By: Bonterra

We’ve all seen it happen: A significant local, national, or world event takes place, and our attention is drawn to those communities most in need. And often, at the helm of addressing these needs sits a nonprofit.

Thanks to a high volume of attention and traffic, folks rush to support this organization. The nonprofit now has an influx of new resources and supporters—and it’s up to them to manage and sustain this unexpected boom in funds and interest.

Getting the opportunity to show the world the importance of your work and earn a flood of new attention is every nonprofit professional’s dream. And if you’re putting yourself in the shoes of this nonprofit right now, you’re probably starting to realize how much there is to do—whether you are prepared or not! The good news: with support from the right partners and technology, you can adapt your organization’s operational strategy to build infrastructure ahead of time so that you will be prepared to welcome and sustain your moment in the spotlight.

In this article, we’ll break down:

  • how to take a holistic view of your community’s needs and communicate your role in addressing them, both independently and in partnership with peer organizations;
  • how to prepare for receiving “rage giving;” and
  • how to sustain impact following an influx of support with technology.

Every community has a range of needs, so it’s important to understand how your organization’s work fits into a holistic view of those needs.

When your organization finds itself in the spotlight, knowing your role in the community—both independently and as part of a coalition—will allow you to better respond to the growing needs of those you serve and to growing levels of support from the public.

Use technology internally to centralize up-to-date information about your work.

As a fundraiser, one of the core ways to be most effective in your role is by having a deep and broad understanding of your organization’s work. Regularly check in with direct service staff at your organization to gather information and establish practices for communicating about your work in an ethical and effective way. Then, your technology can help you store, maintain, and share this institutional knowledge with all the right internal and external audiences, right when they need it. The goal is to be ready to share compelling and consistent narratives about your work across audiences—not only with supporters, but with coalition members (meaning allied organizations that provide services complementing yours or that advocate for shared goals around your issue), media, and others—to raise critically-needed funds in a way that’s impactful and in alignment with your values.

Share that information externally with coalition members.

One of the most important understandings to reach within your team, your organization, and your issue area is what you do to serve your audience—and what you don’t.

What does this mean? Particularly when your issue area or community is in the spotlight, social good organizations are stronger together. It’s important to understand how and when to call on and coordinate with coalition members. In a busy moment, you likely won’t have time to pause and figure out answers to important follow-up questions like:

  1. How will you refer service recipients to other organizations within your network?
  2. Which peer organization/s will you direct folks to if demand for your services exceeds your bandwidth?
  3. What will you do if you receive requests for services that no one in your coalition is already providing?
  4. With the spotlight often comes a high volume of public attention. What do you need to know about the ways your allies describe the work they do in order to share about it on social networks, give media interviews, and otherwise speak publicly about their work? And what do they need to know about you?

Building strong internal practices and messaging guidance at your organization will help you answer these questions—which will help you and your coalition members prepare for high-volume, high-coordination moments of attention and ultimately better serve your entire community.

Key takeaway #1: Meeting your community’s needs in a holistic way will require both coalition building and internal preparation—which includes using technology to help you maintain and share important institutional knowledge.

The spotlight often finds nonprofits through disaster relief fundraising and “rage giving,” both of which can reveal how important it is to be prepared with the right technology and allied organization relationships.

When a tidal wave of support comes your way unexpectedly—for example, in the form of rage giving or disaster relief donations—there can be a lot of unpredictability. One thing is true: if you and your infrastructure are ready, you can make the most of the opportunity and funnel it into focused, long-term impact.

When do rage giving and disaster relief fundraising happen?

While it’s an eye-catching term, the definition of rage giving is pretty simple: as Katrina Miller-Stevens and Jennifer A. Taylor explain, “people often donate to nonprofits following breaking news about events they consider to be tragic or unjust. By donating, people may feel they are addressing the wrong they want to see righted, or they can express a strong politically driven view or value[…] Rage givers can experience an emotional release by channeling their feelings into something they consider positive.” This kind of giving is often sparked by events like controversial United States Supreme Court rulings, or mass shootings, and then sustained by extensive news coverage of the event.

Disaster relief fundraising, on the other hand, usually happens after a natural disaster has taken place. This drives similar outcomes for nonprofits: a high volume of donors move swiftly to give to organizations that are serving those directly affected, often as an emotional response to the tragedy.

Use technology to make sure you’re ready to receive a flood of support.

