ProSpeak: Unsteady Times, Great Opportunity
Despite a troubling economic climate, our nation is still blessed with incredible wealth, and many donors are still positioned and willing to make incredible gifts. Here are 10 ways to navigate rough waters.
1. Maintain positive, mission-focused leadership. Donors will continue to respond to bold visions with shared values that transform lives and communities. Stay positive, and don’t focus on the current economic fluctuations.
2. Share life-changing opportunities. People want to be a part of something larger than themselves, leave a legacy and make a difference. If we are timid in inviting donors to invest, they’ll follow our lead. Keep sharing your story.
3. Tune up your annual fund. Track early annual-fund results and be prepared to adopt strategies that might include broadening the donor pyramid. Evaluate ways to increase donor retention and to re-engage former donors.
4. Deepen donor relationships. Be sensitive to the stress many donors are feeling. Communicate more effectively, and work to strengthen existing bonds with your best donors — ask for their advice, and involve them.
5. Refocus on best financial practices. Budget for ongoing reserves, and manage debt in order to weather challenging times. Regular budget and program accountability should continue. Dramatic cuts in development will weaken donor connections and have your organization playing catch-up when the economy strengthens.
6. Defer feasibility study interviews. Give time for donors to financially and emotionally digest the economy. Then, regardless of market and other economic circumstances, donors will be better able to focus on philanthropy.
7. Strengthen your board. Establish or refine your board-development plan. Seek the best board leaders, and educate, involve and motivate them. Give them positive feedback, and reconnect with former board members.
8. Create a shared vision. Build a strategic plan with a shared vision and accountable results. Engage in strategic planning every three to five years, and benchmark progress regularly. This will build enthusiasm and commitment among staff, volunteers and future donors.
9. Continue ongoing campaigns. Donors can and will give, even in tough times. But they may deliberate longer on gift decisions. Be flexible about payment terms. Many donors will focus their giving on organizations that are closest to them. Seek challenge gifts to inspire donors.
10. Defer initiating major campaigns. Consider deferring the beginning of any major capital, endowment or comprehensive campaigns until early 2009.
Jeff Jowdy is president of the Lighthouse Counsel fundraising consultancy in Tennessee. Lighthouse Counsel consultants Grant Lehman, Kathy Gaston and Joan Bahner also contributed to this piece.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.