In my last blog, A Roadmap for Fundraisers in Difficult Economic Times, I made the point that you can usually beat a slow economy by properly managing your major gift program.

The other point I made was that when times are tough, donors become more discerning and careful with their giving. I warned that if you are not listening to your donor’s questions, concerns, and worries, you will not hear them. And if you don’t hear them, you will lose them.

While a donor’s gifts are very important to them in normal times, with challenging economic conditions, that gift takes on a higher level of importance and urgency. Why? Because the donor knows that getting good done during a time of scarcity and fear is more critical and needed than it usually is. While this fact may not be entirely logical in all cases, i.e. the good that is being done in good times is the same good that is being done in tough times, the emotional weight and urgency is greater when it seems like things are crumbling around us. And all of this causes the donor to more deeply consider how and where they donate.

They will ask the question: should they keep supporting your organization, or give to someone else?

So, this dynamic causes the donor to be more discerning about how and where they want to give. Here’s what fundraisers need to keep in mind in order to retain donors during times of economic uncertainty.

1. It becomes even more important for the donor to receive information on how their giving is making a difference.

The donor knows that many other donors are either not giving as they did or not giving at all. So, getting something done via their gift is even more urgent. Look at it through the donor’s lens: “I am giving you money during difficult times to get good done. I know a lot of other donors are not giving as much or not giving at all. So, this gift of mine is very critical to your success in fulfilling the mission we both care about. Tell me how it’s going. And do it thoroughly and quickly.” Reporting on impact is even more critical which is why you need to develop a strong partnership with your program and finance people so that you have all the information your donor needs and wants.

2. It’s more important that a donor receives prompt and personalized thanks for their gift.

At one level or another, the donor knows that their giving is happening at a time when others can’t give and that their gift is critical to getting good work done. It is important to them that they hear from you promptly about the extra effort they are making. And this kind of attention to the thanking detail will build relationship and trust – the two most important elements for weathering an economic storm.

3. A donor will likely be more vocal and opinionated during difficult financial times.

They will ask questions and challenge what you are doing. Everything takes on a higher level of energy and vigilance. Be sure you listen well. Why? Because listening well will deepen the relationship you have with the donor.

4. During difficult times, some donors may decide to focus their gifts elsewhere.

Think about how you can continue to nurture those relationships. If you focus on caring for the donor, no matter where they give in the short term, they will be back with you in time.


Keep all of this in mind as you navigate difficult financial times. Extra care and attention is needed. And while you are trying to give that extra care and attention, your organization will likely be in cut and conserve mode, which will go counter to anything you are trying to do to serve your donor exceptionally. Be aware of this and work hard to counter that mentality.

And here is a note to the leaders and managers in your organization. Remember, if your organization does not take care of your good donor during tough times, as they are taking care of you and your organization, you will lose them. And losing them comes at a very high price. Do not let yourself go down that track. Good, loyal, and faithful donors are very hard to find.

Tough times require discipline and vigilance on your part. Be prepared to do the extra time and make the extra effort to serve your donors with excellence and care.