When the Going Gets Tough

The economy is in the tank, donations in every sector are drying up and “Not right now,” are words we are all hearing on a daily basis. “I may as well stop fundraising,” more than one professional has told me.

Nonsense. If anything, we should all look at this situation as an opportunity to do even more fundraising.

Before you start signing the papers to have me committed, let me explain. If you thnk that fundraising is only a matter of raising money, then yes, more fundraising would be counter-productive. But if you believe, as I do, that fundraising is all about building relationships, then you now have the perfect set of circumstances to do just that.

According to research by author and Cygnus Applied Research president, Penelope Burk, one thing that really turns donors off is organizations and fundraisers who only contact them when they are asking for money.

Since asking for money at this particular moment will only get a response you really don’t want, why not contact your prospects and donors and don’t ask for money. Don’t even think about getting a gift. Do think about ways you can connect these people more closely to your organization. As a colleague of mine frequently says, be creative:

    Visit them just to thank them and tell them how their past giving has helped the organization.
    Call and ask their advice on everything from new architectural drawings to a new program to some challenge facing your organization.
    Tell them about a new initiative.
    Introduce them to someone they don’t know at your organization or on your board.
    Invite them to participate in a task force or committee.
    Take them to an event (and no, it doesn’t have to be your event) as your guest. And, easiest of all,
    Call just to introduce yourself.

Many times, when you are trying this for the first time, the lack of real cultivation comes back to haunt you. Donors don’t take your calls and they certainly don’t respond to your voicemail invitation to call you back. Understandable, if frustrating. What can you do?

The first thing is to try. Pick up that phone, make that call, leave that message. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised. But if you’re not, what then?

Try sending a handwritten note. “I was calling because I wanted to invite you to join me…” or, “we’ve never met, but I’d heard such wonderful things about you I wanted to rectify that oversight immediately.” Then tell them that you will be calling back in a week, and try again.

Not everyone, of course, will want to deepen the relationship with your organization. And yes, sometimes timing is bad. But I promise you, tough times will not last forever and at some point, people will signal their readiness to make a charitable gift. Just make sure that you have built solid relationships so that when that time comes, it is your organization who gets the gift.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at jlevine@levinemorton.com. Her online grantwriting class is available at www.levinemorton.com/classes.html.