COVID-19 threw the world a curve ball. In the advancement space, this is upending many campaigns and appeals as well as daily operations. Some of the most immediate impact was felt by the operations folks. One client went from a 3/17 notice that a doctor’s note was needed to be absent to a 3/20 order to leave campus for a month. “Whiplash” is how that colleague described the feelings that week. The week of 3/23 has been about establishing normalcy. Now, by April 1st, where should your team be, where are you, and what do you need to prepare to keep your remote team spinning like a top? Here is a quick scorecard so you can see what to expect as well as some advice if you need to act.

1. System access (CRM reporting tool, and online tool access) need to be remotely available. For many, this was “easy” enough. For some, antiquated systems or arcane policies prevented this access. Ideally, the shared system will be a life-line to a common set of facts and experiences for the whole team. If your whole team cannot access your database and reporting by now, sound the alarm!

2. Gift administration is tricky! Digitizing materials and automating processes deserve fresh attention. The real challenge is what do about paper in the process. This means figuring out if mail services will even deliver paper mail. Once/if delivered, can/should someone get to the office and handle, at least by copying/scanning checks and depositing what’s possible. Based on a few dozen discussions since 3/16, we are seeing a single (sometimes rotating) team member assignment to go to the office if there are gifts to address. Check with General Counsel or the Compliance office about the risks of checks being unattended for long periods. And, consult your organization’s emergency management team to be compliant. Finally, use this as an opportunity to digitize receipting and acknowledgments (perhaps with some video and other engagement components included).

3. A team-wide virtual officing tool needs to be in place. This goes beyond video conferencing. You need something like box.com, Teams or some shared file resource, too. In addition, look at this as a chance to adopt DocuSign, HelloSign or one of the many solutions that can digitize an otherwise inefficient paper process. You should also look at Whiteboarding software and virtual learning software beyond Teams or Zoom. If you have a Blackboard account, perhaps you can co-opt this tool which has a full suite of teaching tools that translate for office management. This is a chance to upend old habits and inefficient processes around document management and workflow.

4. Requests and Prioritization. The team needs an automated request process. Email is OK (especially for smaller shops) but a more robust tool (even something simple like SmartSheet or Trello) will be crucial. Remember, all those “drop in visits” to check on things can’t happen in the same way. Your team needs a request and prioritization system asap. And, you need to re-evaluate the order and attention given to such changes.

5. Prospecting should pivot to COVID-19 impact considerations. This work should be somewhat unaffected in terms of the ability to work remotely. However, the team should immediately start to think about winners and losers in the economy. If you know an early investor in Amazon, guess what…they are even better off than they were in February. Every profession (and every demographic) will have slightly different consideration so build those into the assessments and strategies that need to continue. For instance, nearly all of our clients are enacting a) an “emergency fund” for their constituents most affected and b) connecting with their elderly prospects/donors just to check in.

6. Data management could be better than ever. One silver lining potential here is that your team should spend more time pouring over data. All of those hard to manage data points (current employer, email, cell phone) could be shored up. Your team should be adding contact reports to your database (see #1 and #4). As one colleague puts it: “Social Distancing is a Gift for Data and Operations.” All of those never-can-get-to topics now might have a team to tackle them. So, think about who you could train up to handle some of the more salient data issues you have been too busy to address.

7. Metrics are critical here. For new-to-remote shops, knowing the right work is being completed is critical. Set an empirical metric for daily (or at least weekly) results so that you and your boss can feel great about the work you’re accomplishing. I have a million ideas here, but the simplest is to make changes/additions to your database (#1) and count those things. If you’re a gift officer, it’s an “action” count. If you’re a data processor, it’s a “records” changed count.

8. Be ready for back-to-normal to include remote. A few clients shared their leaderships’ reticence for remote work before March 2020. This may change, but some of the work we do is better in person. Once back in the office, we need to be ready (and even better prepared) for another COVID challenge. And, we need to learn how/where/whether working remote made us stronger. This means more investment in technology–hardware and software. It also means more codification of what “success” means that can be reported from the office or from virtual offices.

What I have seen and heard from dozens of clients the last two weeks is inspiring. What we can learn from this, though, is there is much more to do with our advancement services and systems to be even more effective in the future–in or out of a pandemic. Hopefully, your team has all 8 of these items in order. If so, please share how you’ve done it. And, if you’re not there yet, let us know how we can help.

Chris is President of Strategic Services at Zuri Group. His areas of expertise include fundraising strategy and systems, staff and resource management, database management, business intelligence and data reporting, database conversion projects, gift and data processing, and technology needs.

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