Recession Fundraising: Cinch It Up and Hunker Down

As the economic winds begin to shift, nonprofits are beginning to ask: How should we shift our fundraising strategy if there’s a recession? What if it happens at Year-End? What. Will. We. Do?!

First: Don’t panic.

Second: Your fundraising strategy shouldn’t shift too much, but you can likely improve some things that you’re already doing or would have planned to do if the economy were booming.

Strike while the iron’s hot

In advance of a potential full-fledged recession, there are plenty of reasons to get out in front of people with a case for support right now. A short and sweet two to three message appeal can help get a jump on the fundraising. Consider doing one in the month of September. I personally like a deadline driven appeal with a finite public goal at the end of the month.

Cultivate your donors often

Cultivation is a topic for another blog post, but in short, a good cultivation message does four specific things:

  1. Talks to the donor about something incredibly relevant to the moment, to your organization’s work, and to the donor.
  2. Reminds the donor that the organization’s impact is not possible without them and thanks the donor for being a critical part of your mission.
  3. Doesn’t explicitly ask for money BUT…
  4. Provides a way to give if the mood should strike with, for example, donate buttons and links to your donation form on images. (This last one is important, you might be surprised at how much money you can raise for your mission without even asking).

Check out this article if you’d like to learn more about successful donor cultivation!

Refine your paid strategy

Ad spending across all platforms will simply be more expensive during the final quarter of the year due to the competitive landscape. Instead of casting too wide of a net at Year-End, try getting incredibly focused with your targeting. Don’t just retarget your website visitors, retarget distinctly based on the pages a user has visited. For example, how might your ads for people who abandoned your donation form before completing a gift differ from your new website visitor targets? (Consider appeals like “Didn’t you want to help?” or “Will you finish making your gift?”)

Focus on retention (not that you weren’t already)

Any good fundraiser knows that people who have already given to your organization will always represent the most cost effective people to re-engage. Most fundraisers also accept that some measure of churn is inevitable. However, the eternal optimist in me refuses to believe that only 1 in 4 first-time donors are going to give again the following year and only 3 out of 5 multi-year donors will give again. Take another look at your renewal strategies and see if you can’t be more aggressive. Perhaps consider rolling out a reinstatement series behind your renewal series (if you didn’t have one already). 

To read about our most useful donor retention strategies, click here.

Be agile (especially at Year-End)

The fundraising team here at Media Cause simply accepts the fact that we’ll be busy in December. Our friends and family accept and love us even though we might be obsessively re-running revenue reports during the holiday meal or reworking a piece of creative in the early hours of December 31st. The biggest leverage point that digital channels offer you compared to direct mail is the ability to pivot on a dime if the moment calls for it. What if you see a message do surprisingly well? That’s great, get more juice out of it and send it again to the non-openers AND/OR people that didn’t convert even if they did open.

Perhaps something happened in the world that your organization is responding to right now, presenting you with an opportunity to do some responsive fundraising, albeit, making the copy that you already worked on for weeks completely irrelevant. Scrap it and go with the more topical appeal. It doesn’t have to be a work of art, it just needs to be concise and relevant.

Get granular with your treatment plans

Not all donors are the same and not all supporter bases are the same. Consider the various ways you can refine your appeals based on what you know about your audience segments

  • “Will you renew your gift this year?”
  • “Will you make a special one-time gift on top of your already generous monthly gift?” 
  • “As a volunteer, you see first hand how important our work is. And we know you do a lot already. Will you could go above and beyond and make a special Year-End gift this year, in honor of the people that YOU serve.”

Focus on retention (again, again!)

Monthly giving is literally my favorite thing in the world. It’s a win-win-win.

  1. Your organization gets the reliable support it needs.
  2. Your donor gets to make a difference in the world all while staying on a budget.
  3. Your gift officers can spend more time chasing down new donors because monthly giving has solved the retention problem.

If monthly giving wasn’t already a focus, then make it so. And if it is a focus, even better, consider opportunities for building a strong monthly giving program.

Plus all the other low-hanging fruit

Year-End fundraising–and fundraising in general–will always be a wild ride. It’s what keeps the work fun and more importantly, worth doing. A recession is just an extra wrench thrown at you as your organization attempts to make the world a better place. Try to compartmentalize the little things you and your teams can do now.

For example, maybe examine your donation form and figure out ways to improve it. Find areas to reduce friction. Do you really need the salutation and middle initial field? How do your website and donation forms register on mobile? Optimize for a quick and clean user experience.

In the end, there’s no silver bullet. Like anything else done well, digital fundraising–during a recession or otherwise–involves doing the little things right, focusing on tried and true fundamentals, and constantly looking for ways to improve your program.

P.S. Let us know if we can help your team at Year-End. Reach out at and let’s raise some money.


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