The Nonprofit Hard Times Survival Guide

Charities Can Ride Out Economic Storms

Is your nonprofit suffering from economic forces beyond your control? It could be a recession or just a downturn that affects your best donors.  Don't duck for cover though! Weathering tough times should not send your nonprofit skittering to the bunkers, but it should sharpen your focus and improve your efficiencies. Here are several suggestions to consider for the inevitable economic bad times.

Don't pull back on fundraising.

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Just as companies need to continue advertising during a downturn to keep their names before the public, nonprofits will gain nothing by retreating. Not only should you not retreat, you should become even more focused in your efforts. Look at your lists again, sharpen your case, get more personal, and cultivate your donors without apologies.

Let your donors know that those you help are in more need than ever.

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No matter how a donor may be hurt by an economic downturn, the disadvantaged are damaged far more and have less opportunity to recover. Be upfront with donors and let them know that the demand for your services increases during times of economic uncertainty.

Find the stories that will touch the hearts of your donors.

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Now, more than ever, search out the personal testimonies of your clients and let them speak to your donors in their own words. Don't sink into begging, but show the shared humanity between donors and those served. Even if you are working with clients that have sensitive issues, there are ways to tell their stories without jeopardizing their confidentiality. More

Stay in touch with people who have stopped giving.

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It is much better to keep in touch with lapsed donors. Keeping up communications will help those donors to resume giving when they can, once again, afford it. They will feel close to those nonprofits with which they have an unbroken relationship.

Find new donors in industries that are still thriving.

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Recessions don't affect everyone. Some businesses are fairly recession-proof. Look for money where other organizations are not. Keep up with the business press in order to spot those companies that are still doing well.

Take the opportunity to lower fundraising costs.

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Forget your expensive fundraising evenst and go directly to your donors for their help. Wrap a simple, low-cost mailing around the fact that you are lowering overhead by skipping the event, and ask for a direct gift that will put more services and money into your clients' lives.

Also ask donors to help you devote more of their donor dollars to direct service by signing up for online delivery of your communications such as newsletters. Double down on your monthly giving appeals and brush up on how to retain donors. Steady income will be a blessing.

Cut costs - sensibly

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In tough times, it can be just as important to cut costs as to raise revenue. But don't cut costs in a way that will impair your organization's long-term health or ability to achieve its core mission. Take a look at what is working well and what isn't; what is essential to the mission and what isn't. Cut the extraneous, the unfocused, the inefficient.

Take a new look at projects you intended to raise money for.

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If the project is not "essential," perhaps it should be postponed. A new building project, while desirable, might not be the best project right now.

Think, rather, about services that go on in spite of the economy or even intensify. Focus your fundraising efforts on those. Perhaps scholarships would be easier for donors to support or medical research in a significant health area. Books for children in underserved areas and playgrounds in the inner city seem more worthwhile than building an endowment fund in uncertain economic times.

Don't worry about changing course. Let your donors know, and explain why. If your reasoning is good and heartfelt, your donors will come along with you. You will not only do more good, but keep donors engaged until better times arrive.

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