Wednesday, 28 January 2009

What will your donors do next and what can your charity do about it?

Hard economic times have been dominating the news and the fundraising blogs for some time now. So what will donors do next and what can your charity do about it?

Here are some thoughts from our McConkey Johnston consulting team from both sides of the Atlantic – and since we are holding our annual brainstorm meeting in a few days there will be plenty more insights and reflections to come… so stay tuned.

1. Aim to be in the top three charities in your donor’s mind

In troubled economic times, many donors will narrow their focus of giving to fewer charities rather than spread their giving to many. And they will be less likely to support new charities. This will undoubtedly affect some charities.

But, donors will keep giving to the charities where they have a meaningful connection. Therefore your charity’s relationship with every donor is vital. Barry McLeish, our seasoned marketing and fundraising guru advises “Aim to be in the top three favorite charities on your donor’s list of giving options. There is nothing wrong with asking them if you are in the top three and if not, what it would take for you to get there.”

Another piece of advice to our charity clients is: “Get in line, stay in line, get to the front of the line in your donors minds and hearts.”

Economic crisis or not, you always get to the “front of the line” through cultivating strong relationships with your donors. So use phone calls, personal visits to major donors and even regional events to solidify personal connection.

Work hard to make sure your charity is one your donors feel positively connected to. These relationships will set you apart from the others and build donor loyalty.

2. Shed off extra programmes and focus on essentials

In a time of hyper competition for funds, today’s sophisticated donors are going to look at various charities and spot those they feel are best managed and able to make a real difference. So, the days when charities would be doing OK without putting forth compelling arguments about how distinctive and valuable they are have long gone.

Hence, if you want your charity to weather the economic storm successfully then you need to tighten your mission statement and put forth a more compelling case for support.

If support for your charity in recent months has dwindled and is requiring you to cut programmes and costs, our advice would be to stick with the fundamentals of what you are about and shed off secondary initiatives or activities.

Donors will support charities that can explain to them clearly why what they do is unique and essential for the beneficiaries and their communities.

3. Strengthen your fundraising team

Your donors are linked to relationships with your CEO, fundraising staff and volunteers - they and you are one big network or family or partnership whatever you want to call it. If raising funds depends on the quality of your donor relationships, then encourage those who
manage them.

Although encouraging fundraisers seems such a obvious thing to do - some charities are cutting down their fundraising budgets, making staff redundant and taking other actions that generally lower the morale of their fundraising teams.

But as Barry McLeish observes, “smart charity leaders should invest more in fundraising when economic times get tough, not less.”

While your fundraising programme may need to be “fine tuned” through better training or management, it makes no sense to cut it at the time when your fundraising success most depends on it. Instead, reduce your charity’s programmes in areas that are not absolutely central to your mission.

4. Recognise your donor’s need to give

Some charity leaders believe that asking for a charitable gift is like taking food off the donors table. This “We win, you lose” mentality ignores the deep seated emotional need of the donor to give, even during tough times.

When funds are slow in coming in, it is easy to fall into a mental trap that says “we need the donor’s money.” Instead, fundraisers should remember the words of Jesus who said ‘it is more blessed to give, than to receive.’

The donor’s need to give is greater than our need to receive it.” And when they give sacrificially to support your cause, they can bond even more with your charity.

In the long run, keeping donor relationships alive will depend on their belief that your charity really makes a difference, and their personal relationship with you. Do all you can to strengthen both!

And in the words of Mr Jones from Dad's Army... 'Don't Panic'... stay focused and passionate about your job.

Redina Kolaneci
Senior Fundraising Consultant
McConkey-Johnston International UK

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