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In Tough Times, Donors Still Want to Know: “Where’s the Beef?”

Resource Center - Foundation

(Sept. 15, 2009) Times are tough. For some organizations times are really tough. But don’t let the pinch you feel dominate your message to donors. They still want to hear about results.

“Certainly these are not easy times for organizations, but in the end it is about the services you provide—not the needs you have as an organization,” says Mary Hohensee, CFRE, vice president of development at Avenidas in Palo Alto, Calif. “You can never stop talking about the good you are doing.”

“As a donor, I want to know how your programs are uniquely suited to making a difference with my donation. That’s the question that needs to be answered,” Hohensee explains.

Having raised funds for several charities throughout the United States, Hohensee acknowledges that there are times when it is important to talk about your organization’s challenges. But, she argues that when it comes to deciding where and how much to give, donors are looking not at needs, but at needs met.

Even in challenging times, or perhaps especially in challenging times, if you show you are making great things happen toward your mission, people will recognize you as a wise investment, Hohensee explains.

Staying Connected

Hohensee adds that “one of the hardest things to do as a fundraiser is continue to treat people well who do not make a gift. But you have to be sensitive to the fact that they may not have it to give right now, and aware of the fact that they’ll still give in the future.”

It’s usually not at the top of fundraisers’ minds—to build a relationship with people who do not give—but long-term stewardship is critical, she says. Don’t make yearly financial support the only tie your donor has to your organization.

Guidance from AFP


In a white paper issued earlier this year, AFP offers advice for raising funds in a recession, including the importance of staying positive. You can still speak of your organization’s needs, but don’t inflate the need. Donors may perceive that you are in crisis mode.

Being realistically optimistic with your supporters and donors means being candid about your organization’s outlook and the needs it is trying to meet. The “sky is falling” approach probably won’t work, but that doesn’t mean organizations shouldn’t appeal to need. Your organization may well face an “emergency” or “crisis,” but what is more important is to show that you have a plan and are taking steps to address whatever emergency or crisis arises. Philanthropists will respond to community need, but they will be hesitant to invest if the message you are sending them is that the organization might not be around tomorrow.

Above all, don’t stop asking!  After Sept. 11, 2001, many organizations decided to postpone or stop their fundraising activities, and in almost all cases, this tactic was a mistake. Be sensitive to your donors, but realize that the economy has affected people in different ways. Many are still willing to give in hard times. Sometimes they will give more.

To help inform discussions among our chapters and members about responding to the current fundraising environment, and to provide support and guidance to all nonprofit organizations, AFP has developed the following recommendations. Our intent is to be both helpful and thought‐provoking.

AFP Guidance: Fundraising in a Difficult Economy
is available free of charge and contains numerous pieces of advice on how to proceed with fundraising.

AFP has also compiled a tool kit called A Survival Kit for Fundraising in a Difficult Economy featuring resources and advice from several sources on how nonprofits and fundraisers can tackle a tough economic climate (member log-in required).



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