Everything changed for nonprofit organizations in 2020, from the way philanthropy managed grantee selection, funding strategy, and reporting, down to trying to find a quiet enough room to host a 50-person Zoom call with your board and staff members. The challenges of this watershed year manifested differently for organizations of varying sizes and missions, but though we were all in different boats, it was certainly the same rough and unpredictable ocean.
Now, as cumulative moments of crisis have shifted into a movement for substantial – and hopefully lasting – change, organizations are thinking about what’s next. Even though 2021 holds a different proposition for everyone, the Fairmount team has identified three major themes that are emerging across the sector. These ideas will continue to evolve, but they will undoubtedly define the way nonprofits approach whatever lies ahead.
1. Nimble Approaches, Grounded in Vision
No matter how forward-looking or prepared, no organization could have predicted the past year. In a reality where things can change on a dime, how do you stay connected to your “north star” – the guiding principles that help you prioritize? Strategic thinking and scenario planning, like this excellent guidance for arts and culture from the Wallace Foundation, offer the potential to invent a future that feels aligned with those key principles. Through this approach, long-term goals inform more immediate, in-the-moment decisions, whether it’s deciding to scale up (or down) a line of service to communicating urgent needs to a potential funder in a way that allows you to tell a new story.
Fairmount is expert in helping clients navigate these questions and ideas, especially as they relate to organizational identity. In an upside-down world, what is your unique role, vision, and mission opportunity? What’s most important to you and your constituents, not just in the context of today’s survival, but into a future full of possibilities?
2. Time’s Up for Inaction on Racial Equity and Injustice
As a white-led organization working with diverse nonprofits in a predominantly Black city, Fairmount does not hold expertise in critical race theory or racial justice. That said, we recognize that justice and equity are integral to organizational success and should be infused in all practices, from creating a more inclusive executive search process to facilitating diverse community engagement strategies to inform organizational strategy. We work to keep equity at the forefront by acknowledging where we must follow leaders and organizations of color, building out effective partnerships, and connecting candidly with clients to uncover our role and responsibility in supporting a more equitable and just Philadelphia.
Every nonprofit has navigated the narrative around racial injustice over the last year differently, but one thing is clear – none can afford to make statements uninformed by action or justify adherence to the status quo. The work of interrogating diversity, equity, and inclusion internally and externally must be informed by difficult questions, answered honestly. What does it look like, for example, to be actively anti-racist in fundraising? What internal processes must your organization be ready and willing to revise before considering new partnerships, new leadership, new audiences?
3. Hybrid Models Are Here to Stay
Organizations learned quickly in 2020 that standard models of operating would no longer do. Whether that meant seeking philanthropic support to invest in urgent new technology needs or redesigning a long-standing in-person program for effective delivery in a virtual space, our clients from every sector have answered the call to change course mid-flight, and leaned on us to talk through implications, refine thoughtful asks, and plan for multiple outcomes.
Moving forward, funders and donors need to see nonprofits clearly demonstrating thought beyond the in-the-moment adjustments that 2020 demanded and moving towards more broadly reimagined approaches to service delivery as part of the, yes, “new normal.” Organizations that are poised to succeed are effectively aiming for moving targets, investing in sustainable infrastructure, and engaging in big thinking around scale, collaboration, and systemic solution design. If not now, when?
These topics are nuanced and complicated – so much so that we’re dedicating our next 3 blog posts to delve into each one more deeply. Whether your nonprofit is entering a new strategic planning process, considering next-gen leadership aligned with your values, or exploring new ways to communicate impact in fundraising, Fairmount has the expertise to help accomplish your goals while keeping these sector-changing themes and ideas at the forefront.