Charities can succeed during tough economic times

Originally posted on 12/8/08 at…economic-times/.



Charities can succeed during tough economic times


We find ourselves in the middle of very interesting and uncertain economic times. As with many businesses, the sluggish economy is showing its effects on the non-profit sector. Americans donated $306.4-billion in 2007, but fund raising is encountering challenges, especially as the auto, housing and financial-services industries continue to crumble, food costs rise, and the stock market’s volatility strains individuals and businesses.


Charitable organizations are beginning to report figures that are short of goals, many of which are due to delayed, reduced or discontinued contributions. Donors are keeping closer eyes on their financial portfolios and less about charitable giving.


Non-profit organizations are responding in different ways. A fair number are playing the “safe” card and maintaining a status-quo approach until the swells taper. Others are cutting staff, beginning with fundraising and marketing officers. Unfortunately, these organizations fail to see the opportunity that lies beneath the layer of uncertainty.


Despite these economic uncertainties non-profit leaders may want to consider taking closer looks at their organizations and acting proactively. The answers to organizational success may be closer than they think. Here are a few suggestions to inspire thought and action to steer organizations in the right direction.


Reach out to leadership. It’s vital that organizations be led by strong leaders. This person or group of people will guide charitable organizations through a clear plan, which includes enhancing the board, integrating comprehensive marketing and fundraising strategies and focusing on funding opportunities.


Enhance the level of board involvement. Make it a point to share information and invite increased participation from the organization’s board of directions. The board should become more of a resource and help increase giving and create opportunities.


Continue managing annual and major giving campaigns. The important thing is to keep on task and continue managing major gift cultivation and fundraising. When the recession ends, these organizations will be further ahead of the curve than most others.


Build strong relationships with donors. Whether they’re past or current donors, take some time to truly cultivate their financial and voluntary participation. These people will be ready to step to the plate when they’re financially ready. Don’t lose sight on regularly seeking new supporters.


Plan for donors to be savvy about giving and the use of their funds. Accountability will be the watchword and the use and impact of donations will be regularly reviewed. Many will be more strategic with their giving, thus guiding them to create structured giving plans and develop relationships with targeted organizations.


Communicate regularly. Keep constituents informed of the organization’s health, programs and needs. Use both traditional and the growing social media avenues to share news, invite participation, and challenge the interest and involvement of constituents.


By making the right choices, such as reinforcing core values and mission, personally connecting with contributors and leveraging new opportunities, success can be achieved. Simply “playing it safe” could easily create more harm, thus distancing organizations further away from their missions. Moving forward, organizational leaders may want to consider the following questions…and more:

  • Are there ways to improve operations?
  • What is the state of our finances, including investments?
  • Which programs/activities truly connect to your mission?
  • How are these programs/activities managed and assessed?
  • Are we managing our most important relationships?
  • Are we involving our board members and using them appropriately?


How often do we connect with our funders?  


We can do it! Organizational leaders have an opportunity to publicly show the strength of the non-profit community. Making a difference in our communities is an incredible profession. Whether we’re leading organizations, raising funds or managing programs, serving our community is incredibly meaningful experience. Though times are scary, our obligation is to maintain positive frames of mind and show our strengths. This requires tapping into the basics of non-profit management, working harder and building relationships.

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