Speaking of Fundraising: 5 Tips for Nonprofits in an Economic Downturn
As America slips further into an economic downturn, how are nonprofit organizations faring? Following are some things to think about in your efforts to continue to fund your missions in these tough economic times:
1. Run a nonprofit like a for-profit business. Running a nonprofit is almost exactly like running a for-profit corporation. The executive has to hire, train, negotiate benefits, strategize, forecast economic trends, raise money, and prepare and balance budgets. The major difference is that a nonprofit must be 100 percent transparent, and every dollar is not only significant but also must be accounted for. The risks of failure for a nonprofit have much bigger consequences than reporting a slow quarter to shareholders — this is because the bottom line for many charitable organizations affects the quality of life for those they serve.
2. Treat your donors like gold. When the economy sours, individual donors might feel that they have fewer resources to give — especially wealthier benefactors who have large sums of money invested in the stock market. However, it’s important to convey to current donors how much they are appreciated, reminding them that their philanthropic dollars go a long way. Loyal donors deserve personalized recognition at all times, but they should be honored even more so during times when it might be hard to give. Altruism and stewardship drive charity, and donors who are respectfully praised are more willing to continue their tradition of giving.
3. Be innovative. In order to entice donors to give money to your charity, especially during a recession, you must be willing to be flexible in how you spend contributions and think of creative ways to utilize dollars. For example, naming a hospital wing after a potential donor might make someone more inclined to give, compared to putting the money toward new hospital equipment. During a recession, people want to make sure their money is being used well and in a way that will be remembered — in other words, in order for people to reach into their pockets, the return has to be worth their investment. Don’t be afraid to think of out-of-the-box ways to use gifts.
4. Diversify the overall fundraising program. It’s not good business to put all of your financial hopes into one method of fundraising. The broader the range and the more creative your fundraising efforts, the more likely it is you’ll receive donations. At the American Friends of ALYN, we’ve initiated a broad outreach program to educate and raise awareness of ALYN Hospital, as well as diversified the overall fundraising program — a key component to building a lasting and robust nonprofit organization that can stand up to a recession.
5. Pay attention to detail. “The customer is always right” means one thing in a department store and something completely different in nonprofit work, where it means much more. A misspelled name or incorrect salutation in the corporate world might be seen as just a slip or oversight, but in the nonprofit world it can cost you a gift.
So back to the question — what makes a successful nonprofit? The recipe for success is easy: Run it like a for-profit business, only better!
Cathy Lanyard is executive director of the American Friends of ALYN Hospital, a nonprofit organization that supports one of the world’s leading specialist hospitals in the active and intensive rehabilitation of children.