Crisis Management in Fundraising
After this school year, a private school for inner-city students closed one of its two campuses. Although a generous donor had funded the first 10 years of its operations, the staff had been unable to secure enough funding after the grant ran out to continue its operation. It was a difficult decision but the only fiscally responsible one.
From a fundraising perspective, having to shut down a program or project that many donors support can be daunting. The potential of losing those donors is very real, and avoiding that attrition can be the reason many nonprofits put off the difficult decisions until it's too late to salvage the rest of the important work they are doing.
"The cold fact is that it takes money to run this organization," the director of development (whom I will call Greg) told me. "From a fundraising perspective, our goal was to assure our constituents that although this was a difficult decision, all the prudent and necessary steps had been taken.
"The process began last November," he continued. "Management did an assessment of various scenarios and determined that the potential risk was a loss of 25 percent of their income."
Despite this potential crisis from a fundraising standpoint, "Our most important and highest concern was our students, faculty and parents," he said. "Our focus had to be doing all we could for those who are in our care. It became so easy to know what to do next once we knew the priority."
As I worked with the school to develop messaging for its constituents, I was impressed with the lengths the development staff went to in communicating with its partners. So I asked permission to share the school's learnings, as unfortunately, bad things do happen to good nonprofits, and some of us may find ourselves in a similar challenging situation at some point in our careers.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.