Planning > Panic: Our Thoughts on Surviving Recession

Let’s be honest…just saying the word recession is enough to send many of us in the nonprofit sector (or any sector for that matter) into a spiral. Mention that word and the questions start immediately—“What are we going to do?” “How will we survive?” “Do we need to downsize?”.

Honestly, maybe even reading the first few sentences of this post has already sent you into a panic. If so, take a deep breath. You’re not alone.

Here’s what we know:

      • We’ve been here before. For better or worse (but, really just worse), recession is a part of the cycle of our capitalist economy. It’s certainly not something any of us looks forward to, but it’s our reality at this point in time.

      • When the economy downturns, the need for our nonprofit sector and the demand for services rises. Nonprofit Quarterly shared a series of pieces analyzing The Great Recession, one of which highlighted that during 2007-09 “lower- and moderate-income populations and people of color suffered the greatest economic damage”. We know that those who are those most likely to be impacted by systemic racism and/or from historically under-resourced communities are the folks that most frequently need to access services provided by nonprofit organizations to begin with. Add a recession to the mix and the social sector has to figure out how to ramp up fast.

    But before you get discouraged, consider this:

        • Analysis from another of the Nonprofit Quarterly recession series pieces found that the nonprofit sector actually fared relatively well in 2008-09. While the success of different organizations varied, overall the loss was less than expected.

        • Giving USA released a report finding that “Charitable giving in the United States exceeded $300 billion for the second year in a row in 2008,” only a 2% drop from 2007.

      The gist: recession ≠ doomsday…(with some planning, that is).

      The most important thing you can do during this time of uncertainty is make a plan. Clear objectives will keep you focused on the tasks at hand and out of that dreaded “recession spiral”.

      So, here are three questions to ask yourself right now to help you develop a plan:

        1. Who’s got your back?

        We’ve all heard the expression, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” right? Now’s the time to put that into practice and take a look at your funding sources. If the majority of your revenue is coming from only one or two places e.g. government entities, foundation grants, or individual donors, it’s time to look at diversification.

        Different sources of revenue are crucial. If funding suffers in one area, you want to be sure that you have other friends (and funding sources) to count on.

        2. When was the last time you reached out to your major supporters?

        Don’t let fear affect communication. Now is not the time to go silent. Now is the time to make sure people are aware of the existing need, and that the societal needs your organization exists to address will likely only increase with a recession.

        But, it’s important to remember that nonprofits aren’t the only ones affected by recessions. Donors feel the impact, too, and may reevaluate their giving plans. It’s more important than ever to prioritize building connections so that  if your donors do have to reduce their philanthropic giving, they’re committed to prioritizing your cause.

        Additionally, it’s in your best interest to make sure you’re sending out regular communications that aren’t just about money. It’s important to share stories of impact and offer non-monetary ways to support your cause so that when you do ask for money, donors are already invested in your success.

        Side Note: If asking for major gifts is something that freaks you out, investing in professional development is in your organization’s best interest. Hannah is an instructor for Fundraising Academy, which offers a variety of free webinars. Click here to check out the latest.

        3. How can you get creative?

        Truth be told, big, in-person fundraising events are a huge undertaking—monetarily, physically, emotionally—all of it—which you may not want to deal with when you’re working with fewer resources. Here’s your chance to try something new.

        What digital opportunities can you offer around a specific initiative or holiday? Can you host a special online mixer? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

        Don’t forget: your existing donors are your best champions. If you’re not already doing it, introduce peer-to-peer fundraising. It’s a wonderful way to get your supporters excited about the cause, and to bring new folks into the fold. Classy is a great platform that has fundraising page templates specifically designed for peer-to-peer campaigns.

        The bottom line—recessions are scary, but don’t let that stop you. It’s not a question of if we’ll make it through, it’s how we’ll make it through. Now is the time to take action. Make a plan with your team, and get going!

        You got this. We’re rooting for your success!

        -The Philanthropy Coach, LLC Team

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