It’s hard to escape the dark cloud of these difficult economic times. Marketing your nonprofit—challenging enough during good economic times—may seem nearly impossible during this recession.
What can a nonprofit, with limited staff and resources, do to maintain or even strengthen its marketing efforts?
Because individual giving accounts for 85% of donations to nonprofits, the key is to put even more attention on using marketing to strengthen your relationships with your donors—making sure they understand who you are and what you are doing, and that they feel appreciated for supporting your mission. It’s not about spending more money, but putting energy and emphasis into making your donors feel appreciated. Here are 10 tips to help your organization weather the storm.
1. Find new entry points
Increase opportunities for your donors to become involved in your organization besides donations. Look for ways they can be active in committees, events, volunteer opportunities or online communities. Your donors want to stay involved, even if they can’t make a monetary donation. Make sure there are opportunities for them to stay connected, so when they are able to make a gift, they will think of your organization.
2. Create opportunities for direct contact
When donors feel unsure about their own financial future, they tend to hold back on donations. Get close to your donors with phone calls (to thank and update them), and invite them to tours or to breakfast or lunch meetings a few times a year. Try monthly thank you lunches for 10 to 12 donors at your office. Include a tour or a meeting with current or former clients, if appropriate.
3. Stay in touch
Monthly e-newsletters are low-cost ways to stay in touch with your donors and let them know what is going on in the organization. Also consider creating online communities of donors or supporters on social networking sites like Facebook. This is a low- or no-cost way to inform donors and keep them connected to your organization and its mission, and to other supporters.
4. Rethink the definition of “major” gifts
If you consider a gift of $1,000 a “major” gift, consider changing that definition to a lower value, say $500. This will give you a larger pool of donors to cater to in more personal ways. Or consider a plan to focus resources on a specific group of donors, such as those in the $200-$250 range and provide more personal contact than you normally would.
5. Consider sponsorships or underwriting
Instead of asking for corporate donations, which are likely to decline during a recession, consider sponsorships or underwriting. Offer corporations advertising space on your Web site, signage at events or other opportunities to spread their message instead of a straight donation. Corporations are struggling too and are looking to maximize marketing budgets. Reach out to corporations that share your values or your target audiences.
6. Develop and follow a fundraising or communications plan
With a plan in place, it is easier to stay focused and maintain momentum. Plans also give you permission to say “no” to off-target ideas that often become a time or budget drain.
7. Take no donor for granted
Focus your marketing efforts on renewing gifts from current donors instead of acquiring new ones. Recruiting new donors takes more money and time than keeping current ones. Make sure your donors know that all donations, no matter the size, are worthwhile. If donors have less to give and they are determining whom they can let go, don’t let it be your organization.
8. Maximize all your strategies
Use all strategies available to you. This can include recruiting volunteers to make phone calls, online giving, public relations, media relations and events. Take every opportunity to reassure donors and share positive messages about your organization and its future.
If you have a social enterprise (e.g. gift shop, ticket sales, classes), make sure you are cross-promoting your organization’s mission to those consumers. And make sure all your donors know that supporting your social enterprise can be a great way to support your organization. Also consider cross-promotions with local businesses, which are feeling the pinch as well. How about a promotional night at a neighboring restaurant where a certain percentage of sales goes to your organization? The restaurant gets new business and you get to promote your organization and raise funds.
10. Clearly communicate the work you are doing—and its impact
Everything you know and practice about marketing and branding becomes even more important right now. Carefully craft messages and deliver them consistently. Share your record of making real impact in the community and give specific examples through stories or testimonials. Keep your Web site updated with fresh stories of your work and its impact on those you serve. It is more important than ever that your donors understand what you do and how they are helping advance the mission of your organization.
Nonprofits can survive downturns when they have solid and compelling cases for support. Donors will continue to give, even in difficult times, so make sure they feel connected to your mission and that their gifts are appreciated. Now is the time to refocus marketing efforts to ensure that donors understand the value of their contributions and feel engaged in your organization.
This article was excerpted from PR News' Guide to Best Practices in Nonprofit Communications. Please visit PR News Press for a full catalog of PR News Guidebooks.
Maryanne Dersch is a strategist at 501creative, a communications and design firm that works with nonprofits.