During the recent pandemic, our clients were impacted by government regulations and by actual health/safety issues. For example, many of our Rescue Mission clients had to radically change how they fed and housed people. This was a factual hardship that we communicated with donors. Clients faced significantly higher expenses to do their work. These expenses were not budgeted, anticipated, or optional. We helped our clients communicate to donors about these realities and donors responded generously. The primary difference between this and the changing landscape of the Great Recession of 2008-09 is that these were health and safety issues driven completely by outside forces. Our clients couldn’t tighten their budgets or make better choices. The fact that donors understood the issues and responded is validation for this strategy change.
Original 2009 Post:
Many ministries and non-profits were hit hard by the economic crash of 2008. But not every one. One of Oneicity’s new clients doubled its net income from direct mail in the 4th Quarter of 2008 when compared to 4th Quarter of 2007. Right in the middle of the crashing economy, they doubled their NET income! Our client had a mature direct mail program but needed a few critical changes to realize great results in a bad time.
So how can your organization deal with the downturn? These 5 principles will put you on the road to growth in 2009.
1. Stop talking about how bad your organization has been hit by the recession. Unless your donors have been living on a small island in middle of the Pacific, they know it’s been tough. Do you really want to remind them of how ugly their brokerage statement looks compared to this time last year? Candidly, they don’t give to you to help you out of a financial bind. A few donors will give more to help you in a crisis like this but most won’t. Even fewer will stay with you over any length of time where the primary message they are hearing from you is how difficult it is. Stop talking about the recession (or downturn or whatever you’re calling it).
2. Start talking about the needs you are addressing. The temptation is to focus on all the great results you’ve had in the last few months. You might want to say, “In spite of the terrible economy we have continued to….” Bad plan. Your donors will be gratified that you are doing good things but need is what will keep them engaged with your cause. If you are a rescue mission, talk about how many more families are coming for help—families that until a few months ago were supporting themselves but now find that they can’t make it without your help. Donors are pleased with results, but they write checks to solve a problem, right a wrong or correct an injustice.
3. Focus on vision, values and value. In difficult times it is easy to lose sight of why your organization exists. Keep the CEO’s vision in front of your donors. Succinctly state what you’re about. Can everyone give your “elevator speech”? Are you focused on the values that are central to organization? Why are you different? What is unique about your services or mission? Finally, are you explaining to your donors how efficiently you are doing your work?
4. Build relationships. Get those receipts and thank you’s in the mail! Appreciate the donors who gave during the last few months. Honor them. If you know of donors who have experienced setbacks, minister to them. Listen to their struggles. Show you care about them beyond their ability to write you a check. Even if a gift isn’t forthcoming, they will never forget that you put the relationship above money. And you will have made a friend for your organization for life.
5. Ask. The temptation in bad times is to back off and stop asking a donor to give. Don’t even think about deferring an ask or apologizing for asking. If you are saving souls, rescuing children or changing hearts then you have the responsibility to ask a donor to help. If you are incorporating items 1 through 4 above, your ask will be well received. Don’t ask for the donor to pay the light bill—ask them to save a life or feed a child. These are times for lofty goals and breath-taking vision.
These principles are tried and true. Whether you are a radio station or a missionary organization, a rescue mission or a child sponsorship ministry, follow these 5 principles and you’ll weather this storm and maybe even prosper in tough times.
Photo Credit: Jevgēnijs Šlihto