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4 Ways to Make Your Donor Relations Recession-Proof

Posted: 10/3/2022

Click here to read on Chronicle of Philanthropy

By Jon Biedermann

No one knows precisely what the economy will look like in the weeks and months ahead, but volatility is likely. Although charitable giving and the number of people making contributions increased during the height of the pandemic, giving is expected to ebb soon, as it did during the Great Recession, the dot.com meltdown, and the crash of 1987. In fact, the most recent Fundraising Effectiveness Report indicates that charitable giving has fallen since last year.

However, you can take steps to recession-proof your donor relations and set your nonprofit on a course of financial sustainability. Here are a few ways to do this.

Survey your donors.

Keeping donors is always easier than acquiring new ones, yet donor retention hovers around 40 percent for most groups. Some of the top reasons people don't give again are within a nonprofit's control:

  • Donors are never asked to give again.
  • Supporters do not feel appreciated.
  • Nonprofits don't tell donors what their gifts accomplish.

Before you can do a good job of keeping donors informed, you must spend a little time getting to know them. Ask donors about their involvement with your work, keep track of the information, and sort them based on a host of activities, such as:

  • A campaign they supported.
  • The amount they contributed in a year.
  • Frequency with which they volunteer.
  • How they became connected to your organization.

Next, group donors based on their behaviors, and consider inviting them to an event or activity. Prepare a personalized invitation that acknowledges their history with your organization such as:
"We appreciate your support of our Spring Fling Gala. We'd like to invite you to a tour on October 1 after our Fun Run."

A tailored message like this is more likely to elicit a favorable response than a generic invitation because when people feel connected, they are more likely to invest in your work.

Be creative about showing thanks — and generous about what warrants recognition.

Here are a few ideas based on groups with a variety of missions.

  • Create a club for people who bought tickets to your gala for three years, five years, or 10 years or for those who donated for a similar length of time.
  • Recognize donors and volunteer fundraisers at events. This could take the form of a special race bib or a route sign during an athletic fundraising event or a photo shoot with organization leaders.
  • Ask board members' employers to write a profile about them and their work with your group or to nominate them for a professional award.
  • Use social media or a special section of an e-newsletter to post your thanks regularly.
  • Recognize nonmonetary contributions such as making a connection with a sponsor, hosting a registration table at a community event, or volunteering.
  • When you send a message of appreciation, don't ask for money — just say thanks.

Improve Your Storytelling.

Donors are investing in your mission. To keep them engaged, continually highlight why your mission matters. Sharing the stories of your constituents, volunteers, donors, and organizational impact shows that your nonprofit is worthy of support.

Each story should have characters, conflict, and resolution. Regularly share details about your characters (the people, places, or things that you serve and support) and how your organization helps solve their problems.

When you plan and expand storytelling, you give donors the information they need to build trust in your nonprofit. The more ways you show how your mission is making a difference in your community, the greater the likelihood that your donors will continue giving — no matter the economic climate.

Create sustainable growth.

To find success as inflation, wages, and unemployment fluctuate, you must resist short-term cuts and focus on long-term gains. Here are a few ways to do this.

Audit your tools.According to a recent survey, nearly eight in 10 nonprofit professionals say their organization is paying for tools that are underutilized. And six in 10 have bought specialized technology to fulfill a singular need. Improve your net revenue by analyzing the functionality of the technology you have available. More likely than not, you have fundraising tools at your disposal that can better support your donor-engagement plans.

Establish a monthly-giving program. Technology exists that can easily automate monthly donations. Send monthly donors special newsletters, give them unique name tags or ribbons at events, provide special access to tours, and share registration-discount codes, and so on. Donors who give at regular intervals have twice the retention rate of one-time donors, and their lifetime value is two to 10 times higher!

Plus, a healthy monthly-giving program frees up fundraisers to do less asking and more thanking, and it creates a pool of committed supporters who may become major donors.

Expand your timeline.Not every nonprofit has the bandwidth to create large-scale campaigns from scratch. Plus, doing so is risky during uncertain times. Instead, consider asking your board or other high-level volunteers to host events, linked to a central fundraising theme, to increase your audience and bring in more revenue. Examples include:

  • A scavenger hunt in which participants tag your organization and post selfies as they collect items.
  • A pre-event high-ticket-item raffle that is publicized to your network.
  • A ticketed virtual cooking demonstration or a recipe competition with a donation required to participate.

Your mission matters more than ever during a recession, but difficult economic times don't have to involve overworking your staff or overextending your supporters.

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