As we pass the two-year anniversary of when much of the world faced an initial shutdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful. The availability of vaccines and declining transmission rates in many areas has led to a loosening of public health requirements and a return to pre-pandemic activities like travel and in-person events and conferences. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles along the path, and it’s tempting to breathe a sigh of relief at the potential return of familiar experiences. Yet, despite the numerous pivots and innovations we’ve embraced out of necessity during the past 24 months, one of our biggest tests still lies ahead — what will we dare to do differently now that we have the choice to resume what once was?
In numerous articles, webinars, research studies and even here on this blog, our industry has discussed for months the need to hold on to the entrepreneurial spirit we tapped into during the height of the pandemic, when nearly every aspect of our work was subject to shift. And there have been some truly wonderful efficiencies gained and inspiring moments created — many with much greater reach and ROI than what we were producing pre-2020. But many of these new approaches still aren’t as comfortable as what we knew how to do in 2019, and truthfully, some of what we pulled off lacked the flair and enthusiasm of pre-pandemic offerings. In short, some of it was essential, but not a memorable experience.
Therein lies the conundrum we face as we plan for a landscape that just might be more predictable, less disruptive — do we nurture those pivots with promise so that they develop into meaningful experiences with our donors, or do we return to the tried-and-true, hoping that our donors are ready to meet us there again?
At DRG, we’re known to be dreamers, ideators and risk-takers, so it’s no surprise that our encouragement lies in the former: pursuing an innovative approach to the donor experience and daring to leave behind those aspects that may have been comfortable, but ultimately missed the mark in creating a WOW for donors. As you jump into planning, think about ways to incorporate thoughtful evaluation of your efforts both before and during the pandemic, placing outcomes side-by-side to visualize the impact of each. Then consider what’s possible if you invest the same number of resources into returning to a pre-pandemic approach versus developing the potential of an imperfect, yet inspired idea. Ask yourself, what if …?
What if we create new ways for donors to explore their impact with our organizations?
What technological developments can we leverage to deliver gratitude differently?
Why will people leave their homes if nearly everything they want can be delivered right to them?
What can we learn from that to improve the way we engage with donors?
And importantly, amidst a world that is weary of one surprise after another, in what ways can we create surprise for donors that also delights and is welcomed?
As always, the answers lie with our donors, and in addition to asking ourselves questions that encourage us to dream, we must also ask what our donors need. These answers will be as diverse as our organizations and our donors themselves. What works for some will most certainly not work for others — and it’s just as possible that the right answer for your donors will be a return trip to 2019 as it is an innovative approach built for the “next normal." The point is to ensure this moment doesn’t pass us by without a critical exercise in evaluation and exploration. This is the way we emerge stronger and more strategically positioned to meet our donors’ changing needs and preferences.
The good news is that we don’t have to go it alone — you’re part of a wonderful community of professionals already engaging in what comes next, and all of us at DRG are right here to cheer you on, offer support and engage in shared learning experiences that can guide our decision-making. Be it instruction on how to effectively evaluate your programs or an exploration of the 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience, we look forward to leaning in together and to creating a little magic to meet this moment!