Our economy is still in bad shape, and a growing number of economists is telling us that it may well get worse. So what can we fundraisers do to minimize the impact of this difficult period on our organizations, and at the same time maximize our income?
I suggest a cautious and balanced nine-step approach:
1. Reassess the whole ball of wax: fundraising, marketing, communications
Now’s the time to take advantage of the opportunity to put in place an intensive evaluation process that will allow your fundraising, marketing, and communications programs to function at the highest degree of efficiency and effectiveness. Cut out any programs that aren’t advancing your mission.
2. Strengthen your case for giving
Be certain your donors understand both the more urgent need for your services during tough times and the many concrete steps you’re taking to increase your efficiency and effectiveness.
3. Stick with what works
If the decades-long experience of direct marketers has anything at all to teach the fundraising profession, it’s that different isn’t always better. An economic downturn does not justify throwing out what has worked in the past. In fact, it’s a time for caution and cost-cutting.
4. Cut costs with a scalpel, not an ax
You can’t not raise funds. You can’t treat loyal and responsive donors like statistics. And you can’t stop building your donor database. If you do these things, your donor list will shrink through attrition, both natural and unnatural, and your income will slack off to a dribble.
5. Fish where the big fish are
Focus more time, effort, and money on generous and responsive donors and less on less productive ones. If your organization has the habit of treating all your donors the same way, it’s time to examine how you can fine-tune your program with a well-considered segmentation plan.
6. Stay close to your donors
At no time can a nonprofit organization operate as though its donors will continue giving no matter how they’re treated. During an economic downturn, it’s doubly urgent to hold your donors close to your chest, because it’s all too easy for a donor to lose a sense of connection with you.
7. Get personal with your donors
If we have anything more than the most rudimentary of databases, we know how long our donors have been giving to us, how much they’ve given, and how frequently. Even if that’s all the information we integrate into our appeals, surely that’s got to do a better job of securing additional support than a crude “Dear Donor” letter or email! And since it’s so simple to gather even more personal information from at least some of our donors, what’s stopping us? Are we afraid of actually raising more money?
8. Step up your efforts online
Online fundraising in and of itself does not represent the salvation of the nonprofit sector in a difficult economy, at least not in the short term. However, the online channel has multiple benefits for nonprofit fundraisers: attracting younger supporters, providing constituents with opportunities for participation in your work, and reinforcing appeals sent through other channels, to name just three. An enhanced investment in online communications will pay many dividends, reinforcing near-term fundraising efforts in the short term and laying the foundation for a more prosperous future.
9. Break down the silos
Some minimal degree of centralized scheduling among all the people who are communicating with your donors — the online folks, the direct mail people, the marketing department, the planned giving office — would surely reduce donor attrition. That alone would be an accomplishment. But take the logic one step further, and you’ll realize that a truly integrated program of fundraising, marketing, and communications would boost revenue... even under the worst external conditions.
Mal Warwick has been raising money professionally since 1979.
This post is adapted from his nineteenth book, Fundraising When Money Is Tight: A Strategic and Practical Guide to Surviving Tough Times and Thriving in the Future, published last year by Jossey-Bass.
Copyright © 2009 by Mal Warwick.