An Essential Part of the Organisation

As this week rolls on, we are being told that here, In Australia, we have done well. The curve is beginning to flatten over a rolling seven-day period, and there is even talk of ways in which the lock-down is slowly and carefully going to be eased. That’s all good news, and we very much hope that you, your families and loved ones, and all your colleagues have remained safe and well over the last week.

While the situation may be easing, it will be some time yet before any sense of normality will return, and we will be able to return to our on-site offices with our teams. Indeed, there are signs that the economic implications of COVID-19 are going to have some very long-term impacts on educational institutions. Part-time and casual staff are being laid off across some tertiary institutions; and across schools there have been reports of similar decisions, as well as cut backs on budgets and operations within and across development and advancement offices.

We believe this means there are opportunities for all of us to be more proactive in our work and demonstrate to our leaders that we are not just a ‘nice-to-have’ add on to the institution, but an essential part of the organisation – a revenue generator and not a cost centre.

Here are some sets of activities which you should be undertaking during this very difficult time. You probably have been doing some of them, and you may be considering others. If you work through these suggestions and give them a tick, then you are positioning yourself and your office not only to survive the immediate impacts of the crisis, but to be ready and fully prepared to return to the development and advancement activities which will support your institution as things begin to shape up to the ‘new normal’

As a starting point, think about what donors are doing at the moment, as they are mostly confined to home. Think of how you are having to operate as well. Are you adapting to this change of circumstances and still doing what you need to do, and what you do best – engaging with your communtiy, cultivating members of the community, and – as we suggested last week – communicating regularly and in a meaningful way? Refer to the draft communications plan we sent last week.

“People are online like never before, and they’re reading. This is the time for both organisations and donors to be gracious, to say, ‘I see you,’ and not to panic.” — Isa Catto, a family foundation leader, in a column about seven low-cost ways to reach out to donors

Read about Isa Catto’s suggestions for cheap and effective communications here.

Internal Communication
Now is the time to strengthen and update your internal communication across your institution. All educational institutions are focussing on what they see as their core business – enrolments and course delivery. You may well feel pressured and vulnerable. After all, much of your work is not fully understood across your institution because you work quietly and effectively, and often do not communicate well within your organisation.

It is painful but inevitable that there will be budget cuts and resource reduction, including staffing, over the next few months. Painful, because at the end of each of these decisions is an individual and their families. Necessary, because when the crisis is over, your institution needs to be in a position not just to survive but to deliver on what you promise in your mission statement, to do it well – or better than before – and build for the future. The same applies to you and your office. So, here are some things to do now.

  • Be in regular contact (perhaps more than usual) with the Principal/Head of School and leadership team and tell them what you are doing with: fundraising activities and cultivation (including bequest work); alumni relations (especially if events have been cancelled or postponed); stewardship
  • Gather a number of stories from donors and alumni about what they are doing to cope in the crisis and ‘publish’ them across your internal communications platform to let everyone know what important members of their community are doing.
  • Gather a list of individuals and businesses from your community which can offer assistance both now and post the immediate crisis. Let your internal stakeholders know about this, and also promote how your community may be able to support local businesses and service providers who are alumni or donors. Make it a two-way opportunity.
  • If you are able to attract new donors – possibly giving to a Student Assistance or Hardship Fund, for example – get a short story from them about what is motivating them to give, and what they want to achieve. Publish these stories internally to show the value you are bringing to the core business of the institution. Report internally on the number of pledge payments still coming in despite the economic crisis. This is to show that not everything is doom and gloom, but that we are all trying to look after each other and prepare for the future as well.
  • Make sure you have developed an office plan and a personal plan for the next three months. Distribute it to your key leadership team and make sure it demonstrates what you are planning to do, why it is important and what outcomes you are aiming for. Keep them informed and show you are being proactive and planning carefully – not just reacting to whatever comes up.

Internal Housekeeping
You may have already tackled some of this at home in setting up (or cleaning up?) your home office, helping the rest of the family adjust to working or studying from home, and even taking the opportunity to clean out the shed, garage or those various cupboards around the house which store so much clutter. This is also a very good time to apply some of those same principles to your work!

