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9 Smart Ways to Protect Your Fundraising in Uncertain Times

I bet you don’t remember “Black Monday.” You might not know when it was or what happened that day. I wouldn’t blame you.

I remember it, but not for the reasons you might think. Here’s my version:

On October 19, 1987, the world’s stock exchanges collapsed. Starting with Hong Kong markets then Asia and Europe. When the last major market – the USA – opened, the global freefall continued. It was a bad day. A really bad day. It was the biggest one-day drop by percentage for the Dow Jones Index – 22.6%. That’s still the record percentage drop.

I was a graduate student at the time. I didn’t have any money. I never paid attention to financial news. I was aware because the newspaper headlines about it were HUGE. (Remember newspapers?) I didn’t give it much thought.

Until a couple of days later. In my weekly seminar on Victorian Novelists, the professor, a confirmed Alarmist, told us that October 19 was going to be a date we’d remember all our lives. Because it signaled the beginning of the end of our economic system as we knew it. Life was about to change, and not for the better.

“It’s going to be like Black Tuesday,” he said, ominously.  That’s the name for the Crash of 1929 that is said to be the start of the Great Depression. I got scared. I was a poor young student and a new parent. I remember reading about the Great Depression: people like me having to migrate across the country, desperate for work of any kind. I had such useless skills!

But within a few months, it become apparent that October 19 was not burning itself into our collective consciousness. We were in a recession, but it was the kind that comes now and then. The job market tightens, things get tough, and people struggle. And things slowly return to normal.

And that’s why I remember Black Monday. Not because it signaled the beginning of the end, but because it reminded me what happens when you make huge predictions about the future. You’re probably wrong. 

But that doesn’t mean we can ignore the oddness and uncertainty. There are plenty of things you can go do protect your fundraising. And you can find a lot of them in one of the most practical and insightful fundraising books ever written: Fundraising When Money Is Tight by Mal Warwick.

This book was written during and for the Financial Crisis that started in 2007 and dogged the economy for the next few years. Here are nine solid steps from Warwick that you can take now to help bolster your fundraising program:

1. Reassess the whole ball of wax

Look at your fundraising, marketing, and communications. Make sure everything is working and working together. Now is the time to make sure it’s all at the highest degree of efficiency and effectiveness. 

2. Strengthen your case for giving

Donors don’t owe you donations. You need to earn them. 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. Be content with one in the hand

Focus on what’s proven to work, not the flashy new stuff. Innovation is great, but uncertain times call us to lean into what’s proven. It can take years to produce better results than an old standard appeal that’s been working reasonably well for a long time. 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 axe

Some things might seem easy targets for budget cuts. Especially new donor efforts. After all, they are the least profitable thing you do, and they may be getting even more difficult. But if you do that, your donor list will shrink, and your income will slack off to a dribble. If the choice arises between cutting back slightly on programs or slashing the fundraising budget, you may shoot yourself in the foot if you opt for the latter. It doesn’t take much to destroy an effective fundraising operation—and then where will your program be? 

5. Fish where the big fish are

Your top donors are your best and most efficient source of revenue. Uncertain times don’t change that – they make it more important. If you’re already well acquainted with segmentation, it’s time to consider focusing more on midlevel as well as major donors while raising the minimum standards for including donors in your appeals. 

6. Stay close to your donors

Donors need to feel appreciated. They need to feel informed. Their confidence in the charity needs to be constantly reinforced. 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

Learn as much as you can about your donors, and use the knowledge you have!

8. Step up your efforts online

Digital fundraising has many benefits, and most of them have nothing to do directly with money: attracting younger supporters, providing constituents with opportunities for participation in your work, and reinforcing appeals sent through other channels, to name just three. More 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

A truly integrated program of fundraising, marketing, and communications would boost revenue, even under the worst external conditions. 

You may have noticed something about these nine things: They’d be smart things to do any time. They make your fundraising more resilient – now and into the future. Do these nine things and you’ll be in a much better position to survive whatever storms come your way.

But when things are tough, they are more important than ever.

Read the book. It has a lot more detail about these nine things, plus much more that will help you … now and throughout your career, in good times and bad.

Wondering how our current economy might impact your fundraising? Good news! We’re offering an all-new and FREE Moceanic webinar called Fundraising in the Face of Inflation, Recession and Other Storms. Long-time fundraising expert Sean Triner will show you the practical steps you can take now to keep donors close and income flowing. The free webinar will only happen on September 14/15. Only a limited number will be able to attend! Sign up here!

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    Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising, and has worked as a writer and creative director on behalf of top nonprofits around the world, including CARE, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Feeding America, and many others.

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