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August 26, 2020

How to raise funds for your nonprofit during recessionary times

For the nonprofit community, now may be a good time to seek “serenity to accept things we can’t change, courage to change things we can and wisdom to know the difference.”

Joseph M. Pratt
Joseph M. Pratt, a senior vice president and senior wealth manager at Bar Harbor Trust Services, has served on nonprofit boards.

We’ve seen a wide range of opinions about the affect COVID-19 and the economic shutdown will have on charitable giving.

Early on, there were predictions about the donors would sharply curtail charitable donations as part of their overall cost cutting. “A majority of donors (53%) say they plan to continue giving, but more carefully than before in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a Dunham+Co. report in April. 

Even now, more than five months into the pandemic, we don’t know what the full impact it will have on charitable giving in Maine. But now is the time to summon up your courage to focus on three things you can change, or control.

Identify from where your financial support comes

Across the country, about 70 to 80 cents of every dollar given to charity is provided by individual donors. The other 20 to 30 cents comes from foundations, government and corporations. In Maine, the story is the same. According to the Maine Philanthropy Center’s report “Giving in Maine 2019,” individuals were responsible for 71 cents of every dollar given to nonprofits.

Take a moment to evaluate the source of your annual support and consider if you are allocating the right percentage of your fundraising resources to the right donor audiences. Would you be better served writing corporate and foundation grant applications or cultivating individual donors? If individual donors are a meaningful source of your annual support, think about ways to expand and attract individual donor support.

Offer individual donors a full menu of giving options

Most donors understand they can support nonprofits with a current cash gift. In fact, most annual appeals depend on this gift method; and you may make it easy for donors by accepting cash gifts on your website. But many donors are not familiar with other giving methods, which might be a better fit for their goals and circumstances.

There are other popular giving methods from which donors could choose, if available. These include bequests, beneficiary designations, gift annuities, charitable trusts, bargain sales, pooled income funds or gifts of a remainder interest. Assess your donor base and consider expanding your “gift menu” to include some of these additional methods of giving. You may want to seek professional assistance to fully understand and establish these alternative giving methods, as the investment usually pays for itself.

Get your gift-related documents in order

When I was serving as board treasurer of a Maine nonprofit, we were contacted by a donor asking for copies of our policies for gift acceptance, investment and spending, which we had just updated and freely shared with the donor. The donor was impressed with the documents, felt our house was in good order, and consequently made a $2.2 million cash gift. The documents assured her we would be good stewards of her funds.

Although not the most fun part of the job, written policies are important and helpful to your fundraising efforts. Conduct an annual review of your gift acceptance policy, investment policy statement and spending policy with your development committee and/or board and make updates as needed. This will keep your leadership informed, since they’re the people who are most likely to be in contact with current and potential major donors.  

You can’t change the impact coronavirus has had on our lives and the economy, but you can change or control how you respond. Connect with your nonprofit peers to see what they’re doing to address today’s fundraising challenges. Reach out to other resources like the Maine Association of Nonprofits, Maine Planned Giving Council, Maine Philanthropy Center and wealth management professionals for education, ideas and solutions. We are all in this together.

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