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Bear markets are a great time to make important investments in your organization’s growth. Here are some thoughts on how to invest in your greatest asset—people.

A cardinal “law” of Heritage Foundation presidents past and future has always been: “People are policy.” The truth of that timeless law doesn’t diminish in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

As our nation responds to the public health and economic challenges of the pandemic, it’s inevitable that our fundraising teams will be affected. We’ll have to make judicious cutbacks on staff activities, postpone many revenue-generating events, and get creative with donor engagement.

But, just as in the finance industry, bear markets present your highest ROI opportunities.

Now is the perfect time for nonprofits to make bold new investments in the fundraisers that we manage. Doing so will greatly boost your team’s productivity, cohesiveness, and morale. And ultimately strengthen the relationships with the supporters who are integral to your organization’s success.


Personal check-in calls with each member of your team to ensure they’re staying safe, healthy, and connected can go a long way. Your staff members want to know they’re a valued part of the organization. When leaders prioritize making contact with staff, it fosters the unity and loyalty that’s especially important while everyone works remotely.

Along the same lines, try to find replacement “water cooler” conversations. My staff have achieved this organically through new groups texts, a weekly virtual happy hour, and a bi-weekly all-staff meeting.


Managers can also utilize this time for conversations with staff about their professional development, outside of the formal, annual review process.

My team recently took a strength-based assessment to help us assess individuals’ greatest areas of innate potential. We’re using these results to craft Individual Development Plans with goals that both leverage people’s strengths and align with their future professional ambitions.

Right now is also a prime opportunity for increased team-wide activities and trainings.

Last week, our development department hosted a half-day culture program. Staff from all across our fundraising efforts shared their team’s inner workings, aspirational goals, and typical challenges. People left with an increased understanding of how their work impacts those in other areas of Development. And hopefully with some new ideas for cross-department collaboration!


On the individual level, let fundraisers know what inputs they are now responsible for. For example, our major-gifts team has adjusted expectations for what constitutes an “in-person” donor visit, considering they can’t travel throughout the regions they cover.

And on the department-wide level, be open and honest about your organization’s trajectory. Last week, I reviewed with my team the same revenue projections that I shared with our Board members, as well as an update on our team’s four priorities for the rest of 2020. These discussions not only put people at ease knowing where we’re aiming to steer the ship but also generate much greater buy-in toward any new organizational goals.


Many fundraisers are wary of asking donors for new gifts right now, which is understandable. We should always prioritize listening to donors’ needs, and some fundraisers will need to adjust the timing of their gifts this year.

But not asking means not receiving, which could spell disaster for your organization’s financial health. A large cadre of donors remains eager to advance shared aims through your institution. Fundraisers that continue boldly to make solicitations—not out of desperation but out of conviction for the mission—will continue to secure gifts even in this difficult time.

Philanthropy has continued to steadily increase in the United States since at least 1975. Nonprofits have ultimately weathered each storm, and the managers who doubled down on fundraising efforts have been the ones to emerge in the best shape.

Let’s make what we can of this unprecedented COVID-19 crisis and invest in our organization’s most important asset: our people. Our President, Kay Coles James, has encouraged our management team to do everything in our power to have our staff winsomely saying, “My organization is the best place to work!”—even in the midst of these challenging times.

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