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Creative Fundraising in Today’s Economy
By: Krystal Weaver

Today's economy doesn't mean that people don't want to support great causes. It does mean, however, that people are looking to get the very most out of every dollar. They want to be sure that what they donate is going to make a difference, rather than to pay for administrative costs, for example. Entertainment dollars are short, and the needs of church-supported programs are bigger than ever.

How do you balance people's need to be frugal with your program's need to keep the doors open?  The answer is a recipe that calls for creativity, transparency, and a call to action.

Call to Action
Even those who have been staunch supporters for years may hesitate before writing their regular checks. After all, they're worried about their retirements, their kids' college, and maybe just the idea of adding to their nest eggs now that they've seen what the economy can do. You may need to make a point to remind your regular supporters of your need. 

Communication between you and donors is extremely important. Whether you send a quarterly newsletter, a weekly email update, or even the occasional phone call to say, "Thanks for your recent donation," keeping in contact is essential. In these communications, don't be afraid to come right out and explain that you need help more than ever.

Some people are so concerned about what could happen to their own finances that they forget to consider what has already transpired for others. The fact of the matter is that the harsh economic environment has led to an increase in the need for the services many religious organizations offer. Food pantries, homeless shelters, job training programs…all of these are facing a greater demand for services as the unemployment rates have soared and seniors have lost their retirement savings.

You can potentially augment this call to action by offering supporters the opportunity to contribute via credit or debit card. While this method is sometimes overlooked, it actually offers several benefits. For example, donors are able to respond to your call to action immediately, simply by making a quick donation through your website. Electronic payments also allow for the possibility of automated recurring gifts. Donors simply set up an amount and frequency, and the donations are automatically deducted from their accounts and are never missed or forgotten.

Just as people are tightening their belts and cutting back on their giving, church organizations are experiencing a swell in clients looking for help. It may be necessary to make your donors and volunteers aware of the truth of the situation. 

The term "transparency" has been applied to the government a lot lately, but it's nothing new for those in social services. Nonprofits and church groups have long been used to opening their books to the public as a part of the privilege of earning tax-exempt status. While many corporations make it as difficult as possible to decipher their finances, churches are busy justifying the expenditure of every penny.

This can be a real blessing in the current economic atmosphere. Donors, volunteer, and clients are all able to see that you are acting as a good steward for the funds and man hours contributed to your cause. You have the ability to leverage your transparency even further, though.

As times have gotten tougher, your church, agency, or group has likely tightened its own belt.  Perhaps you've cut programs that weren't performing up to expectations. Maybe you've implemented a raise and/or hiring freeze. Hopefully, you've succeeded in finding new, innovative ways to make every dollar go just a bit further than it did a few years ago. If so, then these are the things that are going to make an impression on your supporters. If they recognize that you are adjusting and being as frugal as possible, they will not only identify, but their respect and esteem for you will grow. This aspect of transparency gives them the opportunity to justify their support of your projects and programs.

If you follow the example above and choose to accept credit and debit card donations, you might even go so far as to ask donors to change to EFT. Some will choose not to, but others will see how you are attempting to make every penny count and will make a conscious choice to give just a bit more.

Again, the key to using this to your advantage is to communicate with your supporters. Use your newsletter, website, and thank-you letters to highlight how you have gone to new heights to get the most out of the donations they choose to make.

While making a call to action and practicing transparency are both practical ways to protect and possibly increase donations during difficult economic times, there's something to be said for simply showing your supporters a good time. Money is tight for them, just like it is for you, so it's important to come up with creative ways to collect the funds you need to run your programs.

There's no doubt that fundraising events are time consuming and take up a lot of your organization's resources, whether in the form of the budget or in staff time and energy.  Fundraisers that take fewer resources obviously have the potential for a higher return on investment. 

Conducting an online fundraiser may be one way to circumvent some of the costs associated with planning and producing an event. We're a very web-savvy society, and the idea of an online store may just spark the interest of your supporters. You can use your site to provide unique products with sales benefiting various church programs. Choose a credit card processor that supports your vision, and you will likely pay less in fees, too. Your donors don't even have to leave home to get involved, and you don't have to go to the trouble of renting a venue, coordinating food and drinks, cleaning up, etc.

Another way to leverage your supporters' preference for online shopping is to set up an online "shopping mall." Rather than only being able to choose from predetermined products on your church's site, shoppers can browse through any number of different stores and buy just what they want. The only difference between this and the typical online shopping experience is that a portion of their purchase price is donated back to your organization.

You also don't want to overlook the simple power of adding a donation button to your church or program's website. Without the need to fill out and mail in a check, donors are often more likely to just make a donation on the spot. Not coincidentally, credit and debit card donations tend to be larger amounts than those given through cash or checks. As mentioned before, many sites even allow donors to set up automatically recurring donations for guaranteed regular contributions.

Of course, there's something to be said for the in-person, live fundraising event.  As families' budgets get tighter, they allocate less money for everything. That means less for charity and less for entertainment. By creating an event that allows them a fun night out in addition to supporting a great cause, you can help them get the very most from both of these budget items. 

The Recipe for Success
Yes, times are tough. We feel it as individuals, and we feel it as organizations. In order to help one another, we need to realize that we're all on the same page and figure out how to work together. The first step in doing this is to put out the call to action. It may seem perfectly obvious to you that your needs have grown due to the economy, but it very well may not have occurred to your supporters who have their thoughts and energies turned inward.

In addition to making supporters aware of your financial need, you will also want them to realize that you are acting as a conscientious steward for their contributions. People have lost a lot of trust in institutions, and you want to make them aware that your church is part of the solution, not part of the problem. Again, you and your supporters are in this thing together.

Finally, churches, agencies, and special programs have always needed to be creative, and the economic atmosphere has probably created an even greater burden in this area. This demand, however, is also a license to think in new directions and to create events that are more profitable and even more fun. Enticing others to share what they have absolutely depends upon it.

Krystal Weaver is with MinistryLINQ, a division of The CashLINQ Group, www.thecashlinqgroup.com.

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