Ready For More Change? (Part One)

I had the privilege of speaking with a longtime friend, Michael Tomlinson, or as most call him, “MT.” Michael is the President and CEO of Brewer Direct, a fundraising agency that offers counsel to Christian ministries around the world.

I met MT through a wonderful partnership with Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk years ago. He later came to work for us at D+C and helped point our own marketing in the right direction.

Check out part of our recent conversation on The Dunham Podcast where Michael offers five powerful pivot points for nonprofits in the midst of a pandemic:

MT, we’ve been through quite an experience – walking through a global pandemic. Give us a perspective on what you have observed as takeaways from this season, particularly as it relates to the nonprofit sector.

Michael:  It is so interesting because the first thing we had to address was the immediate question: What does this mean? What can we expect next?

It was tough to answer because we had the sense that this was going to look different. Maybe the most significant trigger that we could not anticipate would be the length. We’re still in that. We still do not know how long it’s going to look like this.

When we looked at a crisis in the past, whether it be economic or health or whatever, there were certain trends and reasons for us to be encouraged. One of those bright spots, generally speaking, was that your donors and your supporters were with you. They were going to stay with you.

It was tempting to think that our donors would sit on the sidelines and be terrified. But if you got your message right and you had already established good relationships, the past did not indicate that they would desert you. I think that’s proven to be true.

The second is the mental fortitude towards multiple levers of change. It’s like the perfect storm. It’s an election year. There are economic elements to it. There is stimulus money that comes into play.

So when I look back at what we’ve learned in these last four months, I’ve come up with five pivot points that I think we should be cognizant of at least in the next six to 12 months.

The first pivot point is the power of data and allowing that to inform our strategies. Today we have tools like never before. I would say probably for the last five to 10 years, there has been a lot of data collection but, largely speaking, nonprofits have struggled to get their arms around it. There have been very few that have dug in and looked to it to shine a light forward. I don’t think we can afford not to do that today.

The second point is that it’s clear that this season has been a tipping point for the use of technology. Today, 100% of our employees and 100% of our clients are using Zoom as a platform to see, hear, and engage with people on a daily basis. That genie is out of the bottle!

Thirdly, I think we’re in the final days of one-way communication.

Our audiences are no longer okay just being told what’s going on with the organization or ministry. They demand a voice in that. So when we think about things like broadcast radio and direct mail, these are formative platforms that still are very effective in developing and maintaining relationship. They should not and will not go anywhere. But it can’t stop there. It has to be a much more integrated message. That’s a challenge operationally.

The fourth point and maybe the most important, is that we have to major in the minors.

Relationships, relationships, relationships. When I sit down with a new nonprofit and they ask me, “Here’s what we’re doing. What’s the one thing that I should be doing better?” They’re expecting to hear something very innovative. But typically, I simply find they are not thanking people well, they are not being transparent enough, or their communication is off in some way.

These things are often perceived as minor, but they are major points because of the relationships that exist there.

And lastly, we have to increase frequency, transparency, and accessibility. Frequency of communications, in a period of crisis, often comes naturally. We feel like we need to express what’s going on, what our needs are, and close the circle as to what the benefit of that support is.

But when this particular acute crisis is gone, if we slink back to a monthly communication or drop off, we’re going to erode that relationship.

For more of this conversation and to hear Michael’s perspective on what this pandemic means for the future of nonprofits, check out The Dunham Podcast episode Ready For More Change?

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