Fundraising in uncertain times - strategies for engaging donors and maximizing philanthropy
Fundraising Published Date, 2023

Fundraising in Uncertain Times: Key Takeaways for Engaging Donors and Maximizing Philanthropy

On Wednesday, June 14th, we were joined by Eileen R. Heisman, ACFRE, President and CEO of National Philanthropic Trust for a timely and dynamic TALK about strategies for engaging donors and maximizing philanthropy through uncertain times.

The conversation covered topics including the current economic and political climate, staff retention and enrichment, and the opportunity to amplify impact through donor-advised funds. Here are our takeaways:

Turmoil is ongoing. Here’s how to adapt.

Economic uncertainty, and more recently, domestic and global political turmoil, are affecting donor confidence and giving patterns, particularly among those who give more modest annual gifts. In thinking about the upcoming political season, donors are keeping close watch over interest rates, polarization, inflation, and other varying factors to make their investment decisions; some may even withhold their giving until after the Presidential election.

Nonprofits are becoming increasingly adept at navigating this fluctuation and should not be paralyzed by such downturns or hesitation. Leverage this time of uncertainty to make your case stronger and more urgent than ever before. Build relationships however your constituents respond best, whether that be through digital means like email or social media; direct mail; or in-person touch points. Above all, remain transparent and up-front with donors about the current state of your mission, how it may be affected by upcoming change, and what their support could mean.

Priorities will look different for large and small organizations.

No nonprofit reacts to change in the exact same way, and priorities will shift depending on your donor base, mission, reach, and goals. For example, larger organizations, like hospitals and universities, may still be in the position to embark on their next campaign and will continue to focus on cultivating relationships with major donors. On the other hand, smaller organizations such as colleges and community-based charities may take this time to re-assess and re-analyze their donor database, targeting specific campaigns or outreach based on donors’ past giving history and interests.

Whatever you decide to prioritize at your organization, data analysis will play a vital role in your decision-making and planning efforts. With an accurate, strategically organized, and clean database, identifying your most loyal donors and understanding their preferences can effectively guide fundraising strategies and donor decisions.

Donor-advised funds are transforming how philanthropy is done.

Grants made through donor-advised funds (DAFs) exceeded $45 billion last year and have become a permanent fixture of philanthropy to drive innovative and collaborative giving. DAFs embody the intersection between philanthropy and finance. These entities are closely monitored and managed by financial institutions, creating a sense of funding security and offering hope to create change even in economic downturns.

New to this trend? Integrating DAF-friendly language in your organization’s communications or on your giving page is an easy first step to getting your foot in the door of these funds. Proactively facilitating DAF-centric conversations with donors at the cultivation stage can drive deeper engagement and understanding of their giving priorities, aspirations, and interests to inform future asks. Ultimately, building relationships with DAFs and their related entities will bridge gaps and create alignment between donors, organizations, and available funds.

Retain your talent to keep your donors.

Now more than ever, it’s becoming more crucial – and more difficult – to retain talent. Burnout, unmanageable workloads, and limited resources are driving staff old and new to find alternative opportunities. Keeping these experienced teammates is imperative to maintaining longstanding donor relationships and the dissemination of institutional knowledge. Nonprofits must invest in the people that drive their work forward. Consider encouraging additional work-like balance opportunities and culture-building moments, or new approaches to employee appreciation, like offering spot bonuses. Foster personal and professional development by organizing educational and mentorship programs to nurture your employees. Overall, keeping your people inspired, engaged, and rewarded at your organization is far easier an effort than trying to find new staff to replace them.

It was an honor to have Eileen join us for this fruitful and productive discussion. The TALK covered a lot of material, so if you’re curious to hear more expert insights and takeaways, the recording is out now.

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