The term “new normal” is highly polarizing in certain circles. What is normal and what is so new about the way we are living and working now?

Sometimes it seems as if the dialogue around a “new normal” sanitizes the idea that our present is okay because normal is synonymous with regular. Yes, there are challenges, but these are challenges that can be managed – or so they say. We work to accept our days under the threat of Covid-19 as ordinary, but what about this pandemic exactly is normal? It is certainly not normal for society (collectively) to be isolated. And if this is now normal, then presumably, we are supposed to have control of the situation.  If we feel loss, frustration, confusion, or dejection, we are expected to not only get used to it, but to view it as the new standard.

In a matter of weeks thousands of non-profit advancement operations, large and small, went remote. From engagement to gift processing and everything in between, non-profits took their normal day to day operations remote and online. Many were skeptical and thought it could not be done or at least not done well. It certainly had not been the norm in the industry, which previously prioritized in-person connections with individuals.

How would we engage major donors? Present proposals? Engage constituents? Solicit? Process gifts? How would we function as a cohesive team while being spread far and wide? What would success look like?

Turns out if you believe the industry buzz, the surveys, and the plethora of webinars, the majority of advancement operations fared rather well, all things considered.

It also turns out connecting with constituents still happened; solicitations were made; events were reimagined; gifts were processed and acknowledged; teams still functioned, albeit in new forms and utilizing new technologies.

In fact, the new modus operandi appeared to break down barriers that had been par for the course: travel time and expenses, geographic challenges that limited gatherings and face to face meetings, coordinating time of senior executives and/or faculty, to name just a few.

The new paradigm allowed for more creativity and more risk-taking. People seemed open, flexible, and happy for the distraction; a chance to not feel so isolated; pleased that their alma mater or organization was thinking of them and letting them talk to one another and experience something other than the news of the pandemic. It’s now been six months and we are still working remotely. We are continuing to adapt.

Will off-site advancement operations be a “new normal?” Maybe. Maybe not. Normalizing a new situation should not be about moving forward quickly towards acceptance, but rather giving ourselves the time to truly process what is happening in our industry and using that time to reimagine, redefine, and bolster each other personally and professionally.