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Lessons learned during the pandemic will influence nonprofits in 2022

Dec 22, 2021

The lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to shape the nonprofit world into 2022. Nonprofits,  will not experience a swift return to the way things used to be pre-pandemic. Rather, fresh new opportunities now exist.

Changes in how nonprofits operate, what they prioritize, program delivery, how they raise money and how they engage constituents are part of the new landscape.

Rising donor interest in supporting nonprofits is clear. Charitable giving in the U.S. reached a record $471 billion in 2020, according to Giving USA, as individuals, foundations and corporations responded to the pandemic with a spirit of resilience.

In assessing the year ahead and the outlook for nonprofit organizations, these five trends tied to the pandemic are likely to continue to drive transformation, results and ultimately more good in the world.

Let go of wishful thinking

Good leaders know holding onto the past is not the best way forward. That applies to the COVID-19 pandemic, too. Nonprofits are well past the point of hanging on and hoping things will return to the way they were before the pandemic took hold in spring 2020.

It’s OK to hope for a sense of past familiarity but don’t rely on it as a nonprofit business strategy. Healthy optimism and recognition that it’s time to adapt are the way to go. Nonprofit workers from the CEO to the part-time volunteer and everyone in between need to adopt that mindset.

Embrace new norms

The ways nonprofit organizations used to engage with donors, volunteers and members have changed because of the pandemic. That means hybrid work arrangements and virtual meetings and fundraisers.

Even in-person events are different now.

Some groups asked attendees of in-person events to wear colored wristbands or stickers to reflect their interaction preferences, and that’s likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

Red politely signals to others to please keep your distance, no handshakes or close talking. Yellow means a conversation is OK but no more contact than an elbow tap or perhaps a fist bump. Green says you’re comfortable with a close conversation and even a hug. The rules vary by organization, but color-coding systems are one way nonprofits are adapting with the times and giving people options in their comfort zones.

Activate the power of digital transformation

The pandemic fast-tracked virtual meetings and the need to leverage technology in the nonprofit world. That train isn’t stopping in 2022 so nonprofits will need to be proactive with technology rather than reactive.

Technology is an enabler, not just an added expense. Reaching out to leadership to push that message and gain executive support will ensure that technology is part of the long-term budget planning, both in terms of cost and staffing.

Technology can amplify empathy for beneficiaries by telling their stories in a more immersive way. Leveraging online tools — website and social media — builds greater support and increases the opportunity to reach and engage new volunteers and donors.

With the right people or the right idea, technology can develop unexpected efficiencies and opportunities. Church of God Ministries headquartered in Anderson, Indiana, for example, is building a portal to connect its network of pastors, churches and state assemblies to operate as one unit more than ever before.

Amplify creative fundraising and donor engagement

The pandemic served as jet fuel to the nonprofit need to modernize.

Most nonprofits were forced to rapidly adapt fundraising campaigns and engagement methods after the pandemic hit, and those valuable lessons should be carried forward into the coming year and beyond.

Fundraising requires connection and relationships so it’s important to find creative, new ways to cultivate donors.

Holding virtual fundraisers, for example, is a way to broaden audience and build a more expansive donor base. An in-person fundraiser allows only a limited number of people, most of them local, to get involved. A virtual fundraiser could have infinite attendees from every corner of the globe all participating at once, and without the overhead costs of an in-person event.

A lot of nonprofits unexpectedly found that virtual events could be just as successful — and in some cases raise more money — than traditional in-person galas. The old full schedule of in-person fundraisers is unlikely to return, even when the pandemic allows it.

Continue shifts in programming and service delivery

The pandemic has been a massive stress test on the network of U.S. nonprofit groups tasked as demands soared for health care, food, career counseling, disaster relief, small business loans and so many other services.

And many were able to meet that demand with new service or delivery methods.

The Community Action Network, for example, reported how its 1,000-plus local agencies shifted to home delivery for food and diapers and implemented rapid response techniques with social distancing to deliver services efficiently and safely.

Several groups moved to 24/7 online applications for service and ditched more antiquated systems. The Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging embraced online data capture and backed away from in-person and over-the-phone contact that often resulted in voicemail queues and multiple touchpoints. The move streamlined the intake process to free up frontline staff for other important work.

While those innovations were created to respond to a crisis, the success nonprofits have experienced means they will stick around.


How Wipfli can help

Wipfli’s team is dedicated to helping nonprofits achieve their mission. Our nonprofit specialists bring experience, knowledge and best practices to help navigate compliance regulations, transform organizations through technology and address today’s talent challenges. To learn more, visit our nonprofit services web page.


Kathleen DuBois, M.A.
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