I was in my dream job. CEO and fundraiser for a nursery and kindergarten which were unique- children with and without disabilities learning together. I was at the top of the pyramid.

It was also 2007, right before the bottom of the financial world fell out.

You all remember 2008, don’t you? Wonderful times! Unless you were in fundraising. Then it was a nightmare.

I was remembering those “good times” because of what’s going on right now.

Before I continue I wanna make clear: I’m not getting into the politics of economics. Ask a Biden supporter and they’ll mention that the economy is doing great and unemployment is at a 50-year low. Ask the other side and they’ll tell you the sky is falling.

Sadly, the economy is now a political football.

But I’m chatting with CEOs and fundraisers. I’m visiting different cities in North America and talking with people.

People are worried. Salaries aren’t rising to match the rise in cost of living, especially rent, food and gas prices. People who were middle class and looked forward to moving up are now just trying to stay afloat.

What really stinks is what I hear from many of my peers (I’m almost 52 years old): We’ll never be able to afford to retire. We’re gonna go to the grave with our working boots on.

It’s frustrating. Upsetting. Deflating.

And it affects your nonprofit organization bigtime.

don't lock your door to your donor

Image by TilenHrovatic from Pixabay

What You’ll Start Hearing

I remember back in 2008 when donors suddenly had no money to give. Friends who worked at Bear Stearns saw their stock value plummet to zero. Donors who had invested with Madoff suddenly were left with nothing to donate.

And that’s when nonprofits hit scramble mode. They had no “rainy day plan.” They went deeper into scarcity mindset. Employees were let go and those who remained had to take on multiple full-time jobs for the same low salary they were getting.

Not a fun time.

But with all that doom and gloom, I wanna share with you something I learned that can help you today:

In my daily enews yesterday I posted this article and it got me thinking back to 2008.

Lemme ask you: Last year donor X gave you a $10,000 gift. This year they tell you they can’t give anything. They’ve taken a bad financial hit plus they have to pay for their daughter’s college tuition and their elderly mother needs medicine that isn’t covered by insurance.

What’s your response?

I know of nonprofits who will say, “Sorry to hear that” but then stop communicating and engaging with that person. After all, he was giving $10,000 and now he’s not giving at all. We have other donors to pay attention too!

Of course that drives me crazy and is the exact opposite of what you should be doing.

Nonprofit's should show empathy to their donors

A ‘Not This Year’ Isn’t The End

I have a feeling a lot of nonprofits are going to hear a version of “not this year” in 2024. Some donors may have to give less and some may not be able to give at all.

But what you do in that moment will have an effect on your organization not just right then but also long-term.

The first thing you want to do is be empathetic and understanding. Your supporter is going through a tough time as we all do. Ask them if there’s anything YOU can do for them and/or their family. Let them know your phone and email are always open to them.

Second, make them understand how valued they are as a supporter. The impact they’ve had and the people they’ve helped. Make them feel worthwhile because in that very low moment when they have to refuse giving you a donation, they feel very worthless.

Third, ask if they want to be involved in other ways. Volunteering asks for their time but not their money. Maybe they’d like to continue to help but in other ways than just a financial commitment.

And that’s the biggest lesson I learned. It’s not just showing empathy. It’s making sure you do everything to keep them connected to your organization.

A “not this year” isn’t a rejection of your work. It’s simply the financial reality the donor is currently facing. But unless they ask not to hear from you anymore, they still want to be part of a community of do gooders.

Offer them that chance!

Because here’s the reality: When we go through tough times, we remember those who stuck with us and those who abandoned us.

Donors are no different. They’ll remember the organizations who continued to engage them even when no donation was given. They’ll remember that a particular nonprofit continued to update them and make them feel valued and wanted.

When they’re back on their feet again, you’ll hear from them. They won’t abandon you if you don’t abandon them.

Two-Way Street

I always say that fundraising is a two-way street. It’s not just you holding your hand out. You have to provide for your supporters.

In 2024 unfortunately, you may be given the chance to help more than just one supporter. I hope you’ll rise to the challenge. Forget the money. Concentrate on the person.

Whatever money you “lose” will come back to you and much more.

Yes, financially your organization may take a hit in 2024. I’ve been there and it sucks. But when you can look past today, you’ll realize that you’re building something strong and long-lasting.

Don’t shut the door on your donors. Make sure it’s always open, no matter how much or how little they give.

Looking to keep your supporters informed about the impact they’re having in their community? Email is a great platform for doing that! Check out my email services and let’s work together so email boosts your organization’s fundraising and marketing efforts.