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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

The Tough Get Going!

By Brydon M. DeWitt

When Times Are Tough

“May you live in interesting times,” goes the old Chinese wish. It was not meant to be a blessing, but a curse, and we may be experiencing its effects as we hear reported more and more bad economic news.

Whether or not our economy is in the terrible shape being reported, the effect of the constant barrage these stories have on us – individually and as a society – creates a mindset that the world as we have known it is collapsing around us. We are not only concerned about ourselves and our families, but we in the nonprofit sector wonder what will become of our organizations which are needed to deliver vital services to our clients.

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We have good reason for concern – but panic is not the answer to weathering this economic storm or becoming stronger when the sun shines again. Part of the difficulty in keeping the current financial crisis in perspective is that most of us have not experienced a deep recession. For the past 35 years, the United States has had a long period of economic growth with only a few mild and short lived recessions. Some of us, however, were raising friends and funds in the 1970’s when the word “stagflation” was coined to describe double-digit inflation and interest rates. And, most of us succeeded not only in meeting and growing our annual fundraising goals, but we successfully completed capital campaigns. Therefore, in these times as in times past, we need to take concrete action steps to keep our organizations healthy.

Action Steps for Organizational Health

The suggested action steps that follow should be standard operating procedure regardless of the nation’s economic health.

1. Review your mission statement to make certain that it is current, clear, compelling, and memorable.

2. Get your internal case statement up to date and review it with your Board members and significant volunteers. Is everyone on the same page when describing your organization? Do they know what key points to make? Can you and they answer the question: “If you didn’t exist today, would the work you do be missed and by whom?”

3. Make certain that you are operating as efficiently as possible. Demonstrate financial accountability, focus on quality program delivery, reduce expenses, and cut out any frills. Ask your staff members for help with this internal assessment. The first thought should not be cutting back on employees, but, with them, look for ways to save while continuing to deliver quality services.

4. Have a mindset of abundance. Look for new ways for individuals to be involved with your organization through volunteering. There may be several additional ways that you can include people who appreciate the importance of your organization in supporting staff members.

5. Examine your current publications to determine:

  • If the publication has a core purpose to continue to be produced;
  • If the content is appropriate to the constituency;
  • If your message can be disseminated in a more effective way and with cost savings;
  • If there are other ways not currently being utilized to get your message to the right people.

6. Aggressively tell the story of your organization to your constituency. This is the time to get your message out to those who understand and appreciate what you do and make concerted efforts to expand your prospect pool. Board members and other volunteers can be especially helpful in cultivation/information activities that can include:

    Hosting small group gatherings of their friends to acquaint them with your organization. These can be as simple as a coffee in a volunteer’s office to a luncheon, cocktail, or dinner party;

    Scheduling one-on-one meetings with key persons who are knowledgeable of community leaders to introduce your organization, help refine your message, and get names of others who would be interested in your mission;

    Making presentations to their church and civic groups or inviting the CEO or development officer to speak.

7. Continue your annual, major, and planned giving programs. Now is not the time to be timid, but forthrightly to state your case and need for financial support. As the research indicates, people will give to organizations that are important to them – sometimes increasing their giving – when economic times are rough. Remember, however, that you must describe your need for money in terms of how it meets your prospects’ needs to respond.

8. Think creatively, recognizing there are new tools to raise friends and funds. Use this time to research the new methods in social networking and advocacy. New generations of donors are responding to new technologies for communications and fundraising. An interactive and engaging web site, e-newsletters, and even direct e-mail annual fund solicitations should be considered if you are to connect with a younger and technological savvy generation of new donors.

In all the ways you tell your story and ask for money, be honest about your organization’s health and what is required to continue to deliver your services. It seems unnecessary to say this, but it is important both for your current and long term success to be absolutely truthful with your staff members, Board members, and donors.

Cockeyed Optimists

To be successful and happy in nonprofit service, we must be positive and optimistic people. There may be pessimists among us, but they do not last long in this environment. After all, every nonprofit was and is a great leap of faith that what is being done is so important that it not only requires our best efforts but will attract others in support of the mission. Our optimism and our positive natures are especially important in recessions. We cannot be Pollyannaish, but we must be positively realistic to provide the strength of leadership that will see our nonprofit organizations through and maintain the level of service that our clients must have.

Brydon M. DeWitt, President of DeWitt & Associates, Inc., has been development professional for 37 years.  As a consultant, he has provided guidance in building stronger development programs and conducting successful capital campaigns for colleges, schools, and other nonprofit organizations throughout the United States.  He has given seminars for nonprofit boards, CEO’s, and development officers and has taught continuing education courses for Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond.  For more information, visit www.dewittandassociates.com/.



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