3 silver linings for advancement programs in the COVID-19 world

The COVID-19 pandemic forced advancement teams to pivot abruptly to working in a remote environment. Some silver linings have emerged from that shift, as many organizations have developed creative solutions to their traditional ways of operating.

Applying a fresh set of eyes to their programs, advancement teams are finding that some new strategies and techniques provide different opportunities to engage constituents and to focus on the important work of securing philanthropic gifts for their organizations.

Here are three areas that are working well for several organizations that will likely prove durable for the long-term:

Virtual meetings and events

Virtual meetings and events (which typically had been a small part of some programs’ offerings) have allowed institutions to engage some constituents for the first time. These constituents might not have been able to attend on-site or regional activities, but virtual events and programs have provided opportunities for them to connect, display interest, and participate in new and convenient ways.

Institutions can determine if and how these new participants might increase their involvement. The advancement team can ask themselves the same questions as before the pandemic: when someone participates in a program for the first time, what should be the next step? For example, who should be referred to annual giving, special gifts, major gifts, a selected constituency group, or as a potential volunteer? By using screening and other tools, and contacting volunteer or institutional leaders, you can make initial assessments to develop ideas about next steps.

It’s worth noting that many successful virtual events today look and feel different from a few months ago. Those events in the first months of the pandemic sought to recreate planned in-person activities such as reunions or local events; today, many institutions are also offering new programs that can be delivered to large or to segmented audiences . These virtual activities also allow the institution to engage internal leaders, volunteers, and experts whose schedules might otherwise have precluded their participation. Some organizations, for example, are holding small leadership briefings at which individuals can “meet” and discuss issues with institutional leaders online. Others are bringing together new affinity groups that span age and geographic regions to chat with an institutional representative or alumnus/alumnae expert.

In the absence of planning logistics-heavy in-person events, advancement staff can be more creative with smaller interest groups and diverse age, geography, and gift potential, expanding the organization’s reach in ways that provide opportunities for constituents to self-identify their interests.

Sharpening gift officers’ focus

Successful gift officers are disciplined in the use of their time. Given that they’re now working from home, some have been able to reduce or eliminate distracting job-creep activities (unless they are also home schooling their children!) and can increase their focus on their primary objective: working with their portfolio of donors and prospective donors; executing next steps on the stewardship-engagement-proposal continuum; and securing new or increased gifts.

Working in a virtual environment has also allowed teams to look for ways to improve, or recommit, to an improved prospect strategy process that increases collaboration with internal leaders, advancement colleagues, and volunteer partners. In these organizations, the sometimes dreaded multi-hour prospect strategy meeting has evolved to more meaningful conversations about next steps and long-term objectives.

Educational institutions align their alumni/alumnae  program and career services

Alumni/alumnae networks are one of the strongest value propositions in higher (and some pre-college) education. When a student enrolls, part of the promise of that institution is lifetime access to its network.

Even in normal times, many alumni/alumnae were easily engaged when encouraged to talk with students and fellow alumni/alumnae to provide career advice and open doors. Given the current job market, several institutions are being more deliberate in asking alumni/alumnae to provide internships and job opportunities. We are seeing innovative programs that engage alumni/alumnae in career services in structured ways. For those institutions that have traditionally separated the alumni/alumnae program from career services, this alignment is a positive step in developing a robust operation that improves the benefits of “the network” for students and graduates at this important time.

Looking ahead

There’s no doubt that these have been challenging times for many advancement teams, and many have responded with innovative and positive solutions. Some of these changes have proven remarkably successful and will become part of “post-pandemic” strategies to expand and enhance engagement and to revitalize internal practices in new and focused ways.


Learn more about how GG+A can assist your organization during the COVID-19 pandemic in the firm’s Virtual Resources for Advancement Professionals offering, which you can read more about here.

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