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Due to Current Events Your Nonprofit Has a Back Burner Problem

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Time to get your bearings so you don’t lose your way amidst the chaos with your current fundraising strategies.

Things are getting tougher.

Partly because this doesn’t feel new anymore.

The early urge to jump in with both feet to do something – a virtual event, a crisis appeal, a major donor push, an advocacy campaign, a thank you initiative, a donor survey, or… whatever – has simmered down to a duller roar. 

Dull roars can be pretty painful. 

Kind of like a persistent headache that drains you all day because it won’t go away. And no matter how many Aspirin you take, it doesn’t seem to help.

Because the dull roar keeps getting fed by a plethora of incoming.

  • Board members make suggestions based on what they’ve seen elsewhere.
  • Staff members make suggestions based on what they’re reading or learning online.
  • Family members and friends make suggestions based on little more than opinion.
  • Emails clog up your inbox filled with suggestions from consultants, other nonprofits, and vendors.

A lot of the incoming is good advice, but how to sort the wheat from the chaff?

And what do you do when the news changes? Again!

At the risk of being just one other pundit contributing to your noise level, I’m going to endeavor to give you some straight talk over the course of a 4-part series of articles. It’s common sense, informed by experience and recent donor research. I hope it will cut through the clutter and prove helpful.

Are you game?

Okay… let’s get started!

4-Step Strategy to Cure Your Current Fundraising Headache

It’s time right now to get your best sustainable fundraising strategies off the back burner. 

If you keep putting good plans and approaches ‘on pause’ you’re going to get stuck where you are. At this point, many months into a pandemic, growing economic recession and burgeoning civil rights movement, it’s imperative you be proactive, not just reactive. 

Consider what is needed to stand you in good stead not just today, but tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Present, near future and more distant future.

Over the course of four articles, let’s explore a schematic solution to your current fundraising woes.

  1. FORWARD FACE Equilibrium: Balance your fundraising strategies
  2. FUEL the Machine: Charge your annual contribution income engine
  3. FUMES Provide Accelerant: Prepare for ‘retirement’
  4. FUTURE Proof the Mission: Leave a legacy for generations to come

Just because things feel tougher than ever, you don’t have to slide into the abyss. Here are some tried and true fundraising strategies that should help. Likely they’re things you’ve been thinking about doing for a while now. Or you did them in the past, but have recently lost your way. Or you’re doing them, sort of, but could be more thoughtful in the way you’re integrating them and moving forward with a truly strategic plan owned by all your stakeholders.

PLEASE NOTE: All these fundraising strategies must be paired with a dynamic written communications plan. People won’t give to you absent a clear vision, mission and values. And a branding and messaging plan that strategically positions your organization within the current environment and vis a vis your competition. While it’s almost impossible to separate fundraising and marketing communications –they go together like peanut butter and jelly – that integration is a topic for another day. For now, let’s concentrate on philanthropic revenue generation.

FORWARD FACE Equilibrium

Whatever you did over the last quarter… whatever you did prior to the last quarter… it’s time to put that in the past and move forward towards a strong, sustainable future. 

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” – C.S. Lewis

Whether you had a good comprehensive fundraising plan in the past and just dropped it due to recent events, or if you never had an ideal big picture plan, now is the time to get on the path to passionate philanthropy.

Balance Your Fundraising Strategies for the Future

Diversity leads to stability and health. 

This is something I learned early on in my professional nonprofit career. Strive for a mix of income sources, with no single source counting for too big a piece of the pie. This includes both earned and unearned income sources. That way you can’t easily be thrown out of whack when one or two income sources dry up.

It’s a simple concept you’ll find extraordinarily useful in all aspects of your life. Balance work and family. Balance healthy food and splurges. Balance rest and exercise. Balance risk and reward. Balance online and offline. Balance a mix of giving from individuals, foundations, corporations, events, and endowment income. Balance, balance, balance.

When you’re unbalanced, you’re going to fall.

Maybe not this minute. But, you’ll fall. Gravity is a law of nature.

While it’s natural at the onset of a crisis to hurl yourself at a problem, allowing adrenaline to whirl you towards a single strategy to stop the bleeding, this level of response is not sustainable. Nor is focusing on just one approach. 

You don’t have to do everything, but you do have to be thoughtful about what you choose to do. And at what intensity. 


Moderation sometimes gets a bad rep. Yet it applies in spades to where nonprofits find themselves today. It’s not exciting of course, but it works.  And with so much incoming, it’s necessary to find a way to moderate amidst the chaos.

