How to Raise More Money in Economically Challenging Times

If you are an executive or volunteer leader of a nonprofit agency, you know that you are approaching that season of the year when you expect to receive maybe as much as 70% of your annual philanthropic revenue.  For some nonprofits, the last six weeks of the year brings in virtually all of their income.

If you are a donor, then you can expect your mailbox—and, increasingly, your email inbox—to be inundated with solicitations to support every worthy cause imaginable.

Regardless on which side of the envelope you sit, this will be a very interesting year.  If you are on the receiving end, you have to be filled with anxiety.  According to conventional wisdom, this is the worst economy since the Great Depression.  You have to wonder will you be able to rely upon the renewed and increased support from those who have contributed to your enterprise faithfully in the past.

What can you expect if you are seeking funds in this season of giving and sharing?

Charitable giving historically decreases less than 1% for every 100 points the Standard & Poor’s 500 index drops, according to a study by the Center on Philanthropy.  And while the S&P has gained more than 350 points from its low point of March 2009, it still is more than 500 points lower than its high in October 2007.  As a result, you should probably expect a decline in first-time donors even while loyal donors hopefully continue to give.

Current consumer research indicates that 70% of Americans planned to spend less, but more than half say they are likely to give to charity.  So, what can you do in your fundraising efforts this year and beyond to assure the continued support of those upon whom you have come to rely?

  • Be sensitive to donors’ challenges. Slow down the cultivation cycle for major donors; be aware of their specific economic situation.
  • Ask, but, especially this year, with these four things in mind:
  • Empathy is appropriate. Acknowledge times are hard – for everyone – right now. If a donor can’t give now, they will appreciate that you understand this.
  • Show you are tightening your belt. Describe every step your organization has taken to reduce your expenses and operate as efficiently as possible this year.
  • Demonstrate that all donations count. Because you are stretching every dollar, make the point that every donation helps more than ever this year – whatever the amount of the donation.
  • Show impact. Thank your donors profusely for their past help and explain in tangible, vivid terms how their donations have made a big difference. And then do it again and again and again. Donors usually don’t stop giving because they don’t have money. They usually stop giving because of a surfeit of appeals and a shortage of thanks. Show donors that they are making good things happen – and give them credit for every piece of good news you have about your programs.
  • Because outright gifts may decline, consider moving into Charitable Gift Annuities marketed through direct mail and online as 55-70 year old investors are looking for a safe harbor for their money.
  • Continue reminding people about bequest giving as a way to support your agency in the future when times are less uncertain.
  • Communicate more often for less through e-mail than by postal mail and make it easier for donors to give on-line through your web site.
  • Focus on annual appeals that “matter.”  Sharpen your message, focus demonstrated and specific needs and limit requests that ask donors to fill the “black hole” of unrestricted operations.
  • Transparency.  Be honest about your financial challenges, and share your plans to deal with them.  Keep donors informed via your web site and e-mail as to how you are managing your resources and meeting urgent needs.
  • Steward your loyal donors. Call or visit to thank them for their loyalty.  Hold a donor briefing—in person or by conference call—to help them feel like insiders
  • Keep the connections because people will give to those that love them the most.  And, if some of your donors do not give, ask yourself, “Is is because we failed somehow?  Do they no longer feel connected?”