  • You have been putting this off until you have time, so now tackle to data base. Review it, cleanse it, update it and make sure it is fit for purpose when you emerge from the crisis. No excuses!
  • Moves management can now be brought up to date for you and all your fundraisers. Get all those notes into the data base or CRM and make sure you are tracking your prospects effectively.
  • Review your personal and team prospect lists after you have given everyone time to enter their notes and moves above. Treat this as an informal performance review and ensure everyone is using your system properly and in a timely way.
  • If you have the luxury of a prospect researcher, set some targets for new discoveries and updated information on your top 50 prospects.
  • Clean up your desktop files. Go through the ‘holding’ folders and clean them out. Check out-of-date material and either archive it or delete it.
  • Do the same for your emails. Clean up all the folders you have attached to your email client, remove any which are simply no longer relevant, archive what may be useful and cleanse your delete box while you are at it.
  • Review your personal plan for the next three months. Don’t go further out at the moment because things are changing so rapidly. Refine the plan, make sure you put in time-lines and a personal dashboard for a monthly accountability check. Share with your team and make sure they do the same and share it too. (See point (d) under Internal Communication).


Get on the Telephone
Ring all your major donors from the last three years (and expand to a five year period once this is done).

  • Ask them what they are doing and how they are coping. What plans have they had to put on ice? How is the family doing, are they in touch with children/grandchildren within Australia or elsewhere in the world. Establish genuine interest, concern and empathy.
  • Tell them what is happening at your institution (refer to our draft communication plan from last week). Explain about on-line learning, what is happening to teachers, administrative staff, how the institution is managing. Talk about the facilities and maintenance – especially if you have spacious grounds or playing fields. Bring them up to date with new building projects, including delays and provisions. Tell them what is happening about sport and competitions, and music and drama – if you can get information from your colleagues (refer to the earlier points about effective internal communication).
  • Be open about the challenges facing the institution, especially regarding students and families who may be facing genuine financial strain. Explain what the institution is doing to try and help – fee waivers, fee reductions, fee deferrals etc. Refer to your Student Assistance/Hardship Fund if you have created one. Listen carefully to see if they may be interested in seeing how they can help.
  • Ask if there is anything you and/or the institution can do to help them, and also ask if it is ok to keep in regular touch like this.

Ring all your current donors who are in a pledge commitment. Following the suggestions above, also ask if it is ok to talk to them about their pledge. Remind them of the pledge and the timing (and why it is still important, especially if the pledge relates to scholarships). You are checking to see if things are ok or if any adjustments need to be made. Don’t just send out pledge reminders without having made contact first (that would be seriously tone deaf). Be alert, sympathetic and sensitive as some of your current donors may be embarrassed by the current crisis and its economic impact. They will almost certainly appreciate you being in touch to discuss the situation.


Bequest Program
Recent reports in Melbourne show that there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people – especially in the 70+ age category – who are making sure their wills are in order, and that they are properly updated. This is the time to be in touch with your known bequestors, and those who have indicated they might be interested, and those in your community who are over 70. It is not the time, however, to approach bequests in an aggressive manner. That again would be tone-deaf and insensitive. Follow the suggestions above in the section on Get on the telephone. Encourage them to talk to you about their concerns and hopes and let them know that you and the institution are thinking of them and would like to offer whatever support is possible (within the legal constraints). Respond to questions about wills and bequests if they are raised but do not push the issue (Please don’t ask them if their wills are up to date given the COVID-19 pandemic!). If you have done work from our earlier suggestions about alumni and donors offering services, you may have a local solicitor who could help with wills if requested. Have information ready if you are asked, but again, don’t offer it up front.


Look After Yourself
It is important, as you adjust to working in such a different way, and face new problems and challenges, that you give time to yourself. This will be especially true if you are working from home in a very busy household where everyone is suddenly competing for space, time and sometimes attention.  Try to find some time for yourself each day so that you can unwind and relax. Perhaps use it as the transition between work and home time. If you look after yourself, you are a in a much better position to look after everyone else at home and within your office.

Here are a few links which you might find useful.

Even if you have never meditated before, this free introductory app will take you through what you need to do step by step. It does not take long, and once you have understood the principles, 10 or 20 minutes in the morning can set you up for most of what is going to come your way for the rest of the day. Put in on your phone and simply find a quiet place.

If you are looking for some clear guidelines for some simple and effective exercises to do at home, check this out. There are a few ads which pop up, but the micro-videos of each exercise are terrific. Again, this is free to view.

Our wonderful NGV is offering self-guided tours through key elements of the collection. If you look around the rest of the site, you can find live-streams, essays and interviews as well.

If you love coastal walks, try going virtually down to the Mornington Peninsula with this very interesting series of curated walks. When you stop, you can do a full 360 degrees to take in everything around you.

For a more exotic getaway, try the Great Barrier Reef. Explore the Reef with David Attenborough in this interactive website.

And remember, you are an essential part of your organisation.