Nonprofit Fundraising in a Bad Economy


I had lunch yesterday with the founder and CEO of a successful, technology-savvy nonprofit.  Unsurprisingly, he was very concerned about reaching his fundraising goals for 2009 (and thereafter).  We brainstormed about ways that some of the concepts in The Virtual Handshake could be used to help in his situation.

One of his challenges is that donors need a trigger event to give money.  Historically, a trigger event might be an entrepreneur who sold his company and received a large payout, or a Wall Street executive who received a large annual bonus.  However, in this economic environment, what are trigger events?

One trigger event: the donor’s public image needs upgrading.  I encouraged him to solicit executives of AIG and other companies that have severely damaged public images.  I also encouraged him to reach out to public relations executives, who can give him ideas on which wealthy individuals are seeking to improve their public image.

I also encouraged him to work outwards from his past donors, by analyzing their public networks.  It’s very powerful to contact a wealthy individual and tell him: your friend _______________ had a building named after him last year; would you like to get involved also in our charity?  Better yet, ask your past donor to make the introduction to the targeted individual.

There are a range of free and low-cost tools that enable this public social network analysis.  For many people, LinkedIn, Xing, Spoke, and Facebook will give you partial visibility into their networks.  For senior corporate executives, useful tools include: Boardex, Capital IQ’s social network analysis, LinkSV (for the Silicon Valley ecosystem), and Westlaw Peoplemap.  Lastly, you can get public organization charts from TheOfficialBoard, Forbes Org Chart, and CogMap.

Now is a great time to add staff for low or no cost.  College interns are readily available at no cost.  Career re-entry programs for people (mostly women) re-entering the workforce can provide experienced consultants at a below-market price; a full list is at  Lastly, the Levin Institute just received a grant from New York City for JumpStart NYC, a program to help transition financial services employees to jobs in other fields.  At no cost, both for-profits and nonprofits can apply on the Levin Institute website to employ a mid-level financial services employee as an unpaid consultant for 3 months, in New York City only. 

I also encouraged him to increase his public profile in front of potential donors.  This is easier to do, because the amount of noise has decreased, and the media is desperate for some good news/positive stories.  From my own experience getting into the speaking business, I recommended he read in depth the material at, the single best resource site I’ve found for public speakers.  There are a striking number of consultants out there who claim to teach you how to increase your public speaking skills.  Some of the better resource websites:,, and . 

Lastly, I also suggested he increase his media profile.  Useful tools: (free) and PRNewsWire Profnet (not free).

What else do you think nonprofits should be doing to help their fundraising in this climate?