What Previous Crises Can Teach Us About Navigating the Current Fundraising Environment

Whether it be the tragedy of 9/11, a tsunami, an economic recession, an earthquake in Haiti, a country divided by an election or a devastating bushfire, there are many high-profile events of the past that have threatened to push the fundraising landscape to its limit. From each one of these events, a key fundraising lesson has emerged. By revisiting these lessons, we can assemble a valuable toolkit to aid social good organizations as they navigate this period of uncertainty.

For nonprofits and other social good organizations faced with difficult decisions, fundraising investments are often the first budget line items to be questioned. One key takeaway from past events is that it can take many, many years to rebuild a donor base if that donor base is not maintained.

The new and unique aspect of our current environment is that parts of fundraising programs will need to be for our mutual health and safety. Organizations that leverage live events or face-to-face fundraising programs will need to defer these for now, making the other mechanics of an organization’s fundraising program even more critical.

So, what are some broad lessons from past world events that can be applied to this moment in time?

  1. It’s okay to acknowledge what is happening in the world – donors expect it. But they also know that your mission continues even if you are not on the front lines of what is happening.
  2. If your organization is on the front lines, whether providing social services or health care, tell your donors and the world loudly and proudly what you are doing and engage them for their support. Donors are looking for a way to help.
  3. The world is going to face economic challenges and there are various key metrics to monitor as this happens. Donors in the past have adjusted giving via downgrades. Perhaps they ask for their monthly gift support to be put on pause for 3 months. If an organization understands that this will happen and continues to maintain contact with these donors, they will come out on the other side with a stronger donor.
  4. Monitor your metrics – just as an organization has donor trend analysis in the past, there have always been events that cause big swings from year to year, whether it be an emergency for the international relief sector or an election for an advocacy organization. These events can cause a metric like retention or new donor acquisition to swing up and down. Every organization will now have 2020 swings to navigate, so benchmarking important metrics like donor retention or variances by fundraising channel pre-2020 and post-2020 will be critical to understanding long-term donor impact.

While there is much uncertainty moving forward, one lesson that may emerge from this period is the increasing importance of sustainers to the donor base of an organization. In the last 5 years, organizations across all sectors and sizes have placed an increased focus on acquiring and converting existing donors to monthly donors. Monitoring this population will be critical as organizations navigate the next several months. That is why gathering data on cancellation rates, having language ready to discuss cancellations or pauses in payments, and even continuing to present monthly giving as an option for donors may be key to maintaining a consistent and committed base of donors as we all move forward together.