May 24th, 2021
Learning from Lockdown
Recently, I listened to an episode of Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast, this one with Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering. In this episode, Ms. Brown and Ms. Parker explore what it means to gather together in a post-lockdown world. The conversation is wide-ranging and surely pertinent to all aspects of post-pandemic life. Of the many thought-provoking questions asked, one has stuck with me: “What will we do with what we learned during lockdown?” Ms. Parker asserts that we must pause, think about all we’ve learned, and make appropriate changes.
I couldn’t agree more.
As I think about this from a fundraising perspective, I consider special events. Like all nonprofits, my client is grappling with future of its events. Truth be told, pre-pandemic, my client had said for several years “we really need to reimagine our events, breathe new life into them,” but there never seemed to be the time nor the needed appetite for risk-taking. Now, we’re forced to ask: should we simply bring back the in-person events exactly as they were? Will people want to come to crowded in-person events? Will it be safe? What, in this new reality, will people want?
During the pandemic, my client was fortunate. Thanks to a creative special events team and a generous community, its reinvented events were quite successful! Looking ahead, my client’s events team has made two decisions regarding future events:
1)Some of the future events will offer a virtual component. Going virtual opened us up to a large new audience. Our annual gala, for example, which usually drew 500 in-person attendees, brought thousands of participants, literally from around the country. Many of those newcomers attended additional virtual events and have become engaged in our community — albeit virtually — and as donors. We don’t want to lose them.
2)At least some of the future events will include a specific beneficiary. Prior to the pandemic, funds raised from special events typically supported a broad, somewhat vague purpose. During the pandemic, in recognition of the suffering of so many in our community, each event focused on a specific cause, e.g. the St. Patrick’s Day event featured a virtual cooking demonstration by Chicago chefs. Funds raised were used to purchase meals from local restaurants to be distributed to homeless shelters throughout Chicago, thus helping local businesses and feeding the hungry. Donors were moved by the mission focus of each event, and were incredibly generous.
Like Bene Brown and Priya Parker, I encourage you to take the time to think about all your organization learned by the forced lockdown and resultant shift. Like my client, I think you’ll find some change will be most welcome.
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