2020: Have We Learned Anything?

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The state of the world has made us want to connect with more of you, more often. For the rest of 2020, the Campbell & Company Communications team is sharing a new article every week that explores a topic in case development and fundraising communications, drawn from our work.

Whether it’s thinking about how to approach fundraising communications against the backdrop of current events or tackling an evergreen challenge we see time and time again in nonprofits across the sector, these articles focus on practical tips to empower fundraising leaders in their day-to-day work. Subscribe to the series here.


Well folks, the end of 2020 is in sight. 

We’ve made our way through all 100 months of the year, wave after wave of Covid-19and one massive election counted and recounted a dozen times

Working from our homes and closets, we’ve moved our whole fundraising, communications, and event strategies online with a combination of brilliant strategic maneuvering and absolute freestyling. 

Over here on the Campbell Communications team, we’ve worked with our colleagues to navigate as many different client quandaries and creative challenges as there are stars in the nonprofit skythrown together this article series on an educated whim, and put out 25 or so articles and a half dozen webinars. 

So, what have we learned? Apart from the fact that we all need a nap. 

I asked my Communications comrades to share their reflections on the year. What did we change our mind about this year, and what feels truer now than before? What should nonprofits be thinking about going into 2021?

I had a few notions myself, but then my teammates covered all those points and more in smarter ways than I had planned to, so let’s just listen to them: 

People want to make a difference. So much of our language around solicitation and asking fails to capture the fact that the best philanthropic partnerships create true joy for both parties—donor and organization. This year demonstrated that in a big way. Philanthropy allowed people to step up when we all needed it most, to make a difference when everything felt hopeless and terrible. It’s a shift in perspective to reframe the ask as an opportunity for the donor—not just a transaction that benefits the organization. (Christina Black) 

This year underscored the critical role of digital communications—something not every nonprofit has invested in. In a time with ever-changing informationnews, and urgency, print-based materials can become relics almost immediately. A digital communications strategy is essential for nonprofits in this pandemic (and this century). (Jade Graddy) 

This was the year I really saw the “your donors don’t need fancy materials” maxim play out in a very pointed way. I heard organizations that are usually very particular about their look and materials say: We need to raise $5 million in the next three months, what’s the bare minimum we need to do that?” In the end, it was all about weaving Covid-19 into a larger narrative, having a compelling vision, and being honest with donors about what you need to do your work. I think that experience will change how we approach nonprofit communications going forward. (Anna Goren) 

My biggest takeaway is how workable the shift to informality and relative candor has been in donor communications/messaging. When you accept that messaging is likely going to be out of date within weeks rather than months, it really puts emphasis on overarching vision and gives both audiences and organizations room to adopt a posture of learning/educating over persuasion(Sarah Babb) 

Timing is everything. The “when” of an ask can either be a powerful rallying cry or a major no-no. This year it was the difference between asks that were clearly urgent and would lead to major impact (think: everything we saw with food banks this year) and asks that were icky and felt opportunistic (thankfully I think our clients avoided this, but I definitely got a few of these in my inbox). (Christina Black) 

So much of 2020 was about connecting to the immediate moment and communicating thoughtfully under crisis conditions—but those crises also changed the context for all an organization does and made stakeholders ask new questions about what you’re doing, where you’re going, and why. As we look ahead to 2021, we’re going to have to communicate vision again, and show our stakeholders and communities where we want to go next. (Pat Chesnut) 

It's been interesting to see how organizations position their equity initiativesI've found that there's a lot of internal pressure to say how much amazing stuff they are doing to move the needle and achieve justice in the world. But an approach that thoughtfully describes how their work fits into a broader system (and really acknowledges the great work other organizations do) ends up being much more compelling(Anthony Balas) 

Systems change is long and arduous work—and so is communicating about itIt’s a journey we will always be on and we have to keep at it. (Jade Graddy) 

So many organizations are placing a new emphasis on collaborative and community-centered programs in which they don’t have total control over the agenda. Relinquishing that control is essential to truly listening to the community, but it also makes it somewhat more challenging to communicate plans, strategies, and expected impact/outcomes in the ways that we have traditionally found bold and satisfying in nonprofit communications. This is a new imperative and set of challenges and nuances for organizations to focus on. (Anthony Balas) 

I hope it’s at least clear how fortunate I am to have had these trusty shipmates alongside me through this wild and heavy year. 

What are YOU carrying forward from 2020And what’s on your mind going into 2021? 

We’d love to hear from you to make sure we can best be of service in our ongoing writing and work. Hit me up at andy.brommel@campbellcompany.com with any thoughts! 


Finally, thank you for riding along with our articles and webinars this year. 

Fundraising Communications Weekly will continue in 2021, though it’s going to take some new forms we’re really excited about but can’t quite share yet. We hope you’ll stay with us for what promises to be a brighter year.