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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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What motivates donors?

In his book, Relationship Fundraising (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2002), Author Ken Burnett describes an approach that centers on the unique and individual connection an organization has with each of its donors. It should be an “overriding consideration,” says AAI Principal Rich Gerig, “to care for and develop that bond.”

According to Gerig, donors—those people who actively support the work of an organization through their sustained financial contributions—should each “know that they are important, valued and considered.”

One of the crucial results of a strong affinity with a donor is that the organization can learn about, respectfully respond to, and sometimes help to shape a donor’s motivations.

So what exactly does motivate donors? From professional reading, his own experiences, and an informal survey of development directors with whom he has worked, Gerig offers, in no significant order, this listing of primary donor motivations:

  1. Tax planning
  2. Ego, self-esteem, status
  3. Quest for immortality
  4. Desire for emotional response
  5. Wish for self-preservation
  6. Vested interests
  7. In memoriam
  8. Gratitude
  9. Identification with the cause
  10. Guilt
  11. Altruism
  12. Religious heritage
  13. Compassion
  14. Answering a voice of authority
  15. Social ambition
  16. Getting value for money
  17. In response to being asked
  18. Feels good
  19. Family history

Gerig notes that several motivations often operate together in spurring a donor’s support. Motivations have changed little over the years and are likely not to change in the future. However, he argues that organizations can contribute significantly to the development of donor motivations. “Appeals for financial support should be consonant with a nonprofit’s mission and values,” Gerig said. “Representatives of church-related organizations can help donors see that Christian faith and the practice of stewardship go hand in hand.”

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Board role in advancement

What is the board’s role in advancement?

Board members carry an important role in organizational advancement efforts. In an ongoing way, board members should expect to:

• Designate adequate resources for the advancement program, including personnel and budget, and review results annually.

• Consider potential board members who are experienced in fundraising or well-connected to possible funding sources.

• Partner with the CEO and staff to maintain strong, healthy relationships with all key constituencies.

• Host and/or be an enthusiastic presence at special events.

• As appropriate and comfortable, identify prospective donors, personally solicit gifts and thank individual donors.

• Be regular, generous contributors to the organization.