There's no time like a recession to rethink your donor relationships. Even if your institution has its financial back to the wall and all you can see is mounting debt, taking a few steps to deepen the conversation with donors about why what you do is important is never a wasted effort. Your members, program sponsors, volunteers and funders help you when times are good and most appreciate hearing about your institution's challenges when times are tough.
This is not say that it's time to write that desperation letter. In fact, professional fundraisers will tell you never to fundraise with a message of desperation. Donors want to help organizations with a future, not organizations with chronic financial problems or organizations with leadership that is continually in a "sky is falling" mentality. So, if you've got one of these types of letters written to your donors, just tear it up.
To me, rethinking the donor relationship in a time of economic crisis means putting together a simple communications plan that focuses on the relationship more than the fundraising, and that includes:
- determining the number of contacts over the coming 12 months that the organization will make with its donors (this does not include newsletters, event publicity, or other "mass communications")
- establishing what the message of each contact will say -- think of a story line that you could build over a series of contacts
- selecting the medium for the message, i.e., an email blast, a letter, a phone call, a face-to-face meeting (the latter two media might be reserved for major donors, but it might be fun to conduct a phone-a-thon to all your members to just say hello and let them know what you're up to)
Your institution's mission, supported by a focused program, are your two most valuable tools for donor-worthiness. But without the message that communicates their public benefit -- over and over again -- they may as well be hidden like lights under a barrel. Your donors need and want to know you. So, talk to them.
And make them your best friends.
You could be rewarded for it.
Photo: Two People Talking