The secret for nonprofits recovering from a recession - Giving USA

Giving USA 2013 - Fundraising secret to overcoming recession: ask & investYesterday I wrote about Giving USA's 2013 Report and the highlights about giving last year.

At the end of the npVOICES interview with Gregg Carlson of the Giving USA Foundation, Steve MacLaughlin asked for Gregg's impressions for fundraisers. With 50 years of tracking giving, Gregg shared his take away: nonprofits that kept asking for money during the 2007 - 2009 recession and even made investments in fundraising, have recovered from the recession faster and are even seeing record giving levels.

In Gregg Carlson's own words:

It's clear from the results over the last 3 years of improved giving that the charities that continued to provide an opportunity to their family base to make gifts, those charities that continued to invest in fundraising and infrastructure better enabling fundraising to support their mission were the first to come out of the recession. And many of those that did make that a continuing investment in that period are actually at record highs. So when you look at a couple of sectors, they have achieved pre-recession highs. That is healthcare and human services. They made pretty significant investments over the course of the last four or five years. So 'stay at it' would be the message. And look for marginal increases that will set you up for success in the future.

The secret to overcoming dips in giving? Stay at it and keep investing

It's been odd to see nonprofit responses to the Great Recession. I was shocked by the number of organizations that fired their fundraisers. Granted, some of them may have used the recession as an excuse to do something they'd wanted to do for a while. But the seemingly knee-jerk reaction to cut off the many nonprofits largest revenue source - the development office - struck me as ill advised.

Of course, as a fundraising coach, that observation seemed self serving back in the depths of the recession.

But the results are in: the best ways to overcome a recession or a dip in giving is:

  1. Keep asking

    As Carlson puts it, keep providing an opportunity to your family base to make gifts. Don't pull back and stop asking. You may need to ask a bit differently, but you definitely shouldn't stop.

  2. Invest in fundraising

    In the Giving USA studies, even strategic, long-term, marginal investments in fundraising helped charities get out of the hole faster. And those charities that made significant investments are seeing giving at "record highs."

How are you investing?

The take away from this is clear: how are you investing in your fundraising? Whether you're a board member or on staff, learning to fundraise more effectively will help your nonprofit meet and exceed its fundraising goals.

Some fundraising experts like Jeff Brooks suggest that if you were to do nothing other than ask more frequently, you'd raise more money. And you wouldn't irritate your donors like you think you would.

Here are some other options. Sort of a large, medium, and small.

  • Hire a consultant or a trainer

    Consulting can feel like a large investment, but the returns are enormous. If you're looking for a feasibility study, the findings can set you up for success or save you hundreds of thousands in an ill-timed campaign. One tip: hire a consultant that wants to partner with you, not one that speaks down to you. You have to be smart to be where you are. Your consultant should treat you that way. One consulting firm that I've been very impressed with, so much so I've worked with them, is Graham-Pelton Consulting. This firm gets results and helps their clients succeed long after the contract is up.

    Sometimes hiring a fundraising trainer is the right fit. He or she can come in and train your board or your staff on how specific topics like how to ask for money. As the Milton Hospital case study in the case studies section shows, results from even a simple 3-hour training can be phenomenal.

  • Hire a coach

    I originally got into coaching because of the profoundly positive impact coaching has had on my career. Coaching generally is a cost efficient form of investing. Rather than going to a conference and getting general good information, executive coaching give you tactics and training you put into practice. And you get to check in with your coach, continually honing in on the best way for you and your organization to accomplish its goals.

    My coaching clients tell me they love that I have a bigger picture than just their organization. I'm able to share with them trends I'm seeing and figure out how they can capitalize on them. Even more importantly, I'm a "safe person" they can bounce ideas off of in a way they can't to their boss or staff. Unfortunately, in many nonprofits, brainstorming with your boss or the board can lead them to wonder if they actually hired someone that can lead their fundraising efforts. And brainstorming with your staff can sometimes lead them to wonder if you really know how to direct them. But the coach neither hires/fires you nor is looking to you for direction. So coaching calls become wonderful times of testing ideas and tweaking approaches.

    Studies, like that done by CompassPoint, show executive coaching saves nonprofits significant money and helps retain excellent leaders. You can download a PDF of the CompassPoint report at: http://fundraisingcoach.com/articles/ROI.CompassPoint%20Study.pdf

  • Seek quality do-it-yourself training

    There are great products and fundraising books on the market. Those of us that make these products put our best into them. Some such products include my Ask Without Fear! DVD training, the "100 Donors in 90 Days" program, "The Donor Retention Project", and Tom Ahern's new 2-DVD set on Donor Communication. These are less expensive than either coaching or consulting and help you raise more money more easily. But they do require you to put the tools into practice without the outside accountability of coaching or consulting.

    There are many great fundraising and nonprofit marketing blogs on the web. Lots of them, including mine, offer free fundraising training emails or podcasts. Just check the blogroll to the right of this post for some examples. These often only involve an investment in time but can provide excellent results.

    If you use the Flipboard app on your tablet or smartphone, I've created a magazine called "The Fundraiser's Life." In it, I post the best articles I find around the internet on fundraising and nonprofit marketing, with a little time management and travel hacks thrown in. You can subscribe for free at: http://flip.it/Aagzo

However you invest, keep asking

I realize the last section might have sounded like "pitching." As a fundraiser, I never shy away from making an ask!

But however you choose to invest, be sure to keep offering your "family base" the ability to give. Asking is the single most important thing you can do to improve your fundraising results!


One of the greatest fundraisers in the country, Tom Ahern, has just released a 2-DVD set. He's giving his best on fundraising writing and donor communications. To see all he's packed into these DVDs, go to: Tom Ahern's Donor Communication DVDs. It's a steal at the list price but there's a special introductory offering for 50% off between now and June 28, 2013.
About Marc Pitman

Marc A. Pitman is the author of Ask Without Fear!, director of The Nonprofit Academy, and founder of FundraisingCoach.com. A coach to leaders around the world, Marc's expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as Al Jazeera and Fox News. Marc’s experience also includes pastoring a Vineyard church, managing a gubernatorial campaign, and teaching internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family!

Follow him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook.

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