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Call Your Donors

Those three words say it all. In these uncertain times, nonprofits are asking, "What do we do now? How do we survive, manage, or even thrive in this economy?" I've spent this week calling about 50 CEOs from some of the groups in our Five-Year Sustainable Funding Program. I called to listen, to see how each group was faring, how their fundraising was going, what more they might need. Granted, their teams have had the benefit of our training and coaching, some for several years. What I heard was heartening.

About 85 percent of the CEOs shared that 2008 had ended very well for them. They had met or exceeded their fundraising goals. For 2009, they are budgeting for no growth and managing their reserves very conservatively. The other 15 percent had experienced severe budget cuts (usually from state funds) that had nearly crippled them. When we talked about the extent of the cuts, we started to quantify how much money it would take for them to feel that they could weather the storm. In each of those cases, once we talked through their fears, they were able to put a dollar number on the solution and design an emergency campaign to raise those funds.

In both cases—those groups that were doing well and those that were feeling the pain—when they asked for my advice about what to do now, I said those same three words: "Call your donors." Whether to say thank you personally for their support, to share the challenges your staff and clients are facing, or to ask for their support for an emergency bail-out campaign, if you have been engaging your donors as individuals (especially donors who make larger multi-year pledges, indicating their long-term support for your work), it is easy to pick up the phone. Ask how things are going for them right now, let down your hair, share the real issues you are dealing with, ask for their input, include them in the life of the organization. Treat them like the loyal supporters they are.

Set aside one hour every day this week to call your donors. In one hour you ought to be able to reach and talk to 3 or 4 people. That's 15 to 20 people this week. Right now: open your calendar, block out the time. One hour a day, pick up the phone. Call your donors!

Terry Axelrod, Benevon
© 2009, Benevon

Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Benevon (formerly Raising More Money), a Seattle-based organization that has trained and coached more than 3,000 nonprofits to build sustainable funding from individual donors. On June 24, 2009, she will be the guest presenter for a free GuideStar Webinar, "Creating Sustainable Funding in Economically Challenging Times."

Topics: Fundraising