If, like me, you work in the nonprofit sector – or maybe this is true in all sectors – you’ve likely heard, read or said the word pivot as many times as there have been days in this period of quarantine (of which we’ve completely lost count). I now liken the word to some of the best jargon in the fundraising world: resource mobilization, thought leader, move the needle, impact, outcomes, underserved…
Before I go on, know that once this post has hit the interwebs, I vow to refrain from ever using the term (“pivot” in case you’ve forgotten) again. But for the sake of this piece, buckle up because I’m going to toss it in with wild abandon. If you aren’t sick of it yet, you will be after I’m done.
And to think, pivot used to sound fresh and so of-the-moment. But now, whenever the word pivot has surfaced over the last 10 weeks, I’ve been skeptical.
Some 28 years ago, this jack of some trades, master of none was going to capitalize on her relatively decent height by joining the junior varsity girls basketball team. Things were so simple back then. All I had to do was catch the ball from a teammate’s pass, pivot and shoot. I mean, in theory that’s all I had to do; the reality was something different altogether. Pivot, though, was a simple action that everyone knew. It didn’t require any clarification.
Now, I have to wonder: Does whoever uses the term these days and in the nonprofit context even know:
- To what they’re pivoting
- From what they’re pivoting
- What object or practice they are recommending that you pivot (*deep breath*) or
- Why they’re pivoting?
Is it pivoting to a remote work environment while we’re self-isolating? Are we to pivot how we serve our constituents? Do we pivot our messaging? And what does pivot even mean in those instances? So many possibilities. So much ambiguity.
The other day I was in yet another Zoom meeting, and an S&W colleague mentioned that she, as a fundraiser and grant writer, is completely over it (“it” meaning pivoting, of course). She said she is finding that foundations and individuals are no longer looking for proposals and solicitations that describe how the organization is pivoting.
Not long ago, I posted that it wasn’t too late to pivot. But now, as we’re heading into Week 11, my message has shifted. Pivoting – or being nimble and quick to respond to shifts in your external environment – should be your new norm. I have hordes of funders and donors backing me up on this. In a very short period, they’ve now decided it’s time for organizations to stop talking about pivoting; now, it’s time to talk about what you’re doing to get ready for business as (sort of) usual – your longer-term plan to inject some vitality back into the organization as the dust settles.
Funders and donors have heard enough about your agility and responsiveness and are now looking to see what’s next — clear, concrete plans on what you anticipate doing in the months to come. Whatever else you can say about pivoting, it is essentially reactive. Now it’s time to get proactive.
The challenge, of course, is that we are all expected to formulate the required plans both instantly and in the face of vast uncertainty. (For more how-to’s on this, see my colleague Lauren’s timely article on the topic.)
The good news is that plans are made to be funded by donors. If you do meet the challenge of laying out a roadmap, you create opportunities for your supporters to help you with the journey.
As you present these opportunities, be clear and transparent with funders about what you are doing now and what you need. What is your new norm and what will it take to make it a reality? In most cases, that may be general operating funds, and that’s okay.
As you frame your communications, also think about the ways in which your mission will matter more than ever in the new world we are entering. Communicating this relevance in one way or another is the starting point for every compelling ask.
I was going to end this piece with the friendly cliché “we’re all in this together,” but then I thought better of it, having recently considered what that message may mean to those who are not gainfully employed, tucked out of harm’s way in their home office, sipping fair trade coffee and munching on the results of another sourdough test bake (yes, I’m describing my privileged self). Check out Melissa DePino’s thoughtful essay on this tricky phrase here.
Instead, I will simply end with:
RIP “pivot.” You’ve served us well, but we’ve moved on.