Rough Times for Good Causes

By Dec 01, 2009


For nonprofits, this means retention is the order of the day.

Richard Geiger, strategic relationship director of fundraising technology firm Blackbaud, says he’s seeing clients shifting away from acquisition and looking harder at their donor files, to get larger gifts more often.

What’s working is definitely driven by the vertical, says Geiger. For example, rather than promoting long-term endowment campaigns, higher-education institutions are trying tactics that highlight a more immediate impact, like getting students to write donor request letters.

Those that are more mission-based are trying to create a strong connection with donors, getting them to become advocates or volunteers, he says. “They’re realizing that yes, we need to bring money in the door — but we need to create a ‘mission moment’ with donors too.”

While there was a certain amount of panic earlier in the year, as a lot of nonprofits overreacted to dire predictions that 2009′s coffers would be empty, things have leveled off, notes Mal Warwick, chairman of nonprofit consultancy Mal Warwick Assoc. notes. “People are coming back and reinvesting, although they have a tendency to be more judicious about how they spend their dollars.”

What nonprofit niches are doing well? Veterans’ issues hopefully will remain strong, says Tony Conway, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, adding that anything to do with the health care battle in Washington also has traction.

Why the latter? People are worried about losing what they have, he says. “Fear and hate tend to raise money, at least in politics.”

Conway, Warwick and Geiger all agree that while direct mail isn’t going away completely, there’s a shift toward online tactics like e-mail and social media, the latter for engagement as much as donations. “It’s tough,” notes Geiger, “because they need to harness measurements to see if it’s successful.”

For a recent membership campaign, Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ looked at the number of donors as well as the number of actual dollars to judge the success of the effort, says Geiger. “The biggest opportunity nonprofits have today is engaging their constituents.”