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Welcome to the Age of the New Normal

As an excuse not to change or do something differently, how often have you heard someone in your organization say, "Well ... this is the way we’ve always done it!"

Well ... this is no time to be an ideologue, or, in other words, to be stuck in your old habits and ways.

Partly due to the Great Recession, partly due to rapid advances in technology, and in part due to changes in our cultural norms, we have entered into what I refer to as the Age of the New Normal. And this New Normal is affecting every facet of how organizations conduct their businesses, from raising funds to using new technologies to workplace issues.

To stay current and viable as an organization in this Age of the New Normal, here are just a few of the questions that need answers:

How dependent are we on government funding?
For decades, countless nonprofits have relied largely or exclusively on local, state, and federal funding, or a combination of all three, to achieve their missions. If yours is one of them, and you haven't already experienced a decrease in your funding, brace yourself. Given the state of most government budgets, it's just a matter of time.

The Age of the New Normal demands that you start seeking alternate sources of funding. Despite these hard economic times, there is money to tap into. Which leads us to the next question ...

Do we still believe that marketing and branding would make us look too much like the for-profit sector?
If so, get over it.

A lot of the available non-government money that's out there is in the hands of people who made their fortunes in the private sector. Many are seeking to support good causes. But only organizations that can effectively and clearly make their case by successfully explaining to these potential funders who they are, what they do, how they do it—and most important, why it matters—will be on the receiving end.

In other words, marketing and branding should be integral parts of your business strategy.

Are we still trying to raise money under the rubric of being a "charity that makes a difference"?
If so, you’ve got a tough row to hoe.

Under the New Normal, funders are seeking ever-greater accountability, transparency, responsibility—and demonstrated outcomes.

Simply to say you make a difference will no longer cut the mustard. You need to show how you make that difference. And the more data you have to support your claims, the better.

Which leads us to ...

How well do we collect and leverage our data?
A lot of nonprofits don't even bother to collect data, and those that do often don't use it in a way to help promote their organization's narrative or story.

The New Normal says it's not enough to tell prospective funders how many people walked through your doors last year. The New Normal wants to know, among other things, how your services improved the lives of these people, what are these people doing now, and what impact your work has on the community at large.

How well do our employees work together?
The Age of the New Normal forces us to address the different work styles of aging Boomers versus young Millennials, or those born between 1978 and the early 1990s.

If you want to get the most out of your workforce, your organization needs to learn the differences between these two generations and how to leverage their respective strengths through training, setting clear goals and expectations, providing meaningful feedback, creating a flexible work environment, and rewarding employees for their efforts.

This isn't always easy. For example, where boomers prefer more "face time" and personal encounters in the workplace, millennials are perfectly happy to communicate via e-mail and other techno-based virtual methods. They also want more flexibility to work from home.

For Boomers to tell Millennials, "But this is the way we've always done it," isn't going to make for a healthy workplace environment.

Are we getting the most out of our volunteers?
Similar to issues revolving around Boomers versus Millennials, we've entered a New Normal for volunteerism as well.

Studies have shown that the majority of today's volunteers, regardless of age, are seeking meaningful volunteer experiences that take greater advantage of their skills, give them more responsibility, and provide greater flexibility with respect to when they can volunteer.

Many are seeking more on-line volunteer opportunities. Some want to volunteer as a family unit. Others say that they want the organizations to whom they give their time to get to know them better, especially when it comes to being more sensitive to sex, culture, language, and age differences.

What about our use of technology?
Yikes! Given the pace of technological change, the Age of the New Normal is constantly evolving.

When I purchased my first fax machine in the mid-1980s, I thought it tolled the end of history as I had known it. Who could have foreseen the changes that were—and still are—to come.

Suffice it to say that at the very minimum, your organization should have a Web site that's easy to navigate, is updated regularly, and allows people to donate to your organization online.

If you haven't already, you should be looking into how best to use new social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as potential fundraising tools, yes, but more important, to help build a community knowledgeable about and loyal to your organization.

And here's a final thought: If a Millennial comes to you with an idea about technology, or anything else for that matter, do not respond by saying, "But that's not the way we've done it in the past."

Yes, listening is part of the New Normal as well.

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2010, Checco Communications

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and author of Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization. Larry is a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding.

Topics: Communications