Do you work for a 21st century institution?
It's a simple question but surprisingly difficult to answer. Of course, we are in the 21st century, so in a way we all work for 21st century institutions. And I'm not talking about when your organization was founded either. What I mean is . . . does the organization you work for operate with a mindset that is rooted in 21st century ideas and ideals or does it hold more in common with the 20th century?
We are 20 years into the 21st century.
We are twenty years into this century. That's a fifth of the way to the 22nd century. And everyone knows some big shifts have occurred. However, major institutions are inherently resistant to change. What I'm seeing is that the pandemic is exposing the ways in which many organizations are hopelessly mired in a 20th century mindset and more importantly, 20th century ideas about leadership.
The good news is that once we can clearly see what's wrong, it throws light on the path forward to adapt and make things right.
Now, what exactly do I mean when I talk about these two mindsets? Here's a chart I compiled from a variety of sources that shows how our old ways can hold us back and the strategies that many (usually smaller) organizations are already employing as a means of survival and adaptation to this crisis.
Do any of these look familiar? Which column seems to align more with how decisions are made at your organization?
I feel grateful and lucky to work for an organization that has more alignment with the 21st century than the 20th. We have long embraced remote-work and distance learning and our leadership is much less hierarchical than other higher education institutions I've worked for. People are happier with work and happier in general when they have work-life integration and don't experience micro-managing and command and control leadership styles.
Basically, when leadership embraces a 20th century mindset, when faced with a crisis, that organization will likely double-down on scarcity mindset (laying off people preemptively), micro-management/measuring activity (meet your metrics), and command/control. But, what this moment needs is the adaptability and humility to try a new path. Focus on cultivating two-way communication on all levels, coaching employees to be productive in our new reality, adjusting goals to be reasonable, trusting our employees and supporting them, and finding ways to collaboratively partner with others.
Some higher education institutions are in big-time denial right now. I sincerely hope that the virus will subside and allow for more "normal" university operations this fall. But, given how the data is moving every day, I highly doubt it. Instead of anticipating failure or dreaming of miraculous changes in circumstances, could we instead work on adapting our models to this new reality? Those institutions that do will have an advantage going forward, both in terms of recruiting students and recruiting and keeping employees. Moving people and organizations through challenging times of change is true leadership, 21st century leadership.
In what ways do you see these mindsets manifesting in your organization? Do you feel like those ideas are serving your institution well in this environment? Tell me more in the comments!
PS - If you liked this post, you might also like these:
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” ― Albert Einstein
I can’t remember where I heard it, but it’s a great aphorism. Be relentless about the goal, but flexible about the methods.
Another way to say it is: Be relentless about the what and the why. Be flexible about the how.
We walk around with these axioms in fundraising. Consider: “Always call to get the visit.” And “Always ask for money in person.”
Well, we’ve been presented with an opportunity to question these methods and how we do fundraising.
I did a webinar recently about Frontline Fundraising in a Virtual Environment and I shook things up by confessing that I *gasp* didn’t often call to get visits. Folks were very interested in this maverick idea. It’s not really that maverick. It’s efficient. I send individual, personalized emails to the donors I would like to meet with and let those responses come in for 24-48 hours or until I have a full schedule.
Of course, those emails are NOT graphics heavy, HTML promotional emails sent in bulk. They are personal notes from me to a specific donor. And if I have some donors who I need to meet with and I know that I don’t have an email for them or that they don’t check email often, I will call them. But, mostly my schedule fills right up without having to drudge through calling a list. I can put my energy and effort into fostering great conversations when I meet with them rather than on getting the visit.
And of course, the meaning of the word “visit” has changed drastically in just a few months. So many metrics systems for fundraisers see an in-person visit as the gold standard. Of course, that’s true that in person interactions cement relationships in a special way. But, if we believe that other communication methods don’t have the power to significantly move relationships forward in a meaningful way, we are fooling ourselves. Furthermore, we hamstring our own efforts in this new reality.
Even though many states are “re-opening”, the virus is still a real threat, especially to those over age 55. That’s an age group that comprises a mighty portion of our non-profit donors. In-person visits and events will not be a viable, “normal” option for a long time. A commitment to metric systems that reward in-person visits only will cause fundraisers to be frustrated and leave and campaigns to fail.
Zoom and other video-conference technologies is only a sliver less effective as an in-person visit. And nearly everyone is open to trying out this new way of connecting right now out of necessity. But, let’s be clear: phone calls are also meaningful too. Personalized video and virtual events are fast becoming highly useful tools in the connection toolkit too.
Anything that moves the relationship forward connecting the donor to mission is the goal. The goal is connection. Be relentless about the goal. The medium is the how. Be flexible about that how.
Generally speaking, fundraising is not considered a creative profession. I disagree. In fact, I feel maintaining a creative approach to methods is essential as we face new challenges in any profession. We must remain perpetually curious as to what works.
Let me know what you think in the comments. And subscribe to my FUNdraising Friday newsletter to keep the conversation going.
PS - If you liked this post, you might also like these:
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Once we have acknowledged that white supremacy culture permeates all aspects of society, even in well-meaning and/or liberal institutions, we are left wondering what actions we can take to practically and meaningfully to combat this?
Note: White supremacy culture is not limited to extremists like white nationalists. White supremacy culture is the foundational assumption in our country that white culture is the default and white culture is neutral, correct, and without bias.
