Last week, we shared that we found in the 2021 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report that a majority of nonprofits said they did more communications planning (63%) and that the level of internal collaboration on the communications workload went up (57%) as a result of the pandemic.

We also asked about the problems that the pandemic exacerbated or made worse for nonprofit communicators, as well as the opportunities or silver linings that arose. Within the stories shared in the open-ended responses to these questions, we see a range of experiences, with two very different reactions at either end of the spectrum.

We refer to this spectrum as CALM not BUSY. It’s Nonprofit Marketing Guide’s management framework for effective nonprofit communications. CALM is Collaborative, Agile, Logical and Methodical and these qualities in a nonprofit’s approach to its communications work lead to more effectiveness. BUSY is Bogus, Unrealistic, Sidestepping, and Yoked — and these qualities stifle effectiveness.

Nonprofits that were already working toward being CALM or were able to embrace these concepts relatively quickly responded to the pandemic with focus and creativity. With an emphasis on collaboration and agility in particular, they  often met or exceeded expectations for what was possible.

At the other end of the spectrum are nonprofits that were already struggling with being BUSY. The challenges of the pandemic created even more stress and strife, and led to even more unrealistic expectations, sidestepping important decisions, and being yoked to inadequate and now irrelevant programming and communications tactics.

Let’s take a closer look at the themes that emerged from the answers to these open-ended responses.

Problems Made Worse by the Pandemic

For some nonprofits, the pandemic further exacerbated problems that were already challenging, including

  • Cascading impacts of an over-reliance on in-person events that had to be canceled or moved online
  • Digital divides among program participants, supporters, and staff
  • Increases in an already unsustainable communications workload and piled-on (rather than re-prioritized) messaging and crisis communications requests from across the organization
  • Further hardening of internal silos that separate communications staff from others as people began working at home
  • More overthinking and hesitancy to take risks

Silver Linings of the Pandemic

Others used the pandemic as problem-solving rocket fuel to propel big leaps forward in effectiveness. They experienced

  • New appreciation by leadership for and investment of time and resources into digital communications strategies
  • Motivation to move beyond brainstorming and to implement creative new ideas without fear of failure
  • An increased willingness by program staff and others to contribute content, including video
  • An outpouring of support from people newly connected or re-engaged via reinvigorated online communications
  • Proof that teams could successfully collaborate and achieve success while working remotely from home

If your nonprofit is seeing more problems than silver linings, I urge you stop, take a deep breath, and then open up some conversations about changes you want to make. We are still going to be in this pandemic for many more months, and who knows what’s in store for us in the years to come. There won’t be a better time — the time is now.