Even when the economy is booming, life can still feel uncertain. Case in point: 2020. The year started off strong, but then this pesky thing called a global pandemic sat us all down, tanked our 401Ks, and, for those of us in the nonprofit sector, made fundraising an even bigger challenge than it already was.

When economic times turn bad, fear and uncertainty can really creep in—and our natural reaction is to shrink back and freeze everything. We don’t want to spend money, and we assume that nobody else does either, so we stop requesting donations.

Instead, we need to lean into the bad times and keep our fundraising efforts going—albeit with some modifications. When the going gets tough, the tough still focus on what’s important. Like these five things:


1. Build relationships

This could take on a variety of forms: In-person events, virtual events, increased social media engagement, a robust email marketing campaign that provides value through education. Any or all of those things help you build relationships with your donors and prospects and draw them closer to your org.

The important thing is to keep the information flowing and to be sure the lines of communication are open—keep the conversation going, do not stop, even if everything you’re feeling says, “They don’t want to hear from us right now.” Some of these people may not be able to give (or give as much) during an economic downturn but that doesn’t mean to stop engaging with them. And when the economy starts looking up, they’ll be back, perhaps even more generous than before—all because you kept the relationship going, even when they weren’t able to offer you the same level of support.


2. Tell your story

In multiple ways, on multiple platforms. Keep talking about the people you’re helping and the lives you’re impacting. Highlight individuals who’ve benefited from your services or volunteers who continue to dedicate their time and energy to furthering your cause. Recessions and tough economic times aren’t anything new; they come and they go, and your donors know that—and as they see that you’re still actively making a difference, many (if not most) will continue to support your efforts. Even if they have to decrease the amount of their gifts, they’ll still be giving. Conversely, if you stop actively sharing stories and talking about the impact you’re making, donors may lose interest or simply be uninspired and decide to funnel their dollars elsewhere.


3. Be honest and transparent

Are things going great in your org, despite a difficult economy? Fantastic! Share your success. Is your org struggling to raise necessary funds? Understandable. Share your concerns and needs. The truth has a way of coming out eventually—you might as well be forthright from the beginning. Donors tend to respect organizations that have a track record of authenticity and transparency and leave those that don’t.

You don’t want to manufacture or inflate needs that don’t exist and use the “difficult economy” as a way to tug on heartstrings and make people feel sorry for your org. But neither do you want to gloss over unmet needs, lack of funding for important initiatives or an inability to do your work because money is barely trickling in. Be honest and forthcoming—then let your donors do the rest.


4. Focus on recurring gifts

It’s so much easier for donors to say no to a one-time request for a gift than to stop a recurring monthly donation. So, instead of asking multiple times for one-time gifts, why not focus your efforts on asking donors to sign up for recurring monthly gifts? This is especially helpful during a tricky economy when it’s often harder to budget because donations may be more sporadic and unpredictable.

If you can concentrate your fundraising energies on boosting the number of recurring gifts you receive, it may help you feel a bit more steady and secure when the ground feels shaky during a downturn. Plus, it’s a win for donors who may feel like they can’t afford to give you a large one-time gift. By spreading smaller donations out over a longer period of time, they’ll be able to contribute as much or more without feeling as much of an economic pinch.


5. Practice gratitude

Of course you want to thank your donors, often and sincerely, but it also helps to thank them specifically (“Your $25 donation helped feed 4 families last month.”). When you can thank donors for the tangible impact their gift made and what it specifically accomplished, that may be just the inspiration they need to turn a one-time gift into a recurring donation.

Donors always want to know that their money is helping you accomplish your mission—but during tough times when they may feel more cash-strapped, knowing how their financial sacrifice is impacting others for good really can make all the difference in turning a one-and-done donor into a loyal supporter.


One additional tip:

Evaluate your marketing assets, including your website. What’s getting you the most bang for your buck when it comes to your marketing? When the funds start slowing down during tough times, you don’t want to stop marketing—but you do want to be sure that every investment you make is going to offer a return. Maybe you need to invest in a more robust email marketing tool, so you can communicate more easily and often to your supporters. Or you could make a few changes to your website (update the design or add online donations, for example) that would make your org more attractive to potential donors.

Our nonprofit marketing experts could help you decide how to get the most R for your I. Just give us a few details, and we’ll get the conversation started.


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