How to raise funds in time of crisis

One of the hardest things for nonprofit organizations to do is admit they need donors.

That’s too bad, because donors need to be needed.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter I got recently. (Some details changed to disguise the identity of the sender!)

In light of these challenges, Springfield School of Theology is reviewing its finances so that we can not only better utilize each donation we receive but also redirect funds to our most worthwhile projects. In addition, we are reimagining education to ensure that we offer our students the best education possible so that they can be trained for today’s employment market, train our future leaders with utmost precision and dedication, and graduate the finest professionals in the world. We also hope very soon to launch online and continuing education for people all over the world. The latest technology allows us to reach out beyond the boundaries of our campus and create a worldwide classroom.

To put it bluntly, we need you to walk with us in these challenging times. The message is very simple. All small academic institutions are struggling right now and many smaller schools are closing altogether.

This is a classic case of burying what you really have to say.

“Reviewing finances” and “redirect funds to our most worthwhile projects” doesn’t sound very important or interesting. “Walk with us in these challenge times” is as soft a call to action as you can make. But I’ve been around the block a few times, and I have a feeling that if you translated all that into normal English, it could be something like this:

Our school is facing a serious financial shortfall. Just when we are needed more than ever, we are looking at deep cuts to the mission you share with us. Please donate now!

It’s hard to say something so clear, urgent, and difficult. You have to swallow your pride and overcome your fear that someone will say you’re in this state because you’ve been mismanaging.

The important thing here is openly talking about crisis when you’re in crisis is honest. And it works. Donors respond in record numbers to fundraising that makes it clear they are urgently needed.

It’s true that some fundraisers are always in “crisis” to the point that it stretches believability. Some are even plain dishonest about it, and many have turned their fundraising into an extended exercise of “calling wolf.” Shame on them. They make it harder for themselves and for everyone.

But if your organization is truly in a crisis, you owe it to your donors to be honest, open, and clear about it.

And they will reward with an outpouring of generosity that just might save your bacon.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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