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Fundraising Tips: Do’s and Don’ts in a Troubled Economy

Resource Center - Foundation

(Sept. 22, 2008) Greeted every morning with news of falling stocks and debates on whether the U.S. economy is in recession, charitable spending right now is likely not on the top of many donors’ priorities—a daunting thought for fundraisers looking for strong fourth-quarter income.

“This is a big enough ripple that major donors are looking around and asking themselves where this ends,” said Melissa Berman, president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a New York firm that counsels donors on charitable giving. “And as the financial crisis bleeds onto Main Street, ordinary folks are feeling less comfortable donating money.”

In what will likely be an uphill battle, fundraisers in the final months of 2008 say they are not making drastic changes, but rather going back to basics and focusing on need.

“Donors may not give as quickly or as readily, so you need to make a really compelling case,” says Brian Bonde, ACFRE, president of Children’s Care Hospital Foundation. Bonde advises nonprofits not to back down on marketing; instead redouble the effort. “If there is any doubt of real need, the donor may not give right now. This is not going to work if you are doing things the way you do them in better times. In tough times, we really need to communicate the hurt.”

“It’s like a football team. When you’re down, focus on fundamentals,” Bonde continues. “Go out and talk to your donors. Try to identify people who can be opinion leaders to the rest of the constituency—create a bandwagon effect. Prepare your boards for what may be the worst and try to make it the best.”

Last Quarter Critical

How important is the last quarter of each year for fundraising? According to AFP’s Holiday Giving Survey, conducted in December 2007, more than 40 percent of charities raise on average between one-third and one-half of their entire annual contributions from October through December. In addition, almost three in 10 charities raise more than 50 percent of their annual contributions during that time. Nearly two in 10 respondents receive more than 40 percent of their annual contributions in the month of December alone.

Despite the urgency of the situation, members agree that keeping the general program moving forward, focusing on the bigger picture and NOT panicking are critical to success.

“Look at your donors case-by-case, some are being hit hard by the economy, some are doing okay,” advises Matthew Haag, senior director of major gifts and regional programs at the University of Rochester. “And with all your donors and prospects—don’t stop communicating. Now is an opportunity to show that you are interested in them beyond the financial, because you know some just don’t have it to give right now. Don’t lose sight of the long-term relationship you are building.”

As for what not to do, Bonde says fundraisers should not move away from long-range strategies and long-term cultivation in order to fulfill annual goals.

On his blog, The Fundraising Coach, Marc Pitman writes that the three deadliest mistakes a fundraiser can make in a bad economy are to spend less on fundraising, become pessimistic and apologize when asking for money.

“Timidity is a sure-fire way to not raise money,” Pitman says. “We need to continue getting out from behind our desks and inviting donors to give.” It is important to show that you are aware that these are tough times, he adds. “But there’s nothing compassionate about not asking.”

How is your organization faring during these times? What are you doing to reach your fundraising goal through the last quarter of this year? Send eWire your thoughts; contact ewire@afpnet.org.

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