Nonprofit Fundraising During a Recession: A Complete Overview

A nonprofit team fundraising during recession

Nonprofit fundraising during a recession is challenging. Fortunately, Convergent knows how to do it. “Convergent was started in the depths of the 2008 recession. We knew our approach worked and thought it would work better in economic downturns, when every nonprofit was financially challenged, whether from a decrease in revenue or an increase in demand.  We were right,” wrote Tom Ralser, Principal. The recommendations made here are based on many successful campaigns that have met or exceeded their fundraising goals.

A Complete Overview of Nonprofit Fundraising During a Recession

#1 Gather Information to Inform Your Fundraising Decisions

Nonprofit fundraising during a recession will be difficult for organizations that are fundraising blind. Before undertaking a fundraising campaign, it is important to conduct a feasibility study, make sure you have Asking RightsTM, and determine your funding priorities. The feasibility study provides nonprofit leaders with an unbiased assessment of the organization and its fundraising capacity before creating an implementation plan. Determining if the organization has Asking Rights is the next step in determining what level of community support can be expected. Finally, if it’s impossible to raise the entire amount, it becomes necessary to decide what’s a priority and what goals can be achieved later. 

#2 Solidify Your Messaging

Nonprofits sometimes make the mistake of assuming that people understand the role they play in the community. However, name recognition does not equal a deep understanding or appreciation for a nonprofit organization. This makes it critical to tighten your messaging before launching a campaign. As part of that process, you’ll need to convey what makes you different and how your work relates to what investors care about. 

#3 Focus on Outcomes, Not Outputs (critical to nonprofit fundraising during a recession)

“Convergent has been successful at raising billions of dollars because we focus on the outcomes people care about,” said Ralser.  Our process asks, ‘How will investing in this project help the investor and impact the community?’” This is a significant shift for nonprofit leaders who are accustomed to focusing on programs, tasks, and operational metrics. For example, an output for a youth services organization might be the number of weekly tutoring sessions. An outcome would be the number of students added to the workforce after successfully graduating high school. Convergent Principal Mark Bergethon clarified, “Fundraising strategies should emphasize the value of the result expected to be delivered, then emphasize the downstream impact (outcomes) not just focus on the activities (outputs).” 

#4 Turn Donors Into Investors

By focusing on outcomes it is possible to create an Organizational Value Proposition® (OVP) that turns donors into investors who are willing to increase their financial contribution. The OVP translates plain numerical metrics into real-world outcomes. It also adds to the storytelling quality of your marketing. This approach helped the Foothills Area YMCA in South Carolina exceed its fundraising goals and build a new facility for its organization, “It was important to tell people what a YMCA could do in a community. Convergent helped us make that case.” said Foothills Area YMCA Executive Director Christle Ross.

#5 Leverage Technology

Giving USA recommends augmenting your data with deeper intelligence and insights so you can better define your ideal donor, along with “leveraging AI and machine learning to drive strategic processes.” Convergent helps nonprofit leaders utilize wealth analytics to truly understand their database and how to get the most out of the information, something that is always important but even more so with nonprofit fundraising during a recession. “Executive Directors who are well-informed, know their investors, and have access to real-time data are able to make informed decisions during a fundraising campaign that can impact their success rate,” said Jay Werth, Convergent Principal. 

#6 Engage the Right Campaign Leaders

Not all volunteers are created equal. Convergent helps nonprofit leaders recruit volunteers and assemble a Campaign Leadership Team that is correctly positioned to ask for large investments. In addition, having a professional fundraiser on the ground to manage day-to-day fundraising activities makes the entire process run smoothly. This level of support made a difference for North Carolina’s Raleigh Chamber. Adrienne Cole, President and CEO, said, “Someone every day was focused on our campaign. It wasn’t one more thing to do but their only thing to do.” Nonprofit fundraising during a recession is more challenging than normal. Having someone on board to run the campaign will increase the likelihood of it succeeding. 

#7 Communicate, Then Communicate Again

During times of economic uncertainty, people are worried, and nothing is scarier than not knowing what’s going on. This makes it absolutely critical to communicate often when raising money during a recession. Investors need to know who else has contributed to the campaign, where you are with your fundraising efforts, who is leading the campaign, and what you have been able to achieve along the way. They also need to know that the organization is sound and will remain sound while waiting for the money to come in–a key factor when embarking on nonprofit fundraising during a recession.

#8 Invest in Your Fundraising Campaign

Investing in your campaign is essential for raising more money, especially with nonprofit fundraising during a recession. We have internal and external research from the Great Recession that demonstrates how campaign investments played out when times are tough. Researchers Lin and Wang, who studied the financial outcomes of nonprofits during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, found that “among the four measures of fundraising efforts, only external funding relationships appeared to be effective in reducing the perception of fiscal stress, generating revenue, and maintaining expense level.” Lin and Wang further wrote, “that the more efforts and resources organizations invested in fundraising, the more the inflows of charitable contributions and grants.” In other words, external donor relationships were key to the survival of nonprofits during the Great Recession, and investing in fundraising helps an organization maximize these relationships. 

Successful Nonprofit Fundraising During a Recession Requires a Knowledgeable Team

Convergent Nonprofit Solutions has the team, skill, bandwidth, and proven track record to help your nonprofit achieve fundraising success. If you are worried about raising money during a recession or in times of economic uncertainty, contact us to discuss conducting a feasibility study. We can determine if your nonprofit would be able to successfully complete a fundraising campaign and how much money you could expect to raise from local investors. We can also help with overall Resource Development services to help your organization find new donors, determine investable outcomes, and diversify your revenue streams. You can find more insight, tips, and support by downloading our whitepaper: A Guide To Nonprofit Fundraising During Economic Uncertainty

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