"Tuesdays with Terry #22" - August 2013

Fundraising in Tough Times 

Within the last five years, our global economy has been hit, smashed, bruised, bloodied, collapsed, rescued, bailed-out, ignored, tanked and a whole host of other adjectives used to describe “awful.”  Every country has suffered in one way or another . . . and every citizen and organization of that country has suffered as well.  Desperation and depression have become permanent parts of our family.  

So what is the proper course of action?  What should our organizations do . . . how should we act?  Is there any magic that will make this all better?
Unfortunately, fundraising in tough times is NOT always about the global/local economy. Sometimes your difficult fundraising is about internal issues:  leadership change (either positive or negative); financial irregularities and occurrences; or service/program disparities. As well, your tough fundraising might be externally driven such as image or branding issues; increased competition from other NGO’s; or even a crisis of confidence.  Each of these areas creates a very difficult fundraising environment . . . almost always out of our control and at the worst possible time.   

When times are tough, we recommend a ten-point checklist (almost a self-assessment) that will assist you in applying the right skills and techniques that will ensure your survival in  your own “bump in the road” situation. 

1.         DON’T PANIC.  The strategic and tactical decisions made by a charity will have more influence on their fortunes than the recession itself.  Charities have more control than they realize as long as they focus on the fundamentals of their programs and look to the future (Lesson #1:  Make sure your organization has a current strategic plan in place).
2.        BE PASSIONATE ABOUT YOUR MISSION.  What are you in business to do?  Does everyone from the CEO to the Board to the staff to the volunteers to the donors to the recipients understand what your mission is all about and do they support it?  No silos allowed! (Lesson #2:  Make mission passion part of every meeting and conversation).
3.        WORK YOUR PLAN.  Successful organizations have annual fundraising strategies and plans.  Adjust your forecast accordingly, but keep working your plan.  (Lesson #3:  If your fundraising plan is not in written form, it is not measurable . . . get some outside help quickly to build your annual and three-year plans).
4.        TELL YOUR STORY.  In tough environments, donors respond better to stories.  Ensure that your facts and figures can “live and breathe,” that they are compelling and memorable.  Make sure that all your ambassadors (Board, staff, volunteers and donors) have a chance to cycle through your mission.  (Lesson #4:  Publish a regular “fun facts” about what your organization does – tell the stories).
5.        ASK FOR THE GIFT.  Basic fundraising fails more often because an organization or an individual fails to ask for the gift. Never assume an answer for your donors (they will tell you) and polish up on your own personal fundraising tool kit.  (Lesson #5:  Don’t save money on training! Make sure everyone knows what to say, how to say it and then how to listen during a donor cultivation and solicitation event).

6.        ENGAGE YOUR DONORS.  Stewardship is more than a timely thank you.  Stewardship is about touches, response, emotion, knowledge, power, pride and a whole host of things that are/can be more than just thank you. (Lesson #6:  Spend as much time on relationships with your donors, friends and key supporters . . . plan it out). 
7.        PAY ATTENTION TO THE PIPELINE.  When finances get tight, we often turn only to our friends and forget about making new friends.  Getting potential new donors (at whatever level) to begin the association with your organization is vital (examples: test more in your mail program; invite a bigger list to your events; adjust donor-giving levels).  (Lesson #7:  Increase your time and financial budgets for prospecting).
8.        LOOK FOR COLLABORATIONS.  Institutional donors begin to look at “who’s partnering with who” when giving gets tighter. Whether it’s in program delivery, cost containment/bartering, shared resources or a host of other areas, find a partner that enhances or supplements what your organization does.  (Lesson #8:  No organization lives on an island or in a silo any more . . . find someone to dance with!)
9.        CELEBRATE THE LIVING, HONOR THE DEAD.  A bequest promotion effort is perfect during difficult economic times (the donor doesn’t have to write another check).  The identification and annual shepherding of those older donors from your file will ensure that your endowment/safety-net grows, giving your organization a foundation of stable operational support every year.  (Lesson #9:  Studies show that most bequests are changed 18 to 24 months before death . . . get close to your older donors). 
10.      GIVE YOUR VOLUNTEERS A REST.  When the cycle begins to turn around, think about giving your volunteers/boards/staff some time off (certainly not too long and with much appreciation). Difficult circumstances take an emotional toll as well, people need a chance to recharge, renew and reignite their passion for your organization.  (Lesson #10:  Let everyone have a little vacation down time . . . just not too long . . . good people are tough to find, train and replace).

If your organization is going through a deep patch, call us.  We can suggest a development program that will work for you and your donors.


Orginially published August 2013