A few late night thoughts. Without digging into all the economics, the short version is this: 2008 economically is poised to be somewhere between hideous and horrifying. Take your pick: subprime, alt-a, gasoline, wheat, corn, student loans, etc. Any way you slice it, the economy is in a tailspin.
That said, the show must go on - but how? When donor pools dry up, how do non-profits weather downturns? Here are 5 ideas.
1. Batten down the hatches. Just as every other American individual and business MUST do, non-profits need to be ruthless about cutting costs. Got a photocopier in the office? Unplug it, and ask that people use a scanner and email instead. Enforce 100% lights out at the end of the workday to cut power costs. Reduce or eliminate as many consumable as possible - belt tightening is the rule.
2. Hit up donors sooner rather than later. It's customary in the non-profit world to ask donations and contributions around the holiday season, but as the economy trends downward, you need to ask now, while there's still disposable cash. Pick a reason, any reason, to ask for donations. Hitch up to minor but relevant holidays, or an aspect of those holidays, or heck, just manufacture your own holiday, but ask.
3. Increase focus on microdonations. The Internet gives non-profits greater reach at lower cost, more so than ever in history. Leverage that power to focus on building your house list, your potential donor base. This requires some serious heavy lifting in marketing, but as long as you have capable staff, you're trading time and energy marketing online versus expensive offline marketing. Learn how to find your donors online, and learn how to get small donations from LOTS of people. Be sure to investigate any and all payment options and find the lowest per-transaction costs. Amazon and Google Checkout both offer 100% pass-through of contributions.
4. Build buzz. You're already doing good work - now get off your duff and start marketing the heck out of your works. The more awareness you can spread about your work, the easier it will be to get critical general operating funds out of donors. Look carefully at how you market your works, and make friends in the PR and marketing fields so that you can ask their advice before launching any kind of campaign.
5. Mind your money. Wherever you've got your money parked, be SURE it is safe. If you have general operating funds in anything other than an FDIC insured account, your organization is at risk from a legion of predicted bank failures. Make sure you're playing it super-safe with the cash this year - know where it is, and know that it's insured.
With luck, talent, and intelligence, operationally efficient and forward-thinking non-profits should do very well in 2008 as the rest of the pack is slaughtered by the economic sharks in the water. With fewer competitors for donors' money, the most lean and aggressive non-profits can potentially earn some big donor market share. Good luck!
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