Fundraising in a Recession

A recent study by the Barna Group tells us that giving to non profits is down by 30% in the last three months.  My own informal survey tells me the same information.  What is normally the busiest time of the year for many non profits has now turned into a time of uneasy calm.

In looking at the months ahead, the bloom doesn’t promise to return anytime soon.  Some economists are predicting that it will take three years for investors to work off stock losses.  This means that gifts of publicly traded stock will be down for that same period of time.  So what is a charity supposed to do in these recessionary times?

First, don’t lay off your development staff. I learned of one ministry that was going to cut back and switch their development efforts to another person, yet the new person didn’t have the relationships with the donors.

Second, work to deepen your relationships–particularly with major donors. They understand what recession is about and will often dig deeper to keep you going.

Third, think out of the box.  Think enterprise. One survey tells us that 47% of all non profits are starting business enterprise–efforts that create an earned income approach.  One tip:  if you’re going to go for an enterprise, look for someone with business background to run that enterprise.  A good resource:  Generating and Sustaining Non Profit Earned Income (2004 Josey Bass).

Fourth, think online. Look to grow your cash giving online.  The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported earlier this year that direct mail giving is down approximately 14% over the past two years.  Online giving is on a steady upward trend.  We know as well that those who give online tend to give more often and give larger gifts.  It also tends to be a steady stream once you have it going.

Fifth, as you think online, make sure you think online non cash giving. In these recessionary times, non cash is where the biggest opportunity may be found.  Non cash includes things like cars, boats, RVs, jewelry, gold, silver, collectibles, inventory.  As with the enterprise discussion, look for a vendor like who can handle your online non cash gifts.  This is definitely an area you don’t want to tackle yourself.

Sixth, build teams or ambassadors who can participate in the fundraising process with you. People like to join a winning cause.  There’s nothing more winsome to see someone other than the ministry leader promoting the leader promoting the ministry.

Seventh, don’t forget private foundation grants. The key to grants is making sure you are looking at the right ones, and then looking to build the relationships with the funders themselves. Sites like can help you identify foundations that give for Christian causes.

Finally, start now.  Tis the season.

William High is the President of Servant Christian Community Foundation.  He may be contacted at


One Response to “Fundraising in a Recession”

  1. Cindy Says:

    Whew, lots of great ideas, we are a struggling, new non profit faith based ministry, and are having a very hard time finding benefactors, so thanks for the tips.

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