2021 adapting hero
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This month marks one year since our world was turned upside down. Not so dramatically, it also marks one year since the words “adapt” and “pivot” became the two most popular words in our professional vernacular. This is because we are in a relationship-building and communications business, and finding the shared denominator with our audiences, at any given time, will always be the primary objective.

March 2020 was the beginning of a time-warped 12-month period where we, as individuals, had the opportunity to influence the course of history more than we ever could have imagined. It has felt like a cinematic event, a suspense thriller that included every possible warning label.

During this time:

  • No rules applied.
  • Previously unexpected behavior became expected.
  • Time stood still, but also moved faster.
  • Everyone’s values were showing through their behavior and spoken words, like never before.

Meanwhile, fundraisers were all asked to carry on — until further notice. Some of us did, and some of us did not.

At the beginning, our team met and discussed the changes that were coming, the health risks for all of us, how we would navigate the potential disruption to our clients’ businesses, and how we would create our “new normal,” which we thought would last a few months.

Remember, we have an office in Dublin, Ireland, with many friends, colleagues, and clients there who we needed to serve without seeing in person. But that would eventually be the case for all of our clients across the United Sates, as well.

Just like each of you, we all sifted through a variety of reactions, forming what “experts” in our industry would call persona groups based on our individual perspectives. These reactions to the events would last for some — and for others, change as time went by. These responses went from being first impressions to “positions,” as the world became divided. The persona groups included, but were not limited to, the following, ranked by volume level:

  • The “This is a free country” group: These were the people who didn’t believe the world would shut down and believed in their “freedom” to do what they wished, when they wanted, and how they wanted, with or without a mask.

We would learn over the next 12 months that these people would make statements, no matter the topic, as if the conversation was over once they had spoken. So it was best for all others to watch, with popcorn, instead of debate.

  • The “We are all going to die!” group: These were the people posting pics and video on social media in April 2020 of people grabbing the door handle of a Manhattan coffee shop with their bare hands, ordering their coffee, touching the creamer carafe, the straws, and the sugar, and then licking their fingers when they were done.

We would later see these people terrified as their neighbors and family members got sick and, in many cases, died, sadly because, well, they lived in NYC, where it “got real” first, without the not-yet-developed medical protocols in place that would later save so many lives.

  • The “What’s the big deal?” group: These were the people who, no matter what the medical experts said, stated, published, or proved, continued to compare COVID to the flu. These people were compelled to make fun of everyone’s overreaction, the hoarding of toilet paper, anti-bacterial cleaning products, and paper towels, instead of producing explanations for their medical opinions regarding the COVID seriousness.

We would later learn that these people would be quietly shipping those same products to their homes after a few months and giving up on the flu argument by August. Additionally, many of them have already had the first shot of the vaccine.

  • The “Cool, we get to work from home!” group: These were the people bragging on social media with pics of themselves in a shirt and pajama pants, baking cookies or bread on a conference call, or hanging out at their beach or mountain rental, not taking things too seriously until things got real.

These people would eventually move into one of the other personas, depending on their residential geography.

  • The “Is this really happening?” group: These were the people who watched the news about tens of thousands of people dying around the world, borders being closed, and politicians asking them to “shelter in place” like they were issuing a nuclear bomb warning. These people were ridiculed by the “What’s the big deal?” group for the washing of their groceries, intimidated by the weapons of the “This is a free country” group, and listened too much to the “We are all going to die!” group, then retreated to survival mode, somewhat in disbelief, quietly trying to get through each day.

This group has likely grown dramatically, with so many from #2, #,3 and #4 joining them, and I must confess, this is my persona group.

 What group do your supporters belong to? You cannot have them all, so find the ones you align with, and tell them.

 By June, the U.S. pandemic crisis was second in the headlines to the BLM movement, which was making historic headway against racial injustice in the U.S., finally educating so many about racism and moving the spotlight onto two types of unfair and cruel deaths: one caused by bigotry, one by COVID, and often both caused by one’s race.

There is too much to say about that topic here, but again, everyone’s values showed through their behavior and voice like never before, and their membership or opposition to any one persona group had become more important than ever, and this included your organization and its supporters.

Now in a full-on crisis, by autumn we had experienced lengthy school closings and nightmarish images of makeshift morgues in multiple states and major cities — all of it shocking and sending us (including your supporters) to our corners, with opinions on every decision.

Of course, we saw what was happening in other countries months earlier, but in America, we only used other countries’ successes and failures to support whatever persona group we belonged to. Again, we remained divided.

As if we needed more, our country was in the midst of a hyper-intense political election, with everyone arguing about the solution, and no end in sight — again, cementing the values of these said persona groups.

We spent the entire year trying to understand the connection between all of these happenings, our clients’ missions, their audiences’ lives, and how 2020 had changed the dynamics of their relationships. We found that this was the most important common denominator for our clients to communicate with both its longtime supporters, and new ones.

As the year went on, more differences unfolded in the news cycle regarding many aspects of our lives, deepening your supporters’ loyalty to their chosen persona group. Unless your values showed through your action and/or voice, your supporters would question them.

We credit the success we saw in 2020 to our clients’ unfettered and candid communication regarding their needs, their work, and their mission within their world — at that moment. No more evergreen messaging, no more avoiding the topic, no more political correctness — it was time to be clear about that which they had in common with their supporters, and those who were a match rose to the occasion.

Looking forward, do not retreat to the communication style you had before 2020. Build on your truth telling, on your experiences from the last year, and demonstrate your values through your acts and your voice, so your supporters can choose you.

There is no “COVID fatigue.” There is no “new normal.” There is only today, an opportunity for you and your organization to make a difference together with your supporters, standing shoulder to shoulder, looking at the world from the same perspective.

Make your supporters feel that common denominator, and you will succeed. But that will require further change as the world changes. And you will need to continue to adapt and pivot!