On average, the U.S. economy goes into a recession every 5-7 years.
Pretty depressing, no?
But that’s how things work. Growth hits a peak and then the downward trend takes over. The U.S.- and the global economy - experienced unprecedented growth for most of the last decade. We were due for some rough times. No one of course could have predicted a global pandemic and the economic ruin it caused.
What perplexes me is how each recession finds many nonprofits completely unprepared, unsure of what to do next or how to survive. It’s crisis and panic mode only. Why is that?
Have we already forgotten the dot com bust of 2001 or the great recession of 2008? Surely there has to be a better way!
Your organization’s 2020 may have stunk but I’m a big believer in #AlwaysBeLearning. As we’re a couple of months into 2021, there are lessons we can learn from the craziness we endured last year.
Planning And Strategizing
Every nonprofit should have a fundraising and marketing plan, which takes into account both the short and long-term. It means planning for the next rainy day: having enough funds in reserve so that when times get tough, you can continue to provide services to community members who need it most while simultaneously keeping your staff on the payroll.
No better time than today to conduct a planning session! It’s a good team exercise, a chance for everyone to participate, brainstorm and think ahead. Get their minds off the here and now.
Here are five lessons learned from 2020 and how they can help your organization going forward. It’s not just about survival. It’s about thrival. (And yes, it’s a word I made up but it works.)
1) Diversify Your Fundraising Portfolio
If you had money to invest, would you dump it all into Tesla stock? Or would your investment advisor tell you to diversify your portfolio - maybe some stocks, some real estate, some mutual funds. And of course today’s hottest investment, whatever the Reddit page WallStreetBets is telling everyone to buy.
Fundraising is no different. If a gala event was your main source of revenue, you may have had quite the rough year in 2020. But if you “invested” in raising money via direct mail, email marketing, foundation giving, monthly giving, corporate partnerships, online giving, gifts in wills, stocks and more, then you’re set up for success. A diversified fundraising portfolio for your organization is an absolute must, now and for tomorrow.
Just because “this is how we’ve done it for the last 38 years” doesn’t mean that should dictate how you continue to run your organization.
Nonprofits who were nimble, creative, quick thinking and agile thrived in 2020. They saw the storm, didn’t flinch and went full speed ahead. They figured out how to offer programming in a virtual format, they moved in-person meetings to phone and Zoom, let their staff work remotely, and came up with ideas not only to keep the lights on but to move forward.
Need an example? This sanctuary farm combined goats and Zoom to make up for lost revenue from admissions. Simple idea, brilliant execution.
How much information do you share with donors? Board members? How about your employees?
Let’s use your foundation partners as an example: Foundation X funded program Y at your organization and to say the least it’s not going well. Do you
a) Not tell the funder?
b) Not tell the funder until the end of the funding cycle?
c) Tell the funder as soon as possible.
You chose C, right? Good. Being honest and candid with donors goes a long way. When times are tough, donors will remember that you didn’t hide from them, that you openly communicated with them.
Honesty really is the best policy.
This applies to your general communications as well. When relevant, share the challenges you’re facing but also map out your plan to overcome those obstacles. No one’s life is picture perfect. Everyone has problems/issues/troubles they’re facing. Share.
This is nothing new. Retention is cheaper than acquisition. Keeping current donors costs less than going out and finding new ones. And yet the sector average retention rate hovers around an abysmal 45%.
*insert meme of person screaming WHYYYYYYY up at the sky*
Think about what just transpired in 2020. You were scrambling to find donors to help cover your losses. If your retention rate had been a robust 75% or above, you would’ve had fewer sleepless nights.
Starting today, put an emphasis on retention. Communicate more with current supporters. Show proper gratitude when they donate. Send them impact reports so they can see how their donation is helping solve a problem for people in the community.
It’s not rocket science. It’s simple math: More retention = higher lifetime giving. The next rainy day won’t be as bad as last year was.
5) 2-way street
I can’t preach this enough: If the only time you are in touch with donors or funders is when you have an ask, close up shop.
During 2020, did your organization call donors and ask them how THEY were doing? Whether THEY and THEIR families were safe and healthy? What assistance could your organization provide for THEM? We’ve done that for family and friends. Why not for donors?
Fundraising is about building relationships that will stand the test of time. Wanna plan for the future? Stop holding your hand out and start figuring out how you can help your donors.
Here’s a simple example from the American Cancer Society. It’s part of their call-to-action as they encourage people to subscribe to their e-newsletter: “Receive research updates, inspiring stories, healthy living tips and more.” They’re not just asking for a donation. They’re going to keep you informed (are we closer to a cure?), educate you (what should I be eating to help ward off cancer?) and inspire you.
Your donors were anxious and stressed throughout 2020. Some of them may have lost their jobs and were facing a financial crunch. Your job as an organization is to help them in THEIR time of need. I guarantee they’ll remember that down the road.
It’s Gonna Rain
You might not be ready for it but a rainy day is coming again. Do you have an umbrella? Because to be honest, 2027 isn’t looking that great.