Troubled Times

It’s proving to be yet another economically stormy September and the philanthropic community is not immune to its wrath. The damage caused by the failure of some of the most venerable financial institutions in the U.S. is still not fully known but it is clear that it has already reached around the globe and is causing lots of people and many nonprofits worry about how to weather the storm.

Well, here are few thoughts—some tried and true but worth repeating and some new—all to help you get through these tough times and maybe even find a little something good from the experience. (You know the adage—what doesn’t kill you makes you strong.)

10 Ways to Market in an Economic Storm

  • Stay focused on a message of real need and how donors’ can help—especially in difficult times.

  • Present messages in frameworks that comfort donors—nostalgia, tradition, historic references as well as humor based in new twists on nostalgia. (We all need a good and comforting laugh. It’s like chicken soup when you have a cold—not sure it works but it feels good.)
  • Use this slow period to cultivate prospects and new and loyal donors. Consider it a bit of luxury—like a well deserved massage after too many cramped flights to Israel—to give them your attention. It will pay off when conditions change for the better.
  • Message to what your audience is feeling and experiencing. “Share the pain” with messages that offer comfort, communicate concern, offer reassurance and telegraph that we are all in this together and will get through it—even as you tell stories of real need. (Note: even your wealthiest donors may feel impoverished right now—pay attention to their reality and listen! Payback will come later!)
  • If you are (and you should be) making operational cuts to save resources, tell your constituents about what you are doing. Let them know that you recognize the economic climate and are doing smart things to address the situation.
  • Concentrate on results-oriented messages. Now is not the time to build image—it looks really shabby. Rather, promote calls to action that deliver results to real needs. And keep your messages positive! No one supports a loser. Give donors a compelling reason to support your organization.
  • As Phil Kotler, marketing guru, advised some years ago, appoint a cost reduction task force to develop a recession business plan and then market it to your constituents. This approach gives you two benefits: cost reduction from the people who know your organization from the inside and the support of people you count on who are going through this mess and may need a shot of reinforcement to their generosity gene.
  • Fix your leaks—there are always things in an organization that need attention but that are often overlooked in hectic times. Now, with the pace of fundraising moving a little slower, take advantage of the opportunity to fix up the operation and make it hum. Payoff is in the mail—snail mail maybe—but it will arrive.
  • Think low/no cost. Yes, get your most creative and frugal people together (are there frugal, creative people or is that an oxymoron?) to brainstorm ways to do great work at no/low cost. Then implement and communicate their ideas. You will be a hero!
  • This leads me to the final thought—Get creative. Now is the time to try out new ideas, even the ones that some big shot killed months ago. What is the risk? Give it a try. Nothing ventured. Nothing gained. And since no one is gaining right now, carpe diem!

For additional helpful tips, be sure to check out Gail’s previous post Brand Sharing 2.0.