Keep donors engaged and giving using appropriate communications strategies

By Kyle Schnurbusch, Strategy Director

With many experts suggesting that an economic downturn is looming, it can be unnerving for nonprofit communications and fundraising professionals. However, an economic decline can inspire fresh ideas and reinforce the effectiveness of certain communications and fundraising strategies at your organization. Here are five strategies to consider in an economic downturn

1. Elevate donor communications focused on mission education and impact.

Communication that showcases your organization’s resilience and drive to make an impact during uncertain financial times is very important. Donors want to know their investment in your mission is being utilized no matter the circumstance. They understand the work can’t stop, and you must provide them with peace of mind that your mission is moving ahead.

Increasing your client storytelling and regularly displaying your outcomes with timely metrics make for great content that can keep your donors and supporters close during turbulent times. By increasing the frequency of such content, you provide more opportunities for donors to make a gift or offer support as well. However, the objective of these communications should not be fundraising-focused.

2. Focus on strengthening relationships with your existing donors, not acquiring new ones.

Some fundraisers have a tendency to pull back their asks during an economic downturn. However, statistics show that existing donors still give during these times, and many give more if they’re able. With that in mind, it’s a great idea to strengthen your relationship with them. Personalizing your fundraising communications to maintain or even upgrade your low and mid-level donors is crucial. In your communications, share information about your sustainers giving club for donors not yet members. It’s important to consistently express the difference an incremental gift could make to your mission as well.

Again, personalization is critical in your communications to your donors. You should recognize the financial impact they’ve made in the past in your communications. For larger opportunities, try to incorporate a donor’s interests and giving motivations in your messaging.

Extra tip: Remember to end your communications with an ask. (Example: Would you consider an increase of $X in your giving this year to help us increase the number of financial literacy counseling for fathers in the months ahead?)

3. Create a matching program, led by board members or large donors, to sustain lower-level giving.

If your board members are great financial stewards of your organization, establish a matching fund as part of their giving for the year to encourage low-level donors (or even first-time donors) to give during an economic downturn. When donations are matched one-to-one, donors feel they’re making a bigger difference, which is key when their giving might not be at the same level as past years.

It’s a great idea to connect your matching initiative to the timing of a larger fundraising or cause-awareness event (i.e. a national giving day, cause awareness day/month, organization’s anniversary) to make the campaign more meaningful to donors. Also, make sure the matching campaign is well-supported with communications, and give it an end date to create structure and urgency.

4. Keep saying “thank you.”

There’s never a bad time to say “thank you” to your donors. Sharing your gratitude for their loyalty to your mission preserves community and could bring joy to donors in a troubling time. You never know what challenges they may be facing, and your appreciation for them goes a long way.

Extra tip: If your internal capacity allows, write handwritten notes to the top 20% of your donors by three-year average giving amount. The extra time and personalization could encourage larger or additional gifts.

5. Keep bringing supporters together.

An economic downturn shouldn’t be a time to discontinue your organization’s marquee fundraising events targeting sustained, mid-to-large donors. In a down economy, your organization has the ability to bring your supporter community together and provide special moments of inspiration and maybe even perspective. Remember that an economic downturn could mean better negotiation power for your organization when acquiring a venue and vendors for the event.

Extra tip: Through the years, it’s been our experience that first-time events should not be planned and held during an economic downturn. New events that are planned and committed before a downturn are fine.

What are some fundraising and communications strategies you recommend during an economic downturn?