Nonprofits Seeking Big Funding in Crisis: A New Set of Rules

Apr 9, 2020Donors, Fundraising, Leadership, Nonprofit Funding, Nonprofits, Philanthropy

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Nonprofits should be seeking big funding in the wake of the current economic challenges and tumultuous times.

While this environment means a whole new set of rules in seeking support, it also means sticking with what works for your organization.

Above all, it is more critical than ever to be donor-centered and get to your donors and make asks.

Let me show you what I mean. Here are strategies to continue doing as well as new ways of thinking when securing large gifts right now as we continue into another year of uncertainly:


1. The Pareto Principle

This 80/20 rule teaches us that a small number (20%) of donors account for a large number (80%) of charitable gifts to an organization. Actually, it’s more like 90-10 in which 90% of your funds come from 10% of your donor database.

So where should you spend your time fundraising? That’s clear!

Without a doubt, focus more time, effort, and money on donors who are passionate about your cause, have the ability to make a major gift (defined by you), and are philanthropic as evidenced by their giving history. Read more about my three-point criteria for a major donor.

2. Be Donor-Focused

Would it surprise you to learn that 65% of donors who made a first gift never made a second gift to the same non-profit? According to Cygnus Applied Research, one reason we lose donors each year is we fail to share meaningful and measurable results. More directly put, it’s our lack of communication with our donors.

Now, with this major disruption in our lives, we are in jeopardy of falling “deeper” into this hole. You can prevent this by ramping up donor communications. Make your donors feel valued and appreciated.

With continued social distancing, events gone hybrid, and few to no donor visits, we are at even greater risk of losing touch with our donors.

We must stay donor-focused.

3. Know Critical Needs

While the rush to donors of all sizes has been happening, pause for a moment to get a handle on your critical needs.

Reexamine Your Case for Giving.

Most importantly, be able to share with donors your most urgent needs for your services to continue during these turbulent times.

Major donors want to hear your plans of how you will continue to serve your mission — a mission for which they are deeply committed.

4. Avoid Emergency Asks

Asking donors to help you meet your budget is not a winning ask. Please don’t paint a picture of a sinking ship. It’s a bad strategy. In fact, it weakens your case.

Few people want to support a nonprofit that is on the brink of collapse. Conversely, people want to support a winning team.

Instead, ask donors to support a program that is in jeopardy because an event was cancelled, fees for service disappeared, ticket sales faded, for example.

Do you see the difference?

Obviously, you did not see this crisis coming when you planned your budget last year.

Be transparent, but don’t be a sinking ship.

5. Know Budget Projections

No doubt, nonprofits that identify not only immediate but foreseeable requirements and prepare budget projections will be in a better position and well prepared for a successful donor ask visit.

Certainly, seek the help of your accountant and board members to help with cash flow and financial projections.

With so many nonprofits seeking big funding, you have an opportunity to shine when presenting your proposal to business-minded people. Impress them with your strategic thinking.

6. Stick to What Works

An economic downturn does not justify ignoring what has worked in fundraising in the past. Do what works!

No doubt, you want to try new fundraising strategies and test the waters. That’s all good!

But don’t completely abandon what works with fundraising for you and your organization.

Know what works, and do what works.

7. Cut the Fat.

In a crisis, it’s your responsibility as a leader to identify inefficient fundraising activities and assess expenses. This is tough love, but now is an opportunity to eliminate programs, projects, staff, or volunteers, for example, that are not serving you well.

What can you eliminate that is not supporting your bottom line and mission? Ask, “Is this bringing in big dollars or helping serve our mission in a big way?” Decide and then take action.

Absolutely, continue to make adjustments so you can share with potential funders what responsible actions you are taking as this economic crisis continues.

You want to show you have taken concrete steps to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your organization. You run a business.

8. Make Philanthropists Jump at the Chance.

With so much volatility, it hardly seems like an attractive time to approach donors. Their funds are seeing ups and downs in the stock market.

But, if you align the proposed gift with the donor’s passion, it matters less about the timing. If you can show what funds can do to serve your mission – to support your beneficiaries now in this crisis — a philanthropist will jump at the chance.


With nonprofits seeking big funding in the wake of an economic crisis, you must think about your donor relationships.

Major gift fundraising is about building strong, long-term, genuine relationships with supporters.

Market volatility and economic stability threats are likely to continue for months. You must be intentional with your major gift fundraising efforts.

These suggestions are offered in an effort for you to maximize your revenue stream from major donors in this time of crisis. This will help alleviate short-term pain and maintain and even grow (yes, grow!) your revenue. It is possible!

Read more here:

What Nonprofits Need Right Now: 5 Ways to Help

Why You Must Ramp up Donor Communications Now

5 Steps to Donor Thank-You Calls: Show You Care During a Crisis

The Coronavirus Threat to Fundraising

Nancy Rieves, Ed.D. is a fundraising coach. She provides executive and development directors with a roadmap to maximize and sustain major gift fundraising. She prepares leaders to be confident and successful in raising money. Reach her at nancy@nancyrieves.com.


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