As I See It | Karen Perry, CFRE | Senior Consultant

Planning in a Pandemic

When COVID-19 hit North Texas in mid-March, the Key Center for Learning Differences was in the midst of strategic planning, marketing planning and development planning with M. Gale & Associates. Key Center is preparing to launch two new programs this year and will move to a new campus in Fort Worth in 2022.

Prioritizing community and communication

“Culture trumps everything,” says Kerri Benson, Key Center’s Executive Director. “I paused to think, ‘How we are going to do this?’ Our first challenge was how we were going to continue the culture we’re building, but all be separate. How would we communicate?”

Key deftly pivoted to virtual staff, committee and board meetings and to online learning for Key School. An all-staff meeting became a series of recorded videos in which Benson shared updates on Key’s capital campaign, strategic plan and new campus plans. When many nonprofits were wondering if they should stay the course in fundraising, Benson and the development team continued with donor conversations and pursuit of grants for their capital campaign.

The pandemic could have slowed or even halted these things, but Benson and her team forged ahead with vision, positivity and strength. On social media, Key School posted frequently — a music video from faculty, student artwork, senior shout outs and a thank you for teacher “coronavirus care kits” delivered by the board. Meanwhile, the board also sent weekly video messages to staff to thank them.

“We can’t just sit, let things go by and not change,” Benson says. “We can’t just stop because of this. We will face this for a long time, so how will we live within these norms and continue to grow?”

Staying flexible

Key School is on summer break now and Key is pivoting again. The new KSALT (Key School Academic Language Therapy) program for professional educators is launching this summer in a virtual format. Key’s longstanding Summer Program will be online, too. They considered cancelling, but instead decided to make some changes and then called everyone who enrolled last year to explain the changes. Some students dropped out, but the program will gain new students, too.

“We are always trying to find the silver linings. Some students couldn’t do the Summer Program before due to family travel, but now they can because it’s virtual. We are now thinking about how to reach out across the country,” Benson says.

As with all private schools, re-enrollment for fall is a concern. However, Benson is determined to keep moving forward in service to children with learning differences and their families. “We will be okay,” she says.

“I’m really, really proud of every single person and their hard work. I’m proud of our profession — educators across the country. So far, we are making it happen. We are all in this together.”

From volunteers to professional staff to donors, people are the heart and soul of nonprofits. It’s during difficult times like these that we notice those who rise to the top with extraordinary perseverance, positivity and leadership.

M. Gale & Associates is proud to partner with nonprofit organizations like Key Center as they plan for growth and greater community service.

About the Author

Karen Perry, CFRE, approaches her clients with a deep understanding of the work of growing a development program over time, as well as experience addressing broad nonprofit management concerns. Prior to joining M. Gale, Karen spent more than 10 years in lead development roles with two organizations in Atlanta, Georgia. Her experience includes annual giving, major gifts, grant writing and events, as well as marketing, strategic planning, planned giving, and capital campaigns. She also has served as an independent fundraising consultant. Karen is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and has served on the boards of the Fort Worth Metro Chapter and the Greater Atlanta Chapter. She is a member of the Junior League of Fort Worth and serves on committees at her church and on the PTA of her children’s school.

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