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“Tough economic times.” “Recession.” “Depression.” Words that are sure to concern any fundraiser’s heart. But fear not! Here are some tips to help you get donations that work during any economic climate, but will be especially useful during a recession.

1. Look at a Donation in Terms of How It Will Benefit the Donor

This is always a good idea, but especially in a recession. When the chips are down and money is tight, it helps when approaching businesses to show them the benefits of investing (read: donating) in your organization. Can you offer publicity? How about free advertising? Their name on a banner, website or t-shirt? Are you asking for donations for a large event? Could you find a way to work their name into the event right from the beginning of the promotional stage?


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Wise organizations capitalize on these opportunities by offering sponsors increasing benefits for increasing sponsorship amounts — say $100 gets your name into the program, while $500 gets you a large advertising block with graphic in the program and your name on a banner during the event. And be sure to mention that donations to your organization may be tax-deductible, assuming your organization has 501(c)(3) status. (More about offering sponsorship benefits.)

2. Relationship, Relationship, Relationship

In real estate the most important thing is location. In the non-profit industry, the most important thing is still relationship. Did someone donate to your cause last year? If they’re not able to do so this year, don’t make them feel guilty; keep in touch with them throughout the year and ask them if it’s alright if you contact them about donating again next year – they will probably say yes. Don’t forget that the way you handle yourself and treat others during tough times will have a lasting impression on your relationships with your donors for years to come.

Also think about creating new relationships, like collaborations with businesses that would have a tangible benefit from a relationship with your organization. For example, an organization dedicated to fighting diabetes and the local grocery store – eating a diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables helps decrease your chances of diabetes.

3. Ask Professionals for Their Time

During a slow economy, there will likely also be plenty of skilled, competent people out of work or not fully employed. Suggest to professionals who aren’t able to give financially that they can also help the cause by donating their time and expertise. You’ll be able to put their skills to use, they’ll be able to expand their resume, and you will meet a need in the community at the same time.

For example, an unemployed grant writer might be worth more money to your organization than a donation by helping you apply for a grant. Or, how about a web designer? Chances are your website could use some sprucing up. Be sure to help out as well by writing letters of recommendation when asked, and adding mentions in your on- and offline publications.

4. Ask for In-Kind Donations

This may apply more to businesses than to individuals, but store closures, manufacturers’ surplus and restaurant leftovers (for food banks) are all realistic sources for valuable in-kind donations for charitable groups. Getting in-kind donations takes more time to process, sort or sell but may be just the ticket to take you through tough times. More ideas for getting in-kind donations.

5. Change Your Expectations

No, you’re not giving up, but there comes a point when you have to be realistic about what you can expect during a recession. This will be different from group to group and from person to person (paid and volunteer). And maybe you just have to lower your expectations from a particular way of raising funds and fill in the gaps with some new, or long forgotten ways of raising funds?

For example, maybe you have to lower your expectation for simple cash donations for a while and try to fill in the gaps with other fundraising drives, like recycling electronics for cash, or pushing your spent ink jet cartridges fundraising more than before. Don’t forget, people still like to help, but they just may not have the extra cash that they’ve been able to give freely before.

6. Use Your Resources for a New Project

Assuming your fundraising activities are slow and you have plenty of time and volunteer resources available. Why not put those assets to use and create an income source with a creative project, such as an art project, a new gadget, a new game, a music album, a documentary etc.? People are always donating to help creative projects come to fruition – even during a recession!

You could start a creative project or event on an online fundraising site. Fundraising sites such as Kickstarter — also known as crowdfunding websites — let you set up donation pages that can be easily shared by supporters.

Since setting up a campaign is inexpensive and quick, you don’t have to worry about spending a lot of money or resources to launch your fundraising page. Plus, donors can contribute as much as they want, and if they can’t support financially, they can always share your campaign with their networks to raise more awareness for your cause.

(For straight online donation request campaigns, click over to 15 most popular online donation websites.)

The key to getting projects funded on either of these sites is to have a project that has wide appeal, a well-organized campaign, a good video and/or description explaining your project and possibly some perks.

7. Remain Confident and Don’t Take Shortcuts

This means you still have to stay on top of all your paperwork and filings and maintain your level of charitable work. Now is not the time to slow down. In fact, maybe you can take the time to analyze the way you’re doing things currently and work on making them more efficient. If you are in fact able to run certain aspects more efficiently and save money for your group, be sure to report this fact on your blog.

Also, refrain from sounding too desperate. That may sound to others like you’re truly worried about your group surviving. Remain confident in your cause and keep up your sound marketing practices as much as you’re able to.

Finally, look at it this way: Your group is still alive. Others may have already given up. And sometimes, it’s enough just to make it through another day, always remembering that it won’t always be like this. Recessions do end and there will come a time when you will look back, and say “Remember when…” Until then, hang in there, don’t give up, and don’t lose heart!

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