Now What?

A Nonprofit Expert’s Guide to Thriving in Today’s Economy

From abused animals to homelessness, from poverty and disease to academic inequity and environmental challenges, America is unique in its capacity to create and support organizations that address the wide spectrum of concerns and need that face our families, neighborhoods, communities and country.

There are more than 1.5 million nonprofits in America caring for veterans, rebuilding towns, mentoring youth, protecting natural resources, fighting catastrophic illnesses, responding to violence against women and children, and so much more.  And the current severe economic crisis has resulted in a double-whammy for many of those agencies: as the demand for their services, support and advocacy increases, they find themselves struggling to cope with a significant decrease in the resources necessary to meet those needs.   In a nutshell, nonprofits have found it necessary to do more with less.

Traditionally, nonprofits, both large and small, have counted heavily on foundation grants, but many foundations have lost a high percentage of their assets due to the stock market plunge, forcing them to scale back their grant-making activities.  Corporate giving has been similarly impacted – with earnings sinking, companies find themselves in the position of barely being able to honor current commitments and pledging fewer and smaller gifts. And another fundraising staple has hit the skids – gala auctions and dinners and high-priced golf tournaments are no longer the panacea they once were.

So, what to do?  Well, first of all, don’t panic! Rather, with courage and conviction, reach into that bag of tricks that you always carry with you and remember: “Obstacles can’t stop you.  Problems can’t stop you.  Most of all, other people can’t stop you.  Only you can stop you!”

Next, with necessity being the mother of invention, it’s time to think creatively about how best to use your volunteers, create programs and projects that will generate new sources of income, and increase donations from existing and potential donors.

Let’s revisit Carl Richardson’s Ten Immutable Laws of the Fundraising Universe:

Law #1: No group of individuals is waiting to give (also known as the Law of the Nonexistent They).  You have to inform, educate, cultivate, and ASK!

Law #2: Fundraising is a conversation between funded and funder (it’s marketing in its purest form –someone has something to offer and someone is interested in the thing that’s being offered – even if they’re not the direct beneficiary).

Law #3: Effective fundraising is a result of telling your story (be visible and active in the community and establish your identity).  Use the internet to its full advantage; encourage everyone in the organization, including board members and staff and volunteers, to enthusiastically spread the word.

Law #4: People give to people (it’s all about relationships – do you know what motivates potential donors, or if a pledge readjustment might be helpful to a major donor; do your donors feel valued?)

Law #5: Someone must ask for the money (this is a big one!)  People don’t like asking for donations for a variety of reasons and since this law, Law #5, is the key, the big kahuna, the one that makes the wheels go round, let’s see if we can overcome some of them:

  • Fear of rejection.  Don’t take ‘no’ personally.  It’s no different than if you asked someone to join you for a round of golf or a coffee at Starbucks and they turned you down.  People have valid reasons for not doing something that almost always has nothing to do with you.
  • It feels like begging.  Fundraising gives people an opportunity to support something they believe in – in essence, they’re paying you to do work they believe in but cannot do themselves.
  • It’s embarrassing to ask low-income people because they can’t give.  85% of all donations are given by families with annual incomes under $60,000 – so spend as much time as possible on those gifts of $100 to $1,500, they’re substantial to the donor and should be recognized as such.
  • It’s hard to ask.  You’re not asking for yourself, you’re asking for something you believe in, that you’re passionate about, that you support, so ask your friends and family to join you – hope for a ‘yes,’ but be okay with a ‘no.’
  • If I ask them, they’ll ask me.  That might happen, but you’re only obligated to use a donor’s gift in an ethical manner and to thank them.

Law #6: An organization cannot thank a donor enough (there is nothing more important than prompt and personal  acknowledgement of a gift).   An old Chinese custom is to thank someone seven times when they give you a gift, so get creative and think of seven inexpensive ways to recognize your donors – from an initial phone call to say their check has arrived, to a note from the volunteer who solicited the donation, to an invitation to a donor appreciation event.

Law #7: Seek investments not donations (position your organization as strong, effective and efficient, as opposed to struggling and unreliable, inviting the funder or donor to be your partner in achieving the desired outcome).

Law #8: Donors (or investors) are developed, not born (by nurturing a strong connection with prospects, we can develop their interest in the organization’s success and grow their interest in giving).

Law #9: Fundraising out of desperation is futile (as noted in Law #7, people don’t want to be involved with organizations that are perceived as unable to manage themselves and incapable of doing the work.)  “We need” is nowhere near as compelling as “we’re succeeding and doing the job!”

Law #10: In the best of circumstances, people will do what they please (also known as the Law of Uncertainty).  So smile, be optimistic, and persevere.

The generosity of Americans is unequalled anywhere in the world.  Harnessing that generosity requires planning, flexibility, diversity, building awareness and confidence in your organization, and consistent, personalized stewardship of those who believe in your cause.  Go get ‘em!

To learn more about how we can help your organization succeed during these challenging times, contact us at