An Insider's Guide to Fundraising When Times are Bad

Nonprofit fundraising during a recession chart with a lower bar and a man with a pen

In today's turbulent economic climate, fundraising can seem like a tough row to hoe—but don't put down that hoe. Inflation may be rising and discretionary spending declining, but that doesn't mean your success in fundraising has to fall as well.

The Fundamentals of Fundraising Don't Change with the Market

When the going gets tough, it's tempting to throw fundraising efforts to the wind. Don't make this mistake! Stick with your plan; don't cut a dime from your fundraising operations if you can help it. Your organization needs revenue, and that revenue comes from charitable donations. So, stay the course—and don't stop asking. 

Keep communicating—relationships you build now will lead to increased generosity down the road.

The Best Ways to Keep Asking

  • Reach out to your major donors through direct mail, phone calls, and meetings—now's not the time to go silent!
  • As donors consider their legacy, remind them of your planned giving program.
  • Give careful thought to capital campaigns, and if you have one underway, don't put it on pause and shut down donor communications.
  • Keep reaching out to foundations—they're legally required to give, in good times and bad.
  • Review your messaging and adjust it to reflect economic conditions.

Think Outside the Fundraising Box

As a fundraiser, you probably look at the current economy with some trepidation. It's easy to wonder if the downturn will upend your fundraising efforts and cripple your nonprofit's ability to fulfill its mission. We're facing uncertain—and stressful—times. 

The good news is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Whether we're in a bull or bear economy, fundraising fundamentals don't change. That's true today, and it'll be true tomorrow. But applying those fundamentals in a changing situation—that's the hard part, and that's what AmPhil fundraising experts want to help you with.

Learn more about your donors and their priorities, and prepare to use that knowledge to guide your post-crisis fundraising.

Don't Cry Uncle!

Nonprofits exist to advance a mission. When it feels like money is starting to dry up, there's a natural tendency to cut back on "overhead" expenses (like fundraising) to avoid reducing important mission work.

That's a sensible reaction, but upon further examination, it's the wrong approach. Whether times are good or bad, it costs money to make money. If you want to spend money on your programs, you have to spend money on fundraising to bring that revenue in.

Make these principles your polestar as you set your fundraising course:

  • Stick with the fundraising methods where you know your nonprofit excels.
  • Prioritize relationships: when the going gets tough, the tough get . . . near, dear, and clear with their donors.
  • Focus on renewing donors (without completely neglecting acquisitions).
  • Refine your strategy by deciding what to do—but also what not to do.
  • Know your budget and adjust investment amounts accordingly.

Final Note: Don't Forget to Prepare for a Sunnier Future

Choppy economic times are difficult to navigate . . . but they inevitably—blessedly—end. And your organization doesn't have to emerge from them limping. In fact, many organizations and companies even grow during difficult times. How do they do it? By protecting, refining, and rethinking their fundraising.

Make a plan, then show donors the impact their gift will have both during and after the current moment of crisis.

Remember that difficult times will pass. They always do. Your goal should be to make strategic moves to ensure that you emerge from stormy waters ready to take full advantage of smoother fundraising conditions. 

Never lose sight of your organization's mission: it's why you fundraise and why donors give.


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