Ever hear you should eat a diet with a little bit of red, a little bit of yellow and a little bit of green food? It’s because broccoli, bananas and tomatoes all have different vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. If you diversify, and don’t overindulge in any one area, you’ll naturally achieve optimum health.

This advice doesn’t change just because you’re facing unanticipated circumstances. In fact, rainy days – planning ahead — are precisely what this advice is for.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

You know this. Yet I’ve seen a lot of organizations put most of their eggs in one basket when the Coronavirus pandemic began. I understand. But… it’s not a good long-term strategy. It prioritizes some donors at the expense of others. Some important strategies are left to slide. And, sadly, money gets left on the table. 

It’s time to stop sliding. Get up on the teeter-totter instead, and… balance!

Focus, Discipline and Hard Work

Balance isn’t achieved without a lot of practice.

If you’re up for it, begin by taking a look at your current fundraising and marketing communications strategy as it’s evolved over the past several months and ask yourself: Is this balanced?

Let me share some examples of organizations where the balance shifted – you could say drifted – in response to the pandemic.

EXAMPLE:Organization A’ decided to focus all their energies on individual major gift fundraising. This made sense in the short-term, because this seemed the only source from which sufficient funds could be raised to help them survive the immediate loss of revenues. They decided to use board members as volunteers and pair them with the executive director to make asks. They furloughed the rest of their fundraising staff. This meant asking just a small hand full of major donors for big gifts. Three months into this endeavor they’re three-quarters of the way towards their goal. And other supporters have been largely ignored. Any asks made of others have been appended to general marketing messages with multiple calls to action (they kept one marketing person who is considered their de facto development person, for now). This may be a success, because they’ve raised needed contributions, but what are the unintended consequences of more or less going dark on other supporters?  And… now what?

EXAMPLE: ‘Organization B’ decided to focus all their energies on one big virtual event. Since no one on staff was a digital whiz kid, this required all hands on deck. Everyone and their dog was recruited to help. Favors were pulled in and friends of their dogs were recruited too. Energy and excitement was high, and the event was a great success — actually netting a few more dollars than had been their original Gala goal. Woohoo! But… it wiped everyone out. Staff, volunteers and donors alike. And now, with energy flagging, the idea of addressing strategies that were shoved to the back burner in the height of passion and group commitment is overwhelming. And headache inducing.

Time to stop the slide.

Fill All Your Working Burners

And make a plan to fix the ones that aren’t working.

Imagine you have a really large stove with 8 different burners. Each burner represents a potential piece of your current fundraising pie. 

There may be a few burners in back that don’t work as well right now. Okay. You have permission to shove a few pots and pans filled with less necessary fundraising strategies back there. Just put them on simmer until you can safely bring the repair people in. But don’t let them get completely cold, as they’ll be much harder to resuscitate.

What do I mean?

  1. If you stop visiting face-to-face with major donors because you can’t do it in person, you may fail to build the relationships you need to renew and upgrade these supporters.
  2. I mean if you stop communicating with mid-level donors because you want to focus on a more lucrative donor segment right now, you may lose those neglected supporters for good. 
  3. I mean if you put recurring giving strategies like monthly or peer-to-peer fundraising ‘on hold’ until you’re able to bring back staff who work on online giving, you may not grow your supporter base to the extent you need to sustain your programs.
  4. If you put donor acquisition efforts on hold because you assume people will not support new charities right now, you may find your essential donor pipeline begins to dry up.
  5. If I mean if you fail to submit a grant funding proposal or proposals because you furloughed your grant writer, you may lose an entire cycle of funding. 
  6. I mean if you stop searching for business sponsors because you believe businesses are hurting and less likely to give, you may lose out on real opportunities (especially with businesses that may have public relations problems right now).
  7. I mean if you cancel a special event because it’s too much work to figure out how to make it virtual, you may lose a large source of irreplaceable revenue.
  8. I mean if you stop promoting legacy gifts because you think it’s unseemly to talk about death right now, you may lose bequests to other charities who are being proactive.

Look at Your Contribution Income Pie

current fundraising

This is just one pie chart example; not a recommendation. 

As you can see, this organization may be overly reliant on grants. Perhaps this worked at one point in time, but maybe these sources of funding are strapped right now. Or they’re focusing on other priorities.

Remember, you want to strive for a balance of revenue sources so you can roll with the punches.

  • What did your pie look like last year? 
  • What does your pie look like this year thus far?  
  • Where do you need your contribution income to be moving forward?

Healthy fundraising pies don’t bake themselves.

If you don’t put the work in, plan strategically, and secure all the necessary ingredients to move forward, some of the pieces of your pie are simply going to spoil. And you’ll be left going hungry.

Time to free up your burners and bake some fresh pies!

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