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Big T-Truths Emerging in 2021

By Keturi DeLong

Twenty-twenty did something remarkable for all of us: it illuminated priorities that have been covered by the dust of day-to-day living. This year, the collective impact of these “aha” moments will translate into a shift in giving behavior. As philanthropic advisors, we must prepare.

The shift: chaos brings clarity

The forced isolation over the past year pushed us to look within. As we adjusted to the jarring changes, things slowly came back into focus. This year really shook all of us and the impact is undeniable. Emerging from the darkness, we are discovering what is most important to us. Our core values are shining more brightly today than ever before. Big T Truths have emerged through the rubble – and we can’t ignore them.

The donors we work with are reevaluating priorities, and making changes accordingly. Here’s the thing about generous people—they are driven by their core values. A shift in core values translates to a shift in giving behavior.

It’s time to re-meet.

Here’s my charge for philanthropy and engagement folks: get to know the donors you work with again. They aren’t the same people they were a year ago, or even three months ago. This year has changed them.

Don’t assume continuity– especially this year. Donors who supported your cause last year, or maybe even over the past 30 years, may not be interested in giving again this year. Like us, they’ve discovered new passions and identified new problems to solve. We must re-learn everything we know about what makes them tick, and what drives their giving today.

With a curious and grateful spirit, uncover their 2020 epiphanies and embrace their renewed goals. Spend the next 3-6 months checking in and asking the following questions:

  • What have you learned about yourself this year?

  • How has the past year changed how you look at the world?

  • What has come into focus as a result of your experiences in 2020?

  • What is more evident to you this year?

  • What has become more important to you over the course of the past year?

  • What are you more dedicated to as a result of your experiences last year?

  • Now, more than ever, what are you most grateful for?

Shift in action

  • How have your priorities shifted?

  • What do you hope will change in 2021?

  • What did you ignore before, that you cannot ignore moving forward?

  • What problem will you try and solve in 2021 and beyond?

  • What do you want to spend more time doing this year?

Philanthropy conversation

  • We are sincerely grateful for your support of ________ over the years. What a difference you have made. Does this remain a priority for you moving forward?

  • I’m hearing that ___________ is very important to you right now. How can we adjust your endowment/giving to more fully accomplish your philanthropic goals?

Follow up questions:

  • How so?

  • Tell me more.

  • Why do you think that?

Shut up and listen, and show them you hear them.

You may find that donors express a renewed passion for giving to your cause, or they may have discovered an entirely new giving priority. Appreciating the “why” behind their shift takes patience and focused curiosity. As you interpret their perspective, communicate back to them what you hear. Reiterate your understanding of their epiphanies. Express gratitude for their new philanthropic priorities—whether or not they include your cause.

Make their dreams come true.

If their shift illuminated giving priorities outside of the scope of their past giving, don’t sit on the sideline and awkwardly wave. Explore how your cause plays a part. How does your organization move the needle for their new focus? Be the connector—the aligner.

For example, “Pre-2020 Sally” gave consistently to her endowed scholarship at your university. Recently, she’s realized the magnitude of the food security crisis. Pivot and align. Share impact stories about the food pantry at your university, and ask for her support. Don’t have a food pantry? Work with your campus colleagues to create one, and ask Sally to be the founding donor for this effort. Be creative. Explore. Proactively collaborate.

For some, this approach may not be possible within your organization. In that case, continue to steward “Pre-2020 Sally” for the impact she made over the years, and cheer her on as she seeks new impact.

Bottom line—use this time, right now, to re-meet the donors who have supported your cause in the past. The chaos of 2020 brought clarity for many. Approach the donors you know well with a fresh curiosity. Uncover their “aha” moments. Embrace the shift in giving that follows a shift in core values. Realign their giving where appropriate. Honor the donor’s goals, and bring their dreams to reality. This is the silver lining of 2020.

Keturi DeLong is a DRG fan, Vice President for Philanthropy and Engagement at Texas A&M University - Commerce (Go Lions!), and Chair of CASE District IV Cabinet. Keturi is embracing 2021 with a sense of humor, curiosity, and gratitude.


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