Five communications strategies for fundraising in an economic downturn

How to keep donors engaged and giving using appropriate strategies

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. Prioritize donor communications focused on mission education and impact.

Communication that showcases your organization’s resilience and drive to make an impact during uncertain times is very important. Donors want to know their investment in your mission is being utilized no matter the circumstance. They believe your 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 main objective of these communications should be stewardship, not fundraising.

2. Focus on strengthening relationships with your existing donors.

Some organizations 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 with your donors. Make space in your communications to recognize the financial impact they’ve made in the past. For large donor upgrade opportunities, incorporate a donor’s organizational interests and personal 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 serve more fathers through our financial literacy counseling?)

3. Create a matching program, led by board members or large donors, to engage and retain lower-level donors.

Hopefully, your organization’s board members are great financial contributors. If so, establish a matching program made up of their gifts for the year to encourage low-level donors (or even first-time donors) to give. When donations are matched one-to-one (or even 2x and 4x), these donors are attracted to making a bigger difference, a feeling they might not have enjoyed if they planned to pause or reduce their giving because of financial hardship.

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, or 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 brings 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 (based on a three-year average giving amount). The extra time and personalization could encourage increased or added 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 our experience that inaugural events should be delayed if planned during an economic downturn if possible.

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