Staying Connected as We Approach our ‘Next Normal’

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By: David G. Phillips, CDS President

Over the past year, we have all been encouraged to keep our social lives to our immediate family.  We long for the connection of a handshake or a hug with an old friend. 

Many activities that are normally very rewarding like attending worship services, the gym, going shopping or to a movie theater or a live performance have been made impossible.  Even with physical distancing requirements, it’s crucial for development staff to find creative ways to engage and connect with people.

I always remind new clients that development and stewardship should not really be called ‘fundraising’ – that’s a bit of a misnomer.  Development and Stewardship are relational, and fundraising is transactional. 

Selling Girl Scout Cookies or World’s Finest Chocolate Bars is transactional; a cake sale or bake sale is transactional, even a gala or a special event is transactional unless you take the time to capture the information and develop a friendship with all who came, following up with them over and again following the event.  That is why churches recommend that every member participate in a small group study because that is where the deeper learning happens and that is where close personal relationships are fostered, nurtured, and allowed to bloom to their fullest potential. 

Building a lasting friendship is relational, not transactional.  The more effort you make to build the bonds between you and the other party, to sink deep roots, the better the relationship will be—and that takes work.  That takes handwritten notes.  It takes listening and figuring out a way to connect with people that serves them rather than you. (check out that section on Zoom fatigue below!)

Here are a few other ways to get social –

Find a Way to Connect that Works for Everyone

  1. Accept Zoom Fatigue. For some, it’s exhausting to think about another Zoom call or any other form of virtual communication.  If your attempt at social connection is causing stress, it’s time to explore something new.  Don’t assume everyone wants to do another Zoom call or connect over Facebook.  There are SO many safe ways to connect with people, especially if you’re in the same town like meeting in an outdoor space that allows for physical distancing; a park, your backyard… whatever!  It’s so important that we all have things to look forward to week-to-week! 
  2. Make a point to check in with people you may not get to see regularly whether family or friends, whether it’s by phone, Zoom, or a handwritten note.  It is uplifting to reconnect, and it is just as rewarding in the pandemic and meaningful to them that you cared enough to invest the time to contact them.  Even if it is simply a phone call—it can make a big impact for the person you are contacting and for you. 
  3. Write a note to people you really miss or care about, or who have the capacity to help your organization in a big way.  We’re all sitting in on virtual meetings and webinars these days; keep your ears open for anyone who may be going through a tough time—jot them down a loving note. 

More on Those Handwritten Notes

If you’re a long-time Fundraising Free Press reader, you know how I love a good hand-written note!  They’ve become even more meaningful during the pandemic as they show people you cared enough to invest the time in reaching out in a time where so many are feeling isolated.  Even with some communities ‘opening back up’, I’ll always encourage development staff to spend time on these.

I have learned through the years that if you routinely make a few phone calls every day, and you write a card or note to someone (not a text or e-mail—though those are good too), you will surround yourself with positive people and you will feel fulfilled and uplifted—and have more friends than you realize.  People cherish a handwritten note, more than many gifts you might give them. 

I have walked into peoples’ offices years later and seen my notes still on display.  I have two friends with whom I worked to build successful capital campaigns in the New York area.  One of them moved cross country to lead the Bay Area American Red Cross Chapter in San Francisco, CA. 

Years later, I went to visit them both. 

Ironically, I saw the photos of my children I had sent them years ago in a Christmas card.  For the man who moved to California, I saw the photos on his assistant’s cubicle walls right outside his office.  His assistant approached us, and he introduced her to me, and told her those were my children’s photos hanging on her cubicle wall.  She smiled and gave me a big hug and said she always wondered who they were and that now she felt like she knew me by extension. 

In the case of the other friend, I was invited to lunch at his home in Basking Ridge, NJ. You can imagine my surprise when we began to make sandwiches, when I saw the aging photos of my three children curling up on his refrigerator in his family kitchen.  Only then did I realize and begin to appreciate the depth of our loving friendships. 

If you’re a development officer looking for a roadmap, give us a call.  We will be right here, planting relationships and watching them grow roots!

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David G. Phillips has over 35 years of fundraising experience. He founded Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) in 1996. His areas of expertise are major gifts fundraising and the planning, implementation and management of capital campaigns, and leading group workshops. Click here to view his LinkedIn profile.