You’ve established how you describe your work, when to call on coalition partners, and how you manage that institutional knowledge. Don’t wait until the spotlight is already shining down on you—now is the time to make sure your technology is ready to support you in the event of a sudden wave of generosity. Ideally, this will mean your tools can help you do the following:

  • Meet your organization’s must-haves—can it meet your most foundational tech needs and support your mission-critical programs?
  • Integrate with other technology—if you have different platforms you regularly use for different purposes, like separate advocacy tools and donor management software, is your data able to move seamlessly between them?
  • Offer secure and reliable transactions—one of the last things any organization wants during high-visibility moments is for your donation forms, email tools, or website to crash.
  • Help improve your practices—for example, when you’re sending a higher-than-usual volume of gift acknowledgments, your email deliverability is especially important. Also important is knowing that your supporters’ contact information is being securely and accurately stored in a unified place, so you can contact all the right people at all the right times.
  • Provide your staff resources and support—staff that are well trained on your technology will be equipped to leap into action when the spotlight suddenly shines on your organization.
  • Help you pivot easily to addressing long-term goals—for example, if you know one of your goals is to grow your grassroots donor base or increase your number of recurring donors, a moment in the spotlight could be an opportunity to activate a sustainer upsell lightbox. If your organization wants to build a corps of educated and engaged advocates, now could be the moment to enable one-click functionality on your forms, to help supporters take more action with less effort.

At the end of the day, there’s a lot your technology should be able to do to support you and take tasks off your plate, especially when every second counts.

Extending the spotlight to coalition members

It’s especially important in moments of high-volume attention for your organization to have a plan for when to bring partners into the spotlight and work together to support your community’s full range of needs. This kind of collaboration might look like:

  • Following a pre-established plan to refer service recipients to allied organizations;
  • Co-hosting a timely event to discuss the spark behind the rage giving, explain how your organizations work together, and offer supporters more ways to take action;
  • Introducing your supporters to allied organizations via your website or an email and inviting them to take action with your whole coalition working together to meet the moment;
  • Joining forces on an advocacy campaign to address the event that set off the wave of attention; or
  • Launching a joint fundraising campaign with a dedicated goal specific to the moment.

These ideas are just the beginning—what will be most valuable is brainstorming other ways to take action together that align with your shared short-term and long-term goals and theories of change.

Key takeaway #2: a period of rage giving can bring unforeseen and much-appreciated support, which means organizations need to proactively make sure their technology and coalition relationships are ready.

Absorb the energy (and resources) of a high-volume moment and incorporate it into your long-term planning in service of your mission.

“How should we invest an unexpected surplus of resources?” sounds like a best-possible-scenario question for many nonprofit staff, but it’s worth planning for in advance. Even if your internal practices, coalition relationships, and technology infrastructure are ready, a sudden wave of attention to your organization can leave you at a crossroads.

Questions you might ask internally to decide where to allocate unexpected additional resources could include:

New vs. existing programs

Should we pour excess resources into existing programs and strategies? If so, which ones? On the other hand, should we plan to use surplus funds to launch a new program?

Investing in operations and infrastructure

Should we move some new dollars into supporting our operations and infrastructure, so that we can meet more of our long-term goals? (For example, when Black Visions Collective went viral in the summer of 2020, they made the strategic decision to invest in their fundraising and communications technology so they had the resources to conduct future fundraising, communications, and advocacy efforts in a way that aligned with their values.)

Welcoming new supporters

How are we preparing to welcome and involve a flood of new supporters? What kinds of welcome series should we enroll new email subscribers into so they can better understand our work?

Retaining new supporters

At what point can we begin asking this new crop of supporters to take on distributed volunteering, fundraising, and organizing? We know from the Giving USA 2022 report that grassroots donors are among the hardest to retain, so what are some quality asks we can make of smaller-dollar supporters to incentivize them to stick around?

Key takeaway #3: whether you find yourself with a surplus of dollars or new audience members, making the greatest long-term impact means planning ahead for these hypothetical scenarios so you don’t miss a single opportunity to do more good.

Let’s go!

When all eyes are on your organization, it can bring up a range of feelings and questions. However, when you create strong habits around gathering, using, and sharing institutional knowledge; build deep relationships with allied organizations; plan for unexpected surplus resources; and get support from the right technology, your organization can spring into action and stay focused on meeting the moment. This will empower you to deliver holistic service to your community and bend the arc toward true social change.

For more guidance on retaining donor audiences after a moment in the spotlight, download this guide to next-level donor retention and renewals from EveryAction, which is becoming Bonterra.