The art of pivoting

Tips and Tricks | Blog | 5 mins.
Written By: Kelsey Thompson | Posted On: 10/06/2021

When Covid-19 shut down the world in March of 2020, everyone pivoted. We adapted to virtual learning and Zoom happy hours while businesses scrambled to update their online presence and restaurants rushed to offer delivery options. Nonprofits held events from galas to group walks virtually and encouraged peer-to-peer online fundraising among supporters. 

The racial and economic reckoning of the summer of 2020 pushed for-profit and nonprofit organizations alike to confront their diversity, equity and inclusion practices and, in many cases, once again change how they do business. 

The world looks different now than it did in early 2020 and pre-pandemic normal may be a thing of the past. If there is one lesson we’ve collectively learned, it’s the importance of the pivot. 

A pivot is “fundamentally changing the direction of a business when you realize the current products or services aren’t meeting the needs of the market. The main goal of a pivot is to… improve revenue or survive in the market, but the way you pivot your business can make all the difference.”

We’ve got six tips on how to successfully pivot your nonprofit amidst modern twists and turns, featuring examples of our nonprofit partners that pulled off spectacular pivots of their own. Their stories will inspire you to look for opportunities that help your organization improve effectiveness, serve more people and thrive.


1. Build options into your approach.

Example: The disruption of Covid-19 showed that diversifying products and services is a must. When the pandemic forced the world online, our partner Project Helping had the infrastructure and programs in place to continue facilitating meaningful volunteer experiences from home. Their Kynd Kits create volunteer projects in a box, with everything needed to do meaningful work delivered to your door. By having remote capabilities already in place, they were able to quickly and exponentially increase the number of people they could reach and lives they could impact.

When Covid shut down their in-person volunteer events, Project Helping shifted focus toward their Kynd Kits and became the leader of virtual volunteer experiences. So far this year, Project Helping has generated over $1 million in Kynd Kit sales, surpassing their 2020 revenue to date by over 500 percent.


2. Repurpose your physical spaces and offerings.

Example: Big Green is a nonprofit organization that builds Learning Gardens in schools around the country, reaching over 300,000 students each day. When Covid-19 closed schools in 2020, they pivoted in a big way by launching Big Green At Home, which provides at-home resources, virtual curricula and Garden Kits to ensure students could continue to learn and grow their own food. 

While school doors were shuttered, student and family need for fresh foods continued to grow. School gardens held huge potential. Teachers, volunteers and Big Green staff converted 252 existing Learning Gardens into “Giving Gardens,” donating over 35,000 servings of vegetables to support local food relief efforts. Big Green helps to sustain school gardens through these uncertain times with their program Big Green Jumpstart, in which they partner with like-minded organizations to offer $2,000 flash grants to schools across America with an existing garden and where at least 65 percent of students receive Free and Reduced Lunch.


3. Re-evaluate the needs of your community. 

Example: Firefly Autism partners with families to transform the lives of children with autism. They create lifelong relationships through thoughtful, innovative, empirical learning treatment programs. They knew their community would be particularly vulnerable to the disease as well as to the measures enacted to prevent it. 

Firefly pivoted, as many organizations did, to offer their services online. They supported families of children with autism through the difficult journey of at-home learning and pandemic life. But they went beyond business as usual. They served as a national thought leader, offering ideas and support to people with autism and their loved ones by providing guidance for adjusting to face masks and more. Once the vaccines were developed, Firefly pivoted again to serve not only people with autism but their entire local community by becoming a vaccination site. They held several clinics, vaccinating over 1,000 Coloradoans. 


4. Leverage your expertise. 

Example: National Jewish Health was already a recognized leader in respiratory health when the Covid-19 pandemic began. They used their existing expertise and facilities to respond quickly, creating acute care and recovery clinics for children and adults and developing multiple diagnostic testing platforms. They didn’t keep their knowledge to themselves – experts from National Jewish Health provided strategic consulting to help organizations create the safest environments possible during the pandemic.

As new potential treatments emerged, such as remdesivir and monoclonal antibodies, National Jewish Health held clinical trials to test efficacy. As new symptoms emerged, particularly long-lasting symptoms, they opened the Center for Post-COVID Care and Recovery where professionals, including MFF’s own Senior Advisor, Paul Heitzenrater, work with long-haulers to help patients on their recovery journey. 


5. Get creative.

Example: Prior to the pandemic, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago was focused on building an exceptional experience for in-person visitors. When the pandemic shut down their primary source of revenue and interaction with their audience, they got creative. They injected renewed energy and innovative ideas into their social platforms, resulting in several Shedd penguins going viral for videos featuring the animals exploring the empty aquarium. Shedd Aquarium’s ongoing social strategy keeps audiences connected to the in-person experience of visiting the aquarium but from the comfort and safety of their own home, anywhere in the world. Their audience is larger than ever.

Social media wasn’t the only arena where Shedd Aquarium got creative, though. They also served the public interest and scientific community by loaning out lab equipment to help with local Covid-19 testing efforts. 


6. Use existing relationships to create new products and programs.

Example: Global Conservation Corps (GCC) bridges the gap between communities and wildlife in South Africa. They protect local species and bring new economic opportunities to their human neighbors. A critical part of their strategy is providing conservation and wildlife education to local schools. When schools closed, they were low on resources to run effective digital learning. GCC stepped in by fundraising to provide Acer Chromebooks that allowed students to continue learning and allowed GCC to continue their programming. Early in the pandemic, GCC used their vehicles and funds to deliver food to local communities while businesses, and jobs, were shut down. 

For their broader audience, GCC used the pandemic as an opportunity to expand their digital offerings. They created a new video and podcast series called “Careers in Conservation” that shares stories from the conservation professionals with whom they work. They created another podcast series called “Voices of Nature” that features leaders committed to saving and protecting the world’s natural resources. It showcases these leaders’ work and explores solutions for everyone to be part of an effort to protect wildlife and the ecosystems on which we all depend.