Don't Freeze, Don't Panic: Advice for Surviving Turbulent Times
The economy has wreaked havoc on organizations large and small, local and national. But the economy isn't the only thing that can mean turbulence for organizations. Natural disasters, heated election cycles and a shift in public perception of a cause, among other things, all can rock the boat. No matter what the cause, there are things fundraisers can do to get through tough times.
In the session "Fundraising in Turbulent Times" at the DMA Nonprofit Federation's 2009 New York Nonprofit Conference last week, three fundraising professionals shared general and case-based tips for other organizations on weathering storms, no matter what the cause.
Ellen Cobb Church, principal, president and CEO of Craver, Mathews, Smith & Co., said the current fundraising scenario is the oddest she's seen in her 25 years in the fundraising sector. It's not a time for fundraisers to panic or freeze up. Some things she suggested you can do include:
- Mail efficiently. Talk to your production people to find out how.
- Be honest with donors. If you're having a hard time and need money, tell them. They want to help.
- Conduct constant re-evaluations. Reforecast and reproject. This helps you, senior leadership and your board know where you are.
- Use online to supplement other channels. Church said times of turbulence are good times to make sure your revenue streams are diverse.
- Listen to donors. How do they want to be communicated with? Keep them engaged.
- Change course when necessary.
- Don't give up!
Co-presenters Heather Wallace, director of marketing for City Harvest, and Marjorie Spitz-Nagrotsky, director of development of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, each described how their organizations have navigated through the past 12 months. They looked at their organizations’ behavior in the midst of the struggling economy and other recent challenges from four perspectives:
- Internal measures, i.e., what was happening behind the scenes.
- Creative measures, e.g., steps they took in direct response regarding how to communicate with donors: What are they doing differently now? What are they doing the same?
- Analytical and financial measures
- What comes next? Now that they made it this far, what are their plans for the coming year?
Case study: City Harvest
For City Harvest, internal measures included identifying key challenges of the economic downturn. New York was the epicenter, in many ways, of the collapse. Lehman Brothers, one of the organization's key corporate donors, was lost; the NYC job market, especially on Wall Street, was hit hard; and there was an increased need for food throughout the city.