Here are three specific and concrete ways that fundraisers can take action to counter white supremacy culture in their work:
HAVE WELL-CRAFTED AND STRONG GIFT ACCEPTANCE AND NAMING POLICIES
Some donors will make attempts to exert unwelcome or even unethical levels of control at an organization. (See Season 1, Episode 10 of Dear White People on Netflix for an excellent example.) Non-profits must have strong value and mission statements which are supported by clear and coherent gift acceptance policies. If a donor attempts to sway the organization away from its mission and values, the policies must clearly lay out the conditions and process of refusing or returning the gift. Furthermore, naming policies for buildings, funds, and programs should articulate that the institution reserves the right to remove the donor’s name should that donor end up engaged in hate-based controversy or illegal activity.
But, if your organization does not already have board-endorsed policies that assist in countering white supremacy culture, you’ll have a difficult time getting those policies approved if you don’t have people of color on your board. Which brings me to my second point . . .
NOMINATE PEOPLE OF COLOR FOR YOUR BOARD
Ask questions about the board nomination process. Repeatedly discuss board diversity in staff meetings. If you can nominate potential board members (and you should be allowed to participate in this process), nominate people of color. While you are at it, nominate queer people, women, and other representatives of other marginalized groups for board service. Always ask, who is not at the table? Encourage leadership and current board members to ask that same question. Asking it once is not enough. We must make it a conscious, constant practice.
ADVOCATE FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION TO INVEST RESPONSIBLY
Bring up the topic of divestment in your institution. Moving endowments out of funds that invest in private prisons is a good start. Look into ESG (Environmental, Social and Good Governance funds) and recommend that your organization move the entire endowment into responsible investment plans. This is the right thing to do and will show that your institution lives out its values. It is a concrete and meaningful step to take that will show donors that your organization is more than just a thoughtful press release when it comes to issues of race. This will attract like-minded donors to your cause.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. But these three steps are a good place to start. What other ways can we, as fundraisers, act and move things in the direction of the beloved community? Let me know in the comments. And subscribe to my FUNdraising Friday newsletter to keep the conversation going.
“The objective reality is that no one who is white understands the challenge of being black in America.” Newt Gingrich, from the documentary 13th by Ava DuVernay
Here we are: Pride Month just started, we are in the middle of a massive reckoning to the hundreds of years of racial injustice and there is still a global pandemic happening. I'm a day late in posting this because I couldn't find my words on my predetermined timeline.
The words in the graphic "Hope will never be silent." were spoken by Harvey Milk, LGBT activist and this sign is in the Castro district of San Francisco. I remind myself that those who speak have hope for a better world and if you also share that hope, you must speak. Most of my readers got into non-profit to make the world we live in a better, more just place. We must make that work real in our jobs and outside it.
I wondered all week what to do. So, I listened to people of color and kept learning. I read and watched and researched. Has it been emotionally exhausting? Yes. But not nearly as emotionally exhausting as what black people in the United States live with every day and what they have dealt with for centuries.
So, the only way I felt I could effectively use my platforms was to highlight resources for those who want to speak up, to do something, to help but who are new(ish) to this work. Before you can effectively do any of those things, you must pause and learn. Here are some resources that can help you change what you can control first: yourself.
This list should not be interpreted and is not intended to be exhaustive in any sense of the word. I am only putting out there things that I have found helpful to me so far in my journey of learning. I have so many other things to read, grapple with, and absorb. I am white and was raised Mobile, Alabama. And even though from an early age, I always felt disgusted with racism and knew it was wrong, I still didn't know what I didn't know. I earned an undergraduate degree in American Studies, taking courses in American history and Sociology of Race and STILL never managed to learn about Juneteenth or the destruction of Black Wall Street until recently. The point is that this list is merely a starting point, for me and anyone reading it.
One thing I've been seeing online is folks asking questions about what certain terms mean and certain acronyms. That's fantastic that you want to learn. But, please don't ask people of color to explain these things to you. Google them.
Here's a helpful guide to look over to get you started from Lewis and Clark University: ABC’s of Social Justice A Glossary of Working Language for Socially Conscious Conversation*
Scaffolded Anti-Racist Resources: Helpfully divides resources by level of awareness in anti-racist work
WHAT TO WATCH
If you're busy right now (and who isn't), it can be helpful to watch or listen to anti-racist resources. I watch Netflix and other streaming services (usually documentaries) during my meals. Here are some wonderful, eye-opening resources you watch:
WHAT TO READ
A great problem to have: so many folks are interested in learning about anti-racism that books are selling out. Think about audiobooks as an alternative. Currently, I am listening to an audiobook version of So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo through a free service my public library provides Hoopla Digital. Check and see if your local library subscribes to similar audiobook and e-book app services.
In the mean time here are a few articles to keep you busy:
RAISING ANTI-RACIST CHILDREN
As a white woman, I realize that one of the most important things I can do to change the future is to address race issues with my white children. Here are some resources for starting those conversations:
READY TO ACT?
8 Can't Wait - This organization is advocating for 8 practical changes mayors can make at the level of local police departments to reduce police violence. Find your community on this website to see what their policies are in this area currently. My community wasn't listed, so I sent the website and recommendations to my mayor and urged him to take a look and report our policies to this website.
Innocence Project - "The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice." Sign up to be an advocate and if you can, make a gift to support their important work.
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.