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How to Navigate the Current Economy – or any Financial Crisis – as a Fundraiser

By Craig Shelley posted 08-18-2022 12:30


An uncertain economy. Markets gyrating. World events looming large. It all feels like a lot. And, oddly familiar. We’ve been here before.


In fact, the U.S. economy has undergone 12 financial crises in the last 50 years. That’s one roughly every four years. Whether you’re old enough to have raised money through the “Great Recession,” during the post-9/11 period of very real fear and uncertainty, or were even just working as a fundraiser through the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve been here before and survived. So, let’s not panic!


As we navigate this economic period, recession or not, there are a few things I’d encourage every successful fundraiser to keep in mind.


The long view is still a good view. Much like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. categorized the arc of the moral universe being long and bending towards justice, the arc of the economy tends to bend up and to the right over time. Yes, we’ve seen the market lose significant value this year, however over the past 10-years, the economy has returned great value to investors.


Savvy investors, and most donors of significance who are invested in the markets in some capacity, know that over the next 10-years they should expect the same.


Today is bleak. Tomorrow is not.


Focus your conversations on the long view when approaching your donors during this time. Multi-year gifts, such as planned and blended gifts, are effective tools to keep donors focused in this way.


Your mission matters. If the cause you were raising money for was important six months ago, it is likely just as, if not more, important in today’s climate. Don’t forget that and don’t apologize.


Now is not the time to ease off contact with donors or say “no” on their behalf. Now is the time to engage and be top of mind with stakeholders.


Crises often motivate giving. Donors recognize and respond to innovation with a desire to meet the needs of the moment.


What we saw clearly in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic was that the nonprofits that “paused” contact had the hardest time recovering. The organizations that pushed forward in their efforts, in most cases, raised more money than ever before.


Be aware and care. Pushing forward does not mean ignoring reality. In the Spring of 2008, I was involved in an event honoring one of the leaders at Bear Stearns and had many donors that worked at Lehman Brothers.


It would have been beyond tone deaf to push forward making solicitations as their livelihoods and the institutions they’d built and depended on for years crumbled. The lesson here is to understand what exactly is happening in the economy and how it impacts the lives of your donors.


Now might not be a great time to push the donor who told you last year they’d moved all their money into Bitcoin for a large donation. However, it does not mean you shy away from contacting them. In times of uncertainty like these, open and honest communication matters more than ever before.


If you’ve built authentic relationships with donors (as any good fundraiser would), those relationships should continue.


Whether this is your first or your twelfth time fundraising through a financial crisis, the fundamentals of building and sustaining relationships remain the same. Look towards the horizon, innovate to meet the needs of the moment, and remain open and honest in your communications.


Resilience in times like these will not only help you hone your skills as a fundraiser; it will instill confidence in your support system and, in turn, strengthen your organization.