Lessons Learned from the Great Recession


By Jamie Sargent

May 14, 2020

“This is one of those all-hands-on-deck moments where we absolutely need to engage everyone, whether they are able to give 50 cents or $50 million.” – David Saltzman, 2009, Former Executive Director, The Robin Hood Foundation

We don’t know the extent to which our economy will be impacted by the global pandemic, but we can learn from past experiences that charitable giving will continue even during difficult periods of time.

During a recent weekly staff meeting, Impact’s President and Creative Director, Kathy Swayze, recalled a New York Times article from November 11, 2009 that proves to be relevant again today: “New Fame for the Everyday Donor.”

We thought it would be helpful to analyze charitable giving trends during and after The Great Recession (December 2007-June 2009), and offer a few recommendations. We hope these ideas help you approach fundraising in a new light during these times.

Show Gratitude to Loyal Donors. During the Great Recession, data shows that donors were generally retained. “The declines in new donors were cancelled out by increased giving from loyal donors.” (The Agitator)

Try to remain calm and show your current and most loyal donors added gratitude. Consider mailing them handwritten thank you cards or small branded swag items. Everyone loves receiving mail and unexpected gifts. 

Make Giving Easy. “The leap from a Netflix membership to a monthly donation is not that far. You could even consider marketing a monthly gift by comparing it to these costs. If someone can afford a $10 Spotify subscription, show them what impact a monthly donation of the same amount would make.” (Classy)

Due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules, many donors are not spending money on their daily commute or monthly gym membership. Consider crafting a soft ask with this in mind. You may be surprised how many existing donors want to put these funds toward helping the causes they care about during this uncertain time.

Take a Step Back. Which communications campaigns and events proved to be successful for your organization during 2018 and 2019? Which strategies were not working as well? Now is a great opportunity to revisit the purpose of your initiatives and events. If you cannot identify the original purpose or goal, consider revising your fundraising strategy. If you don’t take a step back, you may be at an even greater disadvantage when things begin to return to normal.

-By Jamie Sargent


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