There's an opportunity to cultivate relationships with your constituents at the exact time that they are craving human connection. Try to shift from a mindset of acquisition and marketing to one of ongoing engagement.

How do we continue fundraising in this environment? Can we?

If you're a nonprofit and you have a set of campaigns and advertisements already running, is it tone deaf to keep them going? This is tricky, because you obviously need to keep revenue coming in. On the other hand, the attention of the entire world is on something else. 

Here are a few things to think about:

  • This health crisis has morphed into a staggeringly large economic crisis, and that's going to have a huge impact on charitable giving.
  • Be authentic and real in your messaging. Some nonprofits are already rolling out adjusted campaigns that are seeking to remind donors that their cause matters, too. Those kinds of appeals are going become overused quickly.
  • Slow down to think about what you are saying. What is relevant right now? How can you differentiate?
  • Is there an opportunity – or need – to innovate past your existing campaign? 

Be mindful of the messages that you are sending. It may make sense to pause and give your organization's strategy time so you can see what is going to unfold in the next 15 to 30 days. This situation is incredibly dynamic. You are going to have to be willing to be responsive.  

How do I calculate my revenue projections?

Quite honestly we don't know yet. We haven't given any specific revenue guidance this week, although we're starting to roll out advice next week on a client-by-client basis. There's going to be some serious rethinking and retooling of existing budgets both on the income and the expense side. 

Closing Thoughts

We live in a peer-to-peer world. We are a communal species and we need to connect with one another more than anything right now. That's the opportunity sitting there, too. How can we really serve each other one person at a time? 

As conscious leaders, it's an opportunity to be present, to slow down so that we can process the information that's coming in, and then clearly and calmly communicate direction and support to the people that we lead.

There's a risk of moving too slowly, but there's also a risk of moving too quickly. Sometimes the best thing to do when a big wave is coming is to dive under it entirely.

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If you find yourself saying "We've got to hit reset and start over", download our Meridian eBook, for guidance on how to create a sustainable strategy that is  adaptable and clear in order to withstand the ever-changing world we're living in.  

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