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How to fundraise in tough times

Fundraising is an important core income stream for all nonprofit organisations especially in times of recession. So what elements of your cause's business should you continue to find funding for and where should you be looking for those all important funding streams?


Deciding what part of your business is expendable

The impact of recession isn't usually felt by an individual until about 18 months after the initial blow when confidence in the economy is at a low and when everyone's belt will need to be tightened. It is therefore beneficial to look at how these changes will affect your business in terms of lost income and where, in turn, you may need to make cuts and savings in order to survive.

The first cost cutting exercise must surely be streamlining your operation. Remind yourself what your organisation was initially set up to do. Are you still doing this as part of your CORE business or have you moved away from this? Do you have lots of add-on's which reflect a very small part of your business but are not essential to the CORE? If the answer is yes then your first steps are to look at what you can pare back, at least for the interim, in order to keep the essential CORE business going within limited income streams.

This will allow you to discover where other savings can be made. Even though you may experience a significant drop in fundraising this doesn't necessarily mean that your CORE business has to suffer.


You need a good fundraising strategy

Ok, so you know how much you'll need to keep the CORE area of your business going but how are you going to get it funded? For those nonprofits that have been going a while they should already have money that is under their own control. But for all other organisations including the many young or newly started nonprofits it will mean forming a realistic strategy on how you're going to attract donations and grants.


Keeping up good relationships is key

No matter where you have gained income from in the past, this doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to rely on it in the future. However, a few choice decisions now about how to continue to network with existing, as well as attempting to attract new donors, will enable your organisation to gain its much needed funds.

So keep past and existing donors informed of what you're doing and how successful you are at doing it. Keep information current, especially that which can be easily accessed, send out regular newsletters about your achievements. Do as much as you can with the resources you have to keep your organisation uppermost in the minds of the donor. They may say 'no' at the moment but it is more likely that they will help out as and when they can if they believe you're still fully active.

It is therefore also extremely important that when it comes to deciding what items need to be cut from the budget, advertising, marketing and publicity should not be included amongst them. You need to maintain visibility within the sector, not only by addressing past and existing donors but also prospective donors as well.

A simple concept - if you've been heard of or seen at least three times by an individual then that individual is three times more likely to donate to your cause.

This doesn't have to be costly to be effective either, a simple web marketing stratergy can help spread the word about your organisation. Get involved on Twitter, at Facebook and set up a blog. You'll soon see the benefits of keeping people informed.


Where to look for funders

Do your homework. This is the time to find out exactly where you can go to find those individuals and organisations that are still able to give donations and grants. 'How-to use the internet for fundraising' will give you some pointers on where to start looking.

Where to look for funding:

  • Corporate donations are not quite as freely available as they used to be. However, if you can prove to a corporation that your organisations CORE business directly responds to the work that the corporation wants to encourage as part of their business then you are more likely to get funding
  • Trusts are not likely to be able to give out grants as they have been able to in the past due to the uncertainty of the imminent government cutbacks in spending. That being said they are more likely to support less popular causes. If your organisation fits the bill make sure that you build even closer relationships with those trusts that are likely to consider supporting you.
  • Regular donations from individuals are likely to decrease unless you are either consistently within the public eye (regular television or radio ads), hold a regular event (Children In Need, Comic Relief, Sports Relief) or is a cause that donors will readily support because they or loved ones have needed to use their services (Macmillan, Cancer Research, a local hospice). It is therefore more likely that you can encourage your supporters to leave a legacy to your cause instead and this can be very simply and cost effectively included as part of your organisations website.

How about raising your own funds

Trading is the obvious route but be warned it can be a costly process. Depending on what you are selling will depend upon how much it will cost if you can't afford to buy in bulk, what space you'll need to store it, how your going to deal with shipping and what about invoicing and collecting money. There may be ways that you can 'affiliate sell' products on behalf of other organisations but make sure whatever the product is, it fits your organisations CORE remit.

But goods are not the only things that can be sold, services can be too. If you have particular expertise that you can use to train people, or help them build their own business, then you have an asset that you can sell. But think very carefully about how you are going to portray this, after all you're doing it to promote the organisation not yourself.

Event fundraising has always been a good source of income but be warned, lavish showstoppers are becoming unfashionable. However, if an organisation wants to be noticed there is no reason why it shouldn't consider including itself as part of an event run by an umbrella organisation such as ACEVO or NCVO where it can promote awareness for the organisation rather than as a quick fix to bring in much needed funds.

Finally, there is community fundraising. Considerable interest always surrounds local causes and concerns. Donors may be thin on the ground but that doesn't mean you can't get help in other ways. Loyal volunteers will go some way to help encourage donations from others. You can quickly add your volunteering vacancies at; although there is an annual premium and initial set up fee to use their software. There are also other organisations where you may be able to advertise vacancies for free including the KnowHow website.


Last but by no means least

It's a given, the economy will get better and hopefully many of us will weather the storm particularly well for as long as it continues. Just remember:

  • Fundraising is not about rational thinking - there are no hard and fast rules and every opportunity should be researched if not followed through
  • Delay major capital investments - but don't stop planning them
  • Protect reliable income streams whilst withdrawing from those that are no longer viable - if you ask properly you may still receive
  • Plan for the future - but don't expect quick fixes
  • Never be embarrased asking for money - you're a nonprofit organisation, it's expected
  • And above all - remain positive, it will be noticed and rewarded

Further information

For much more information on fundraising, visit the fundraising section on this site.


Page last edited May 29, 2019 History

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