So, this happened to the ACLU…

Are you prepared for a windfall?

I am a huge fan of the ACLU and even served on a local board of the ACLU when I lived in Michigan. Whether you are conservative, liberal, libertarian, or somewhere else on the political spectrum, the ACLU has probably been a champion for something you care about.

I am also a huge fan of Google Trends. It is a great site to see the popularity of searched terms or people over time. See below.

Immediately after the election of Donald Trump as President, many people were worried about potential restrictions on civil liberties for LGBTQ people, women, immigrants, communities of color, and certainly Arab and Muslim populations.

For some, the election seemed like a crisis. I certainly don’t want to make light of people’s concerns, but Rahm Emmanuel was right when he said: “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Crises can be opportunities. The ACLU already knew that, so they were prepared for the election of Donald Trump.

Below is a screenshot of a search I entered on Google Trends for “ACLU” over the past 5 years. Notice anything? As Donald Trump was publicly naming nominees to his cabinet and gearing up for his inauguration, people had emerged from their holiday slumber and were searching for ways to push back. Again, regardless of your politics, this chart doesn’t lie about the public mood. People were searching for the ACLU like no other time in recent years.

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My history in nonprofits has mostly been with small organizations. Sometimes small organizations don’t have the capacity to plan for surprises, even if the surprises are good (windfalls in money or media coverage). I know many organizations that can’t handle an influx of volunteers. Many organizations are not prepared or equipped to utilize 50 volunteers who want to help…now! That many volunteers are a good problem to have, but few things are worse than not having work for those who want to help.

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Is your nonprofit ready for a volunteer windfall? How about a financial windfall of a bequest or a major donation? (Remember, the IRS public support test frowns on one donor family having too much influence in a public charity.) Are your volunteers, websites, and development staff prepared in case a celebrity unexpectedly tweets out their support for your organization?

How about a windfall in media attention? Have you laid the groundwork to ensure that the local or national media know who you are? Are you seen as the “go to” group in your community or in your sector? Remember, whether its money or media attention, sometimes a windfall can be a huge distraction or even frustrating.

Three things you can do to be prepared:

1) Make sure your website is free of broken links, grammatical errors, or outdated information.

2) Conduct scenario planning or crisis communications planning. Even preparing for the worst can help you prepare for the best.

3) Develop a running list of tasks that can be done by volunteers (remote or in person). This can be phone banking to thank donors or data entry. But, never get caught having to turn away volunteers.

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