Robin Bellinger

Strategic Partner and Certified Coach

About Robin

Whether the challenge is economic, environmental, negative publicity, or a combination of the three, an opportunity exists to move relationships and support forward, even though the likelihood and timing of gift commitments may be delayed. Experienced development professionals who have achieved success despite 9/11 or the recession of 2008 can draw upon that knowledge to light the way through this current crisis and build from that base of knowledge as we move forward. External and internal communication is paramount. As organizational leaders and representatives, we need to help our stakeholders understand their opportunities to work hand-in-hand with the organization to make a difference in a time of change and beyond.

Tell the Story

During a time of crisis, relationships with donors and potential donors will grow if the organization is able to articulate how it is joining federal, state, and local partners to serve both the immediate and long-term needs of the communities we serve. The strongest case for engagement and support during a time of unexpected need should directly align with the organization’s existing vision and mission.  For example, an academic institution’s vision may be “To leverage University resources to advance the economy, education, and quality of life.” A healthcare system’s vision may be “To improve health of our patients and community through education, research, and service.” Both examples provide a platform for servanthood in the face of adversity.

In conversations with stakeholders, be prepared to tell how the organization’s vision and mission address the immediate issue in addition to sharing the institution’s or unit’s long-term strategic plan. Many institutions have a crisis communication plan, but not all do. If not, now is the time to create one using the knowledge and expertise of internal and external partners. If one exists, the plan should be reviewed and realigned to the circumstances at hand. An understanding of the communication plan, the roles organizational leaders, staff, representatives, and ambassadors can play, and milestones toward achievement will lead to buy-in and hope. The organization must put representatives in a position to understand and tell the story.

Considering current technology and generational communication preferences, an organization can launch a communication plan with a mix of touch-base moments based on a VIP in-the-know presentation style. Connections can be established through organizational updates, impact reports, electronic and mail newsletters, YouTube and video links, and other forms of social media. Don’t over complicate messaging and delay timing. Supporters are very responsive to a simple message recorded with a smartphone—allowing timely individualization in messaging.

Enhance Relationships

 A national crisis is an example of the need to be prepared for the impact of challenges outside the organization’s control. Travel may be restricted; concerns about public gatherings may exist; supporters may wonder how the situation will impact their own financial capacity and will be less likely to finalize a gift commitment in the immediate future. The organization will project the situation’s impact on revenue and make adjustments to resources accordingly. Therefore, there will be restrictions that grow out of responsible fiscal management and caution. Yet, the opportunity remains to build relationships by engaging and stewarding our donors.

Most organizations have development performance guidelines, practices, and metrics in place based on research, consultation, and standard practices. Given an unexpected change in environment, there is a need to at least temporarily adjust and clarify performance metrics. For example, rather than limiting a development officer to face-to-face visits, an organization should consider redefining what constitutes a qualified visit. Metrics can then be adapted to reflect a broader definition of significant and meaningful interactions with donors which might include a variety of documented discussions—face-to-face, phone, email, or virtual—that present the organization’s or unit’s accomplishments, challenges, and opportunities and clarify or confirm an individual’s, foundation’s, or corporation’s passion.

Assess and Move Forward

Change brings the opportunity to review development activities and plan for better times.  Leaders and team members will want to assess what the organization’s goals were leading into the disruption. Was the organization on track toward those goals? If so, what contributed to the success? If not, what obstacles stood in the way of success? What changes should be considered and addressed during the time of crisis and moving forward?

Place an emphasis on donor management activities. Are top donor strategies on track? On a case-by-case basis, how should individual strategies be adjusted to reflect the issue at hand and the impact on that particular donor/potential donor’s engagement and commitment? Are there individuals to add or remove from officer portfolios? The development team must ensure contact with the highest level of donors and potential donors.

Team, donor strategy, and scheduled employee meetings are more critical than ever and can take place using multiple methods of communication. As a manager and coach, share stories of success along the way. Touch base with your team members regularly. Travel restrictions present the opportunity to provide training virtually and reinforce performance guidelines, practices, and core concepts.

As we have experienced before, challenges will come and go. As development leaders and professionals, it is our job to seize the moment and position our organization and relationships for breakthrough performance moving forward.


The certified coaches at Advancement Resources stand ready to assist your organization in navigating the changes in our economy and culture caused by the COVID-19 pandemic with a targeted engagement that is customized to the unique needs of your organization.

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