7 Tips: Virtual Planning Session

We’ve been living in a pandemic for nearly a year now. I think it’s safe to say, we are all ready for a little more normalcy. One is for in person events to be a normal occurrence again. But if your state, county, city or organization isn’t ready for that step the next best thing is a virtual one. Nonprofits need to continue serving their mission in the community. Strategic planning sessions with boards and committees is a common occurrence for the leadership and help continue to direct new initiatives of the organization. This year, planning sessions may be on a computer screen instead of a board room. Here are a few helpful reminders and tips on how to have a successful virtual planning session with your volunteers.

  1. Send a Calendar Invite AND a Follow Up Reminder
    It is so helpful to send one (maybe two) gentle reminders about an upcoming virtual meeting. For some, each day may still be in flux with personal and professional life adjustments due to the pandemic and the economy. So make it simple to add it to a calendar or find the link to join the meeting. Send a text instead of an email if that helps too.
  2. Build in Time for Virtual Small Talk
    It is very possible that your volunteers have only emailed or texted each other. It might be the first time they’ve “seen” each other in a long while. So allow time for a little catch up with their volunteer buddies. It could set the mood in a positive direction and get your board volunteers ready to work.
  3. Start the Session With a Mission Moment
    Setting the tone for the meeting can be as easy as story telling. Take just a minute or three to talk about what the organization had done to positively impact the community, recently. Start with, Skippy the dog that was saved from puppy mill and has found a new home with a sweet 4 year old boy. Or the family who needed a little help with clothes and food last year. Or the smiles on the faces of the school children who watched, virtually, while the Orchestra played Holiday songs. Whatever the reason your organization does what it does, bring it to life in a story.

    Leverage the technology you are using for the planning session and show pictures of Skippy and his journey to that 4 year old boy. Invite the family to the virtual meeting to talk about how important that hand up was last year. Play the video of the kids watching and dancing to the music of the holidays. Showing your volunteers WHY the nonprofit exists will set the tone and the urgency to continue the mission of the organization.
  4. Use an Ice Breaker (But Don’t Call It That)
    The word “icebreaker” always brings a collective groan to members of any meeting. So don’t use it! They are still important and are a good tool just change it’s name. I like to use short personality quizzes. I recently used a “What’s Your Fundraising Personality?” quiz. Everyone enjoyed learning a little more about themselves and the others on the board. This type of exercise brings a group closer together and can help define the strengths and opportunities for growth of the group.
  5. Don’t Forget to Include a Break
    I am of the opinion that if you are planning to have a virtual meeting longer than 1.5 hours, you should include a break. Not a long one, just enough to fill a water bottle, stretch your legs and maybe check priority emails. Your volunteers will appreciate it and will come back refreshed and ready to start again.

    And if you need 7 to 8 hours of planning to do with your group, consider breaking it up into two 4 hour virtual days.
  6. Use Virtual Break Out Rooms and Polling
    I love the Zoom feature of breakout rooms for large and small virtual meetings. The benefits are the same as when an in person meeting breaks up a committee/board into smaller groups so does the virtual breakout rooms. It provides those who are overwhelmed by a large group an opportunity to be heard in a less than intimidating environment. It deters from group think and thereby allowing creativity to flourish.

    The facilitator or host of the virtual call can also join any of the breakout rooms. Which is helpful if the small group has a question or gets stuck in their discussion. The host can also assign rooms to certain volunteers on the call or the platform with randomly assign volunteers to a room. This is a great feature if you want to allow specific people to gather separately, like providing time for committees to meet during the planning session. Or mixing up the groups randomly to help foster transparency and less siloes of knowledge.
  7. Use an Outside Facilitator
    When the staff of the organization or the full board can participate fully in the planning of the nonprofit, it makes for a better plan. All parties feel they are on the same same boat all rowing together. Moving toward the same objective, together. Using a facilitator gives everyone in the organization a chance to participate as an attendee working hard on the plan for the organization. Not working hard to create the environment and no how to allow for others to work hard on the plan for the organization. That burden is on the outside facilitator.

