Staying “on mission” in tough economic times

News flash: We are living in tough economic times.

USA Today (December 2, 2008) reported on a November 2008 study conducted by Barna Group that “more than two in three adults (68%) say they have been affected by the dire economy and 22% said they have been impacted in a ‘major way.’” Not surprisingly, this is impacting how people give. The same study found that “the degree of reduction in giving is significant for churches.” Among people who have decreased giving to churches and religious centers

• 19% dropped their giving by as much as 20%.

• 5% decreased their generosity by 21% to 49%.

• 17% reduced their giving by half.

• 11% sliced their provision by more than half.

In addition, 22% said they had stopped their giving altogether.

Given these statistics, how are faith-based organizations to survive the current economy and position themselves for a bright future? Historically, organizations operating in similar times have tended to do one of three things: 1) go into hiding and ignore reality, 2) believe that their mission is “too important to fail” and fail to act or 3) panic and do things that undermine the future.

Interestingly, the organizations most likely to survive an economic crisis are characterized not by an attitude of “wait it out,” but one of “make it happen.” Further, taking even a few wise steps toward improving your organizational health may bolster the support of your donor base now and put you in a better position to thrive when the economy improves. This occurs because, while some donors are willing to make one-time gifts to support a struggling organization, far more are motivated by an enterprise that remains true to its mission and makes the necessary decisions during difficult times.

Here are some steps you can take as early as this next week to “make it happen.”

1. Get an objective look at your organization from the perspective of your best constituency members/customers. Who are they? Contact them. Find out what you are doing right and what you can do better.

2. Look at your organization from the perspective of the constituency/customers you just lost or are likely to lose. Name them and contact them.

3. Fix what is broken. If your feedback suggests that there are areas of needed improvement, have the courage to do what will make you more effective at serving your mission.

4. State in simple terms why constituency members should support your organization. What is your value proposition that needs to be communicated?

5. Look beyond your traditional constituency for individuals or groups whose needs you may be able to serve.

6. Name and communicate what you are good at that is absolutely critical to serving your mission. Maybe it is the strength of particular staff members or a program that gives your organization special meaning in the community.

7. Cut unnecessary costs. Most organizations create expensive bad habits during the good times; this is the time to return to a frugal organizational lifestyle. But make sure you do not cut costs from areas that undermine your ability to serve your mission. If you do not know what is critical, you just may cut the lifeline to your organization.

8. Promote, promote, promote. Yes, it will cost you some money, but if there is ever a time when you need to get your message out, it is now. Do not cut your newsletter, your website, your email communication, etc. If anything, try to find a way to increase your message. Ironically, communication with the constituency is often one of the first expenses to be cut; this is a big mistake.

9. If you’re planning something BIG for your future, consider acting now. This may sound counter-intuitive. But the history of organizational growth suggests that many of the “leaders” emerged out of bad times when they had the courage to go for something while others were waiting out the economy. For example, some organizations are currently taking advantage of very low construction costs by proceeding with projects. Be assured, AAI is not encouraging unwise debt. But with wise financial management and a compelling mission/vision, this may be the time to move forward.

Have any of the ideas mentioned here piqued your interest? We would be glad to visit further to discuss how they might apply to your unique situation or to answer any questions you may have.

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