Source 4: More Effective Fundraising Recession & Beyond
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Source 4: More Effective Fundraising Recession & Beyond


How can your organization become stronger and more sustainable during the recession and beyond? Explore these ideas:

Your board and volunteers are the lynchpin to any successful fundraising endeavor.

They require education, training, and support to fully realize your organization’s goals. Offer fundraising training to your board, staff, and volunteers. Teach the art of asking. You’d be surprised how many people feel uncomfortable asking for donations, especially in a recession. 

You can help by changing the paradigm for those involved in fundraising. Seek investments, not gifts. Don’t say, “we need” or “please give.” Instead, say, “please invest in our organization so that together we can accomplish our mission.”

This shift helps funders and donors share a commitment to a desired outcome. Make it a two-sided, not one-sided, commitment. Then whoever is doing the asking feels like a partner, not a beggar.

The more ways people can be involved with your mission, the stronger your organization will become.

Your board, volunteers, and other supporters can become more comfortable fundraising if they take on the role of your ambassadors in the community. Supporters don’t have to “hit up” anyone, but they do need to expand your base by introducing new people to your organization and encouraging them to get involved.

  • Create get-to-know-you and educational events related to your mission and always follow-up with a thank you.

  • Offer a variety of ways to get involved. Let the board and other supporters choose how they want to be involved and how they want to communicate with potential supporters. Are they comfortable with e-mail, text messaging, phone, letter, or in person?

  • Determine your visibility quotient. Your visibility quotient gauges the percentage of people who should know about your organization compared to those who actually do know. This simple but important measure requires that you identify a list of key people and the best mechanisms for engaging them.

It takes resources to make resources.

  • Invest in professional fundraising staff—even during a recession. At a minimum, hire a development officer and recruit paid or unpaid staff to be responsible for special events, research, data management, foundation and corporate support, planned giving and donor solicitation, online giving, public relations, marketing, and social enterprises. You need a well-rounded development program. You need many eggs in many baskets to survive.

  • Invest in the best technology you can afford. Relational donor databases are becoming more powerful and sophisticated to allow nonprofits to understand donor entry points—such as becoming a volunteer, attending an event, subscribing to your monthly newsletter—and how they give—such as special events, direct mail, and planned giving. These databases can help you refine your fundraising techniques and produce better results.

  • Don’t underestimate the value of a well-crafted and maintained website. Fresh information will invite community involvement, inspire action, solicit donations, and help recognize these donations, as well as secure in-kind and volunteer support. It also helps upgrade donations and create donor loyalty over the long haul. 

Strategic, marketing, and fundraising plans must be integrated.

Don’t develop a fundraising plan in isolation. Examine where you are now and decide where you want to be. What’s the gap and how do you close it? How will you evaluate your efforts? 

Make sure you have short- and long-term fundraising goals and outcomes and know what strategies can get you there. Involve people from different departments to help craft, coordinate, and implement the plan.

The donor cultivation process is critical, as is stewardship and donor recognition.

The vast majority of support to nonprofits comes from individual donations. They currently comprise 75% of all sources of contributions. However, the aging services network has not adequately tapped into this resource.

Research and identify prospects, cultivate their interests, and develop their connection to your organization, so you can ask them to invest in your mission.

Learn to cultivate your current constituency and then expand out. Picture a dart board. At the center is your board of directors. In separate concentric circles moving away from the center are staff and volunteers, vendors, community businesses, individuals, and foundations.

Peers asking peers is the most effective way to generate donations. We are social creatures. People give to people; rarely do they give just to a worthy cause alone.

In-kind support is just as good as financial contributions.

The recession has put a damper on monetary gifts, but it’s also spurred a new wave of creative in-kind donations. Employee volunteers, “service chips,” cars, real estate, life insurance policies, franchises, sculptures, and other donated items can be used, auctioned for cash, or traded. You name it—in-kind gifts can be profitable for your organization. 

E-bay and a lesser known site called cMarket, also called bidding for good, have experience conducting online auctions for nonprofits. This not only creates a new revenue stream, but expands a network of supporters.

In-kind resources are not just “things.” Donors and funders can offer time, advice, and credibility, as well as social, business, philanthropic, voluntary, and political contacts to enhance your mission and sustainability.

Cost savings and cost sharing are essential not only for fiscal responsibility and coping with cutbacks, but also for building a positive reputation in the community.

“Money saved is money raised.” A number of programs have created useful partnerships as a result of implementing cost sharing and cost-saving measures. There are also a number of group purchasing programs such as the Non-Profit Purchasing Group, which serve the nonprofit community exclusively.

Prove that you’re responsible.

Let your donors know that you’re doing your part by being fiscally responsible. Cut costs where you can, make sure you have good controls in place, and examine marginal programs for possible deletion. Keep your money safe by making sure it’s in FDIC insured banks. Avoid non-insured investments.

Diversifying your funding base is not just a good idea—it’s absolutely essential! 
Stop living hand to mouth or grant to contract. 
As an overall goal, nonprofits should not have one funding source that covers more than 25-50% of their total budget. Here are some suggested targets to create a truly diversified funding base:

  • 33-50% planned giving and individual donations
  • 25-30% government grants
  • 5-15% corporate giving
  • 5-15% foundations
  • 5% special events

Your organization should have at least six months of reserve funds—a year is better.

Organizations that are at least 10 years old should run a capital or endowment campaign once every five years. Whether you create one internally or collectively with other nonprofits, endowments can help you weather poor economic climates and funding cuts.

Nonprofit corporations are still corporations and, as such, need unrestricted funds for emergencies and seed money or start-up capital for new endeavors. You need this component to be financially strong, flexible, responsive, and sustainable.

Consumer direction and customer responsiveness and flexibility are good for business. 

They not only help improve service delivery, they often stimulate new services meeting unmet needs and attract more private pay clients.

The pauper’s soapbox is gone.

Although it’s tempting to try to raise funds by emphasizing what you don’t have, it’s important to emphasize what you do have and what additional support could allow your agency to accomplish. 

But don’t bury the recession’s impact under the rug, either. Emphasize how your agency is taking appropriate steps to survive—and even thrive—in these economically challenging times. Don’t apologize when asking for money. Stay positive. No one wants to invest in a questionable nonprofit.


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