Concerns Within the Nonprofit Sector Amid a Looming Recession
For much of the second half of 2022, businesses, families, and nonprofit organizations across the US (and around the globe) prepared for a looming recession. Several factors contributed to their concerns, including inflation, rising interest rates, the expiration of pandemic-driven government aid, and the war in Ukraine. Now, as we enter a new year, many of these factors persist, and apprehension remains high.
In many cases, the circumstances that contribute to a recession also drive an increase in demand for nonprofit services. For example, the rising cost of food may cause more need for the services of a food bank. According to a November 2022 survey of US-based nonprofits that provide social services, 76% of organizations are concerned about their ability to meet the demand in the current economic climate.1
At the same time, organizations may see a decrease in gifts as families and businesses pare back their spending. A recent report published by The Fundraising Effectiveness Project shows a decline in donors in 2022, largely due to a drop in the number of donors making small gifts of $100 or less.2
Faced with these challenges, the natural reaction of the nonprofit sector is to tighten their budgets and find ways to cut costs. Certainly, this isn’t the right time to make new investments … or is it? Omatic’s Director of Customer Advocacy, a former nonprofit finance director, describes the tension many organizations feel:
It’s a really challenging environment for nonprofits right now. Economic uncertainty compels organizations to cut back on ‘unnecessary’ spending and pause initiatives that require new investments. However, organizations often need these investments to be more efficient and effective. There’s a very real danger for an organization to operate according to the status quo, while the world around them is changing. Organizations need to consider investments that will help them gain efficiencies and strategically approach supporters, as meaningfully connecting with supporters is even more important during recession conditions.
So, how can your organization do more with less? How can you adapt to the changing economic landscape? Keep reading for five essential steps to position your organization for success during a recession.
1. Evaluate your existing systems and processes.
What systems do you have in place to support your fundraising and supporter engagement efforts? In addition to their main CRM, most organizations have four or more applications that support activities such as email marketing, event management, online giving, peer-to-peer fundraising, and volunteer management. Unfortunately, these systems don’t always “talk” to each other, which can lead to substantial inefficiencies for your organization. Here are a few questions to ask as you consider opportunities to streamline your systems and processes:
- How much time does your organization spend each week on manual work, including data entry, review, and clean-up? Are there other areas where this time could be more strategically spent?
- How quickly are you able to acknowledge gifts? Are gift acknowledgments personalized according to a donor’s previous support?
- Can you keep up with gift entry and gift acknowledgment after a major event or campaign?
- Does your development team have a single source of truth for supporter information?
2. Identify gaps in your current data.
Building on the questions above, is there any data you don’t capture because your organization simply doesn’t have the capacity to do so? For example, when you receive files containing donor information from corporate/matching gift programs, do you record the donor data in your CRM? What about volunteer hours, or documentation that an annual report was requested and sent to a supporter’s home address?
These are examples of data that is often overlooked because of the time-consuming nature of integrating or importing it into an organization’s CRM. However, all these data points represent meaningful engagements with a supporter – and relationships that could be cultivated into long-term support. As you evaluate your current data for gaps, keep these tips in mind:
- Talk to stakeholders across the organization to make sure you have a comprehensive understanding of data needs
- It’s not just about data that’s missing. If your team doesn’t trust the data that exists, you might as well not have it. It’s important to understand what data your team feels confident using – and what data it believes to be prone to errors
3. Invest in an ecosystem, not individual solutions.
As highlighted above, most organizations leverage four or more applications, in addition to their main CRM, to power their fundraising and supporter engagement efforts. These applications are often chosen for their best-in-class functionality, rather than their ability to integrate with each other. Unfortunately, when applications are implemented in silos, organizations lose the ability to achieve a complete picture of supporter activity.
Imagine having to go to one system to view a supporter’s engagement with your organization’s events, another to find donation data, yet use a completely different system for volunteer information. In addition to being frustrating and time-consuming for your development team, this process can lead to a poor supporter experience. Evidence of this frustration, Salesforce.org’s Nonprofit Trends Report recently revealed that only 34% of nonprofit professionals are very satisfied with their organization’s integration of data sources and systems.
By investing in intelligent data integration tools, organizations can combat the silos created by disparate systems and create a technology ecosystem in which all their data systems are talking to and updating each other. During a recession or any time when resources may be limited, this also allows organizations to realize the full value of their technology investment and achieve more with existing systems they currently have.
4. Leverage data to make more strategic decisions.
When data is consolidated across all systems to create a complete view of supporter activity, organizations can more easily analyze that data to make decisions about where to spend valuable resources. Organizations are increasingly being asked to do more with less, so it’s critical for teams to leverage data appropriately to determine exactly how their efforts can yield results and deliver a higher return on investment.
Here are a few examples of questions organizations should evaluate quarterly or yearly to drive future planning:
- What methods of donor acquisition were most effective?
- What campaigns/activities had the greatest return on investment?
- What segments of your supporters were most likely to make major gifts?
- What supporters lapsed – and what strategies are most effective to re-engage them?
By answering these questions, teams can prioritize efforts that have historically performed best to drive the most engagement going forward. Again, the most effective answers to these questions will largely depend on how comprehensive and complete your supporter data is.
5. Engage supporters with the right message, at the right time, through the right channel.
With integrated data, organizations can better communicate to current and future supporters for more effective acquisition, retention, and long-term support. Let’s consider a nonprofit embarking on a capital campaign. How would supporters respond differently to the following scenarios?
- Situation: An organization is using multiple, disparate systems to manage communications and donations. The organization initiates a campaign with social media promotion and a mass email to its database. The organization knows some of its donors prefer to mail checks, so it also plans to send a large mailing a few weeks later. As it prepares the mailing, the organization notices it has duplicate records for many supporters – for some, it has the same name, but different addresses. For others, one address has several names associated with it (Jane Donor vs. Jane Supporter or Jon Supporter vs. Jonathan Supporter).
- Result: The organization cannot easily determine which names and contact information are correct, thereby increasing the risk of potentially upsetting supporters with incorrect information. In addition, because its online giving platform isn’t integrated with its main CRM, the organization is unable to identify and remove people who respond to the initial email outreach from the mailed campaign, potentially frustrating supporters with continued outreach after a donation was made.
- Situation: Leveraging a solution like Omatic Cloud, an organization has created an integrated technology ecosystem, with all data sources reflected in its main CRM. From the CRM, the organization pulls several reports to segment and personalize outreach for the capital campaign.
- Result: The organization can effectively segment their supporter base, sending mailed outreach to donors who have traditionally made gifts via check and email outreach with customized messaging to donors who have previously given online. The organization’s development team can also quickly identify and personally call donors who have given a total of $500 or more over the past year, or who have engaged with the organization through three or more activities. Lastly, the organization will be able to send a personalized email to volunteers and event attendees who have given time but never made a donation, thanking them for their support and highlighting how funds will help the organization further its mission.
In the second scenario, supporters are engaged through the methods they prefer, in a way that shows appreciation for their past support. Today’s consumers expect this type of communication; however, it can only be achieved with consolidated data. This is particularly important in a recession when donors are likely to spend more cautiously.
Much like their supporters, nonprofit organizations understandably tend to buckle down on spending during challenging economic conditions, when making new investments can be seen as risky. But the greatest risk actually lies in not investing in the areas that will drive success amid the economic climate – areas that allow you to maximize the ROI of your technology ecosystem, inform strategic decisions, and communicate effectively with supporters.
If you’re interested in talking with one of our nonprofit data integration technology experts to learn more about streamlining your systems and processes and eliminating gaps in your data, simply fill out demo form below, or sign-up for an upcoming webinar.