We’re living in a different world than we were a month, a week, or even a few days ago. For nonprofit professionals around the world (and frankly, everyone) it’s a scary time. Markets are crashing, businesses are shutting down, individuals are closing their doors. What seemed impossible just a few weeks ago is now the new norm.
The full impact of this global crisis has yet to be seen but there is one undeniable truth for the social sector: much of nonprofit revenue only exists because of discretionary spending. With 68% of total giving coming from individuals, the nonprofit industry is one of the first to be affected when markets crash. For most people, charitable donations are not top-of-the-line priorities. A donation is not food, or rent, or health care, or even gas.
Here’s the hard truth: fundraising will be affected, one way or another. This is not going to be an easy time. You’re going to have to get creative. And you need to be prepared.
Put yourself in your donors’ shoes. They are likely feeling scared and uncertain. Will their industry survive the crash? Where did their retirement savings go? Are their families safe and healthy? All of this may affect their willingness and ability to give.
What can you do? First, don’t freeze. This is not the time to pause your fundraising efforts. Instead, it’s time to take stock, prepare, and, when you’re ready, take action. Here are some tips to help you fundraise during an era of global instability.
- Map out a plan
Develop a high-level plan and don’t get too stuck in the weeds. Think big picture. Will you have to cancel your events? Do you still have reliable grant funding coming in? If spring/summer donations drop off, can you put in place a strategy to ramp up your fundraising come fall? Think long term here: this isn’t going to be a couple of weeks of economic downturn, it will be a couple of years. Be ready.
- Expect some of your major donors to hold off right now
“Not now, ask me later.” You’ll probably be hearing this response quite a bit over the next several months. With an economy in the pits and an extremely volatile stock market, donors who may have been willing to write a fat check a month ago may not be in a position to do so now. That’s ok – you just need to be prepared. Adjust your strategy and don’t count on all of your big donors coming through just yet. Some of them will still step up to the plate, but others will want to hold off. That doesn’t mean they’ll never donate again, just not yet.
- Involve your board from the get-go
Call a board meeting (virtually, of course!) to discuss how the economic volatility, possible recession, and political turmoil could affect your organization and your mission. Get their input and advice – it will inevitably be different than what you hear from staff, volunteers, and other stakeholders. It’s important to discuss both fundraising and programming. During difficult times, there is often a greater need for helping the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick, taking care of the elderly, etc. How will the current crisis affect your mission and how you fund it?
- Take control of your messaging strategy
While it may feel that everything has gone out the window, there are many things that you can still control: particularly how and when you communicate with your donors. Your messaging is more important now than ever. Make sure that your communication surrounding this crisis is sensitive and timely. The last thing you want to do now is offend your donors with an off-color comment or mistimed email. As always, keep Conscious Marketing in mind and lead with your Values, Vision, and Mission.
- Identify your donor heroes and talk to them NOW
While some major donors may hold off during this time of volatility, others may step up in a new way. Reach out to your major donors before you need them. Keep them in the loop about everything you’re doing to prepare, get their advice, and ask if you can circle back to them for help if the need arises. By being prepared ahead of time, you may be able to head off the worst of this crisis.
- Stay connected to all your donors
With a good portion of the workforce working from home you’re likely going to get more engagement on your social media because, let’s be real, working from home means plenty of mindless phone scrolling. This is the time to get more personal with your donors and, in this time of crisis, it’s ok to communicate more. In fact, many of your donors may be worried about you and your organization. Reach out to them! Send weekly updates on what is happening at HQ and with your clients. And don’t worry about communicating too frequently. As long as your messages are sensitive to the crisis, it’s ok to be a little noisy. In the short term, we are seeing some trends that indicate open rates are a bit lower than normal. With the influx of emails, sending more frequently may be a good plan to ensure that your message makes it through the clutter.
- Don’t be afraid to ask – but do it strategically
Before you make any big moves, carefully consider the ramifications. Maybe instead of asking for a gala sponsorship, you ask for financial support for necessary crisis-specific adjustments to your programming. As you continue to fundraise, consider using language like this:
“In these uncertain times, it is important that we all come together to support the most vulnerable among us. The struggles our clients are going through every day aren’t going to change. In fact, they need your support now more than ever.”
At the end of the day, we’ve all got to keep moving forward. It’s time to be brave, innovative, and resourceful. Your work is now more important than ever. Continue to reach out and ask for support when you can – your clients depend on you.
We recently added some really interesting new partnerships to help our nonprofit clients leverage other opportunities to fundraise. If you would like to know more, schedule a call with Stu.