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10 recession fundraising strategies for your nonprofit

June 24, 2021
Three nonprofit professionals gather around a table to discuss recession fundraising strategies.

During times of economic downturn, your nonprofit organization will need to exercise its creativity to maximize fundraising opportunities. Some of the strategies in this guide are back-to-basics ideas while others are about being frugal and innovative. All are excellent ideas to help your nonprofit weather the storm. 

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1. Practice gratitude.

Acknowledging your donors’ contributions and showing them the impact of their funding is key to retaining your supporters and encouraging long-term support. 

Record a short video telling donors the specific ways their support is helping you further your purpose. As a general rule, plan to send similar videos or emails weekly. When possible, spotlight a tangible example like, “this week your support fed 50 puppies, 30 cats, and two dedicated (but exhausted) adults.”

2. Keep in touch.

There are hundreds of new and free tools to help you connect with supporters digitally. Each month, commit to trying one new virtual communication platform. Platforms like Zoom or Instagram Live are easy to get started with and can help you build more digital touchpoints with donors. After experimenting for several months, choose the platforms that your donors respond best to and continue using them as a part of your fundraising efforts.

3. Take advantage of matching gifts.

With matching gifts, your organization can double the amount you receive from supporters without asking them to contribute more from their own wallets. Instead, they’ll make a gift and their employer will match that gift at a specific ratio. 

Work with your board chair to create a matching gift fund that will drive urgency with challenges and competitions. Think outside of the standard matching gift box and use matching funds to accelerate growth where needed. For instance, you could focus on acquiring new donors or increasing the number of recurring or mid-level donors.

4. Focus on recurring giving.

If starting a monthly giving program has been on your list for months, now is the perfect time to launch it. Monthly gifts provide reliable streams of revenue each month, helping you more accurately budget and forecast your financial future.

Another benefit of monthly giving is that it allows you to spend more time thanking donors and less time asking for funds. Additionally, supporters are more likely to decline a new request for support than they are to stop making monthly gifts to an organization they already support.

5. Check the expiration dates.

Look for ways to save by eliminating outdated, inefficient fundraising activities. Because this is your window to reduce or eliminate programs that require your staff’s valuable time, be thorough and honest with your evaluations. To approach this strategy from a logical perspective, try to source metrics for each fundraising strategy or activity to objectively measure how effective they are.

After you’ve crunched the numbers, use your fundraising software to survey your donors. This way you can get a sense of the activities that really matter to your contacts.

6. Identify backup plans. 

Identify innovative ways that you can create additional revenue streams, source funding, and limit fixed costs. A few ideas might include:

  • Subletting a section of your current office to another nonprofit
  • Selling or donating equipment to a fellow nonprofit 
  • Starting a social enterprise 
  • Developing a cause-marketing partnership with a company

Having a backup plan in place can help you insulate your nonprofit from economic hardships in the event that you aren’t able to raise enough funding to fuel your programs and cover expenses.

7. Collaborate to raise money.

This is an ideal time to host a virtual giving day. Remember, there is strength in numbers. For example, 10 grassroots organizations serving people with disabilities could host one virtual giving day instead of each one having its own. In this case, each nonprofit would likely raise more, hold a higher-quality event, and get more attention than doing it alone. 

8. Be realistic.

You may need to scale back ambitious campaigns and goals in light of economic circumstances. To remain competitive in challenging times, you must persevere. Remember that your purpose is just as significant today as it is during times of prosperity. 

Be sure to keep campaign donors and volunteers in the loop on any goal adjustments to avoid challenges or miscommunications down the road. Fundraising software can help you keep key supporters in the know with features designed to save you time.

9. Avoid emergency solicitations.

Ask donors to support your cause while you are thriving, furthering your purpose, and serving constituents through your programs rather than waiting until you are on the brink of closure. People like to play on a winning team. Let your donors know your organization is ready to work toward its purpose and that their support can reduce the urgent need created by recent economic events.

10. Get social.

The vast majority of Americans use some form of social media at least once a day. Use this habit to your nonprofit’s advantage by posting compelling, relevant content to engage your followers, accelerate the conversion for donors, and increase support for your purpose.

Look for opportunities to increase your following by partnering with companies that have social media followers who overlap with your target audience. This can be a win/win for businesses that are looking to support nonprofit organizations working to make a difference in their community.

Maintain your purpose throughout recession fundraising

Above all, try to stay calm as you navigate economic uncertainties and hardships. Your purpose matters more than ever during a recession, and these tactics (and a smart fundraising strategy) will keep your nonprofit afloat.

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