If you’d like more ideas on how to facilitate your next strategic planning session email me or call Griffin Fundraising and Marketing for a free consultation.

Roadmap to Success in 2021

Recently, Small Shop Fundraising, a podcast hosted by GF&M’s Liz Hack, spoke with the Associate Director at Kentucky Nonprofit Network (KNN), Laura Whitaker. In December of 2020, KNN collected survey responses from nonprofits in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. You can find the survey report and slide links at the bottom of this post.

Admittedly, there were some very dismal numbers from the respondents. For example, 46% of the respondents reported current or expected reduction in services impacting over 900,000 Kentuckians due to lack of funding. 54% of nonprofits reported current or expected increase in the demand for services, resulting in a $13.6 million increase in expenses to date due to Covid-19. So while the need is increasing, the ability to provide services is stagnant or decreasing. How is a nonprofit to survive this environment? Some Kentucky nonprofits haven’t, KNN reported from their survey that 7% of nonprofits have closed their doors for good.

Nonprofits Find Hope

Even in uncertain times, nonprofits find hope through flexibility and partnership. That’s our analysis of how nonprofits will be successful in 2021. Below are four ways to find success:

  1. Willingness to Collaborate with Others
    The saying, “It takes a village” has never been more real for nonprofits than in 2021. In 2020, nearly half the respondents from the survey said they started new collaborations that will be permanent partnerships. My analysis is collaborations were initially formed to help keep costs low but perhaps nonprofits found a new way of providing much needed services. Collaborations, the partnership, can take many forms but there needs to be an openness by staff and board members to allow for partnerships to form. Change is hard especially when being forced to by a world wide pandemic. But an open mind to the partnership possibilities can ease the anxiety of change. How can your nonprofit benefit from collaborations?
  2. Deliberately Find and Recruit Board and Committee Members to Help Build Collaborative Relationships
    Does your nonprofit want to provide services in public schools? Are you interested in partnering with artists, the county jail, homeless shelters, addiction clinics, etc.? My suggestion to you is to then work with your board and volunteers to find ways to connect to those entities and their leadership. Share with them your mission, your goals and make the case for partnering as a win-win for all. And then ask them to join you in bettering the community. They can then champion the idea of the strategic alliance within their organization. What organizations/business entities would your nonprofit find success in partnering with and who can help you get connected to them?
  3. Stay Relevant With Needs In Your Community
    The KNN survey asked respondents what were the top areas of increased need from clients. Out of the 18 areas, the top five in order were:
    – Food Insecurity
    – Housing
    – Mental Health
    – Utilities
    – Employment
    How can your nonprofit support the top needs of your community? Is there a business or nonprofit you can collaborate with to support the increased needs? Collaboration can again provide opportunities for nonprofits to impact growing areas of need in communities. I’m not suggesting to change your mission to try and meet the needs of the now. Rather, creatively consider how your mission can support the growing needs of our communities right now.
  4. Look for Fee for Service Revenue Streams
    As traditional revenue streams, like special events, fail to meet their goals in years past, innovative nonprofits start to build other opportunities. One of them is fee for service or earned revenue opportunity. From the KNN survey many nonprofits are hoping to build or strengthen this income stream as a means to stay open and thrive in 2021.
    How can your nonprofit monetize a program, service or product to diversify your income stream?

These four ways are not silver bullets to success. Merely, four initiatives to consider adding to the mix of other partnerships and other fundraising strategies. With these and other strategies nonprofits can continue to lead communities to better days and creating hope where it was once lost.

A BIG thank you to Kentucky Nonprofit Network for their continued support of nonprofits in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

KNN Website
KNN Survey Slides
KNN Summary Report

Here’s the link to the podcast episode with Laura Whitaker on Small Shop Fundraising! You can now listen on Apple